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Three Howard University Seniors Interviewed for 2018 Rhodes Scholarship

Three Howard University Seniors Interviewed for 2018 Rhodes Scholarship

WASHINGTON (November 30, 2017) — Three Howard University seniors were selected to interview for 2018 Rhodes Scholarships. Howard University senior Biology major, English minor, Tara Spencer (B.S/B.A. ’18) of Lightfoot, St. John’s, Antigua and Barbuda, interviewed as a Finalist for the 2018 Jamaica and Commonwealth Caribbean Rhodes Scholarship, while HU seniors Emmanuel Balogun (B.S. ’18), a Mechanical Engineering major from Lagos, Nigeria, and Amoge Ezike (B.S./B.A. ’18), a Biology major, Classical Civilizations minor, from Enugu State, Nigeria, were selected for initial contention on the shortlist for the Rhodes West Africa Scholarship.

“On behalf of the entire Howard University community, I wish to congratulate Tara Spencer for advancing as a finalist in pursuit of the 2018 Jamaica and Commonwealth Caribbean Rhodes Scholarship and Emmanuel Balogun and Amoge Ezike for being selected to interview for the West Africa Rhodes Scholarship,” said HU President Wayne A. I. Frederick. “I hope that these students’ experiences will encourage more Howard students to apply for prestigious fellowship and scholarship opportunities with the support of the Office of Honors and Scholar Development. It is without a doubt that, with the encouragement of their Howard family, these students’ academic pursuits and research will provide solutions to the needs of the broader society. We look forward to their continued successes.”

Unlike the more widely-known American Rhodes Scholarship, which selects 32 U.S. scholars annually—two from each of the 16 U.S. districts—in applying for the Jamaica and Commonwealth Rhodes Scholarship, students compete for a single opening.  Spencer was one of ten candidates allowed this distinct honor from the original applicant pool.

According to Spencer, she applied to the Rhodes Scholarship initially because of a the discovery of a coincidence—the only Rhodes Scholar from Antigua and Barbuda had once attended her secondary school. However, her enthusiasm grew when she learned of how Rhodes Scholars have contributed to society. 

“Oxford University in particular stood out to me because of its stellar faculty, particularly in the department of Zoology,” said Spencer. “Many investigators study various aspects of Zoology, including behavior, ecology, evolution and infectious disease. I'm interested in studying how the coevolution of a pathogen and its host has been critical to the reemergence of once docile viruses and zoonotic infections—how a virus can acquire the ability to infect a new host.”

Spencer represents the third HU student to have interviewed for this distinct Caribbean award for the Rhodes Scholarship, with Howard’s Stacey Roheman of St. Lucia having advanced to the finalist round for the 2016 scholarship year and Mark Alleyne of Barbados having the distinction of being both Howard’s first Rhodes Scholarship winner in 1986, as well as the University’s first Caribbean winner.

Director Kari Miller, Ph.D., HU Office of Honors and Scholar Development, works with students throughout their application processes.  Miller has witnessed Spencer’s close working relationship with faculty, her extensive track record of undergraduate research, student leadership and community service, as well as, commitment to interdisciplinary studies in both the arts and sciences represented through her Biology degree work and coursework in creative writing in the Department of English.

According to Miller, “Tara is part of a wave of undergraduate excellence in prestigious awards with seven Howard University students participating in Rhodes Scholarship interviews over the past consecutive three years. Our students have been invited to interview in three different world regions of the Rhodes Scholarship, including the United States, Caribbean Commonwealth and West Africa Rhodes Scholarship competitions.”

In May 2017, the Rhodes Trust announced the new West Africa region Rhodes Scholarship.  Balogun and Ezike advanced to the first round of interviews this year among the top 65 applicants.

“It was an outstanding achievement, but also not surprising, that Emmanuel and Amoge received first-round interviews in Lagos, based on their academic record, leadership and service at the university,” said Miller.  “Both students are excellent examples of student success, and we look forward to endorsing many more Rhodes Scholarship applicants for the West Africa regional award in the future.”

Ezike’s interest in applying for the Rhodes Scholarship program centered on forming a foundation in public health before becoming a medical doctor, focusing on tropical infectious disease.

“My country, Nigeria, is a developing country, and as such still has many infectious diseases that can be eradicated. I believe that no one should have to live with illnesses as though it was a normal part of their life. This is the reality for many people in sub-Saharan Africa, where diseases such as malaria are things that people now take for granted, even though they can be fatal. I want to be part of the movement to find new treatments for these diseases and to eradicate them,” said Ezike.

“We are extremely proud of Tara and Amoge in their pursuit of the Rhodes Scholarship,” said HU Department of Biology Chair Clarence Lee, Ph.D.

Balogun plans on pursuing a Master's Degree in Mechanical Engineering with a focus on energy systems in order to alleviate the struggles of unreliable power he experienced growing-up by developing sustainable energy technologies for developing nations. 

“International study gives one that breadth of experience that is important for innovation and leadership. For me, I see it as a way of living another people's story and seeing through their eyes,” said Balogun. 

“Competing for this prestigious scholarship is a milestone for Emmanuel Balogun on a path towards a world-class education in STEM. His achievement is a reflection of our significant focus on STEM and successful programs at Howard University,” said HU Department of Mechanical Engineering Chair Nadir Yilmaz, Ph.D.

The Rhodes Scholarship program is designed to provide special educational opportunities for future world leaders over a two-year period at Oxford University in England.  Scholastic achievement, leadership ability, strength of character and physical vigor are among the qualifications considered in reviewing an applicant.  Once admitted to Oxford University, Rhodes Scholars have the opportunity to read for the Oxford B.A. in any of a number of subjects or may be admitted to read for a higher degree. In some cases, study is extended to a third year.  Scholarships are awarded in 20 Rhodes constituencies—64 different countries—around the world.

Despite having not been selected as a Rhodes Scholar for the 2018 cycle, Spencer still intends to pursue a Zoology-related graduate degree. 

“Such a degree will equip me with the skills and knowledge necessary to conduct research on host-virus coevolution,” said Spencer.  “These types of studies will continue when I become involved in academia as a Principal Investigator at a world-class university. I also want to use my creative writing background to publish books for everyone, but particularly for young children and adolescents in the Caribbean. The series will tell the story of microorganisms and the factors/events in evolutionary history that have established them as what they are today.”

According to Balogun and Ezike, they are also intent on pursuing their graduate education and having an impact.

“Although we are not always in the headlines for winning every year, we are grateful that so many students are receiving national recognition, while at the same time, recognizing for themselves the value of their accomplishments, leadership, service and overall biographical narratives,” said Miller. “What is especially notable at Howard is the way that our students rally around each other, support each other and move each other forward. It's an incredible process to witness with every senior class.”

According to Spencer, both the application process and attainment of the Rhodes Scholarship can provide HU students an opportunity—enrichment either through exposure in the interview phases or through actual study alongside brilliant minds in a new environment, working to solve persistent questions.

“I see our lives as being similar to the evolutionary history of many organisms—every species has certain characteristics, because of the influence of past (and current) events,” said Spencer. “In the same way, our experiences have shaped who we are, and there is something unique about the fellowship application process that permits students to discover how their journeys have forged them into the individuals that they are today.”

Howard University has produced four Rhodes Scholars to date—one, Cameron Clarke, as recently as the 2017 cycle.



Photo of Tara Spencer by:  Justin Knight, Office of University Communications