Student makes Kenyans abroad proud after winning world’s most prestigious and oldest scholarship award


A Kenyan living in the United Sates of America has impressed not only her parents but his country as a whole after securing a position in one of the most prestigious and coveted scholarships in the world.

Naomi Mburu, 21, a chemical engineering student, is the first student in UMBC history to receive the prestigious Rhodes Scholarship announced on Sunday.

The Rhodes Trust, which awards scholarships for two years of postgraduate study at Oxford University in England, named University of Maryland Baltimore County student Naomi Mburu of Ellicott City among the 10 Africans on the list of this year’s 32 Rhodes scholars named.

Every year, Rhodes Scholars are chosen through a rigorous process that requires applicants to seek endorsements from their college or university. According to the Trust, this year more than 2,500 students sought their institution’s endorsement—but only 866 eventually received endorsements from 299 different colleges and universities.

UMBC President Freeman Hrabowski said the recognition “speaks volumes about both Naomi as a fine thinker and future leader and about the education she’s received here.”

Hrabowski said he got goosebumps and tears in his eyes when he learned Mburu had been selected.

He was one of the school officials who recruited her to UMBC, with the promise that she would be able to attend any graduate school of her choosing afterward.

“I knew if she came here she would have great opportunities to do research and grow as a person,” he said. “We’re very honored that people saw the strength of her thinking and capacity to be a major leader in our society.”

Mburu was also awarded the global scholarship to study at Oxford University in England.

“One of the key defining aspects of the Rhodes is that you have to want to change the world, and I know that I want to change the world,” Mburu said.

Mburu grew up in Howard County. Her parents are from Kenya.

The first generation American is working on a chemical engineering degree. Like her fellow Maryland Rhodes scholar, she’s also interested in politics.

“One of the issues that I’m really passionate about is education and equality,” she said.

She said Sunday evening that news of the scholarship hadn’t fully sunk in yet. She said she’s been flooded in the last 24 hours with messages from other UMBC students — many of them young black women also interested in the STEM fields — telling her she’s an inspiration.

“Me getting this scholarship is putting UMBC on the map as a place that fosters these types of experiences, for minority students especially,” she said.

Hrabowski said this announcement is a victory for “middle-class Americans, for women, for minorities, for everyone.”

“It’s a great American and Maryland story,” he said.