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A&S Senior Hadeel Abdallah Named Rhodes Scholar

By Whitney Hale, Amy Jones-Timoney, and Kody Kiser


Hear directly from Hadeel Abdallah what it means to be selected a Rhodes Scholar.

The University of Kentucky is celebrating the announcement that political science and Arabic and Islamic studies senior Hadeel Abdallah, of Lexington, has been named a recipient of the highly prestigious Rhodes Scholarship. Abdallah is one of 32 American women and men selected as Rhodes Scholars representing the United States.

She is the first female from the university and the 10th UK student named a Rhodes Scholar, the last being selected in 1955. UK remains home to the largest number of Rhodes Scholars from institutions in the Commonwealth of Kentucky.

“Hadeel’s passion for public service and resolve to make a positive impact on the world are an inspiration to the UK family," UK President Eli Capilouto said. "Her story embodies the values and ideals that our campus holds dear: dogged determination and unwavering good will. We are so proud of her accomplishments and wish her the best in her journey as a Rhodes Scholar.”

The Rhodes Trust is a British charity established to provide full financial support for Rhodes Scholars to pursue a degree or degrees at the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom. Rhodes Scholars are chosen not only for their outstanding scholarly achievements, but for their character, commitment to others and to the common good, and for their leadership potential in whatever domains their careers may lead.

Elliot F. Gerson, American secretary of the Rhodes Trust, has described the Rhodes Scholarships as "the oldest and best-known award for international study, and arguably the most famous academic award available to American college graduates."

UK Provost David Blackwell echoed the magnitude of Abdallah’s selection. “She is an amazing student with vision and an endearing humility that is quietly captivating. She will be a leader who brings great credit to UK. For me, this is the best news about UK this year.”

“I am incredibly honored to have been selected as a Rhodes Scholar," Abdallah said. "I am looking forward to the educational opportunities provided to me by this award and what it will mean for my future aspirations. I would like to thank my family, friends, mentors and the University of Kentucky for their help in my endeavors thus far.”

Abdallah, the daughter of Younes Abdallah and Maissa Abdallah, of Lexington, is excited about what this new scholarship means as she pursues graduate studies to expand her foundation for a future career in public service. Her passion for public service began at a young age while translating for refugees and has continued as she has served in other capacities over time.

“I’m thankful to my community for allowing me to serve them in the capacities that I have, and for their confidence in me to do so,” Abdallah said.

A recipient of UK’s Chellgren Fellowship and Gaines Fellowship, Abdallah has been very active at the university inside and outside the classroom. Alongside her studies in political science and Arabic and Islamic studies, she is pursuing a Peace Studies Certificate.

In the field of research, Abdallah conducted undergraduate research on the relationship of citizen dissent and coup d’états. Additionally, as part of her Gaines Fellowship, she worked with UK’s Office of PhilanthropyMasjid Bilal and the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Government to create a permanent endowment for refugees settled in Kentucky. The endowment will serve as a long-term community investment in their education and brings a spotlight to the plight of refugees making their way to America.

Outside of the academic realm, Abdallah previously served as president of the Muslim Student Association, where she spearheaded the Refugee Benefit Gala initiative for Kentucky Refugee Ministries and Islamic Society of Central Kentucky’s Refugee Resettlement Program. She was also director of inclusion and outreach for UK’s Student Government Association and a national outreach director for the Muslim Youth of North America.

To gain experience in public service, Abdallah interned in the Office of the Lexington Vice Mayor; the Washington office for U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee of Texas; and with the Kentucky House Democratic Caucus in Frankfort during her undergraduate years.

Last spring, Abdallah became UK’s 14th Truman Scholarship recipient.

Abdallah credits her success to several faculty and mentors at UK and around Lexington, including Clayton Thyne, associate professor and chair of the Department of Political Science; Don Witt, assistant vice president for philanthropy; Ihsan Bagby, associate professor of Arab and Islamic studies; U.S. Ambassador to Canada Kelly Craft; Nathan Dickerson, legislative aide to Lexington’s vice mayor; Connie Duncan, of the Gaines Center; UK Vice President for Institutional Diversity Sonja Feist-Price; Melody Flowers, executive director for strategic analysis and policy at UK; Ellie Goodman, special projects coordinator for UK Philanthropy; Philip Harling, professor of history and former director of the Gaines Center; Lexington Vice Mayor Steve Kay; UK College of Arts and Sciences Dean Mark KornbluhPhilipp Kraemer, Chellgren Endowed Chair for Undergraduate Excellence; Wendy Liu, senior lecturer in finance and quantitative methods; Aiyub Palmer, professor of Arab and Islamic studies; Hannah Simms, alumni engagement coordinator for UK Alumni Association; Bill Swinford, chief of staff to the president; and Pat Whitlow, director of the Office of Nationally Competitive Awards.

Abdallah applied for the Rhodes Scholarship through the UK Office of Nationally Competitive Awards, part of the Chellgren Center for Undergraduate Excellence within the Division of Student and Academic Life at UK. The Office of Nationally Competitive Awards assists current UK undergraduate and graduate students and recent alumni in applying for external scholarships and fellowships funded by sources (such as a nongovernment foundation or government agency) outside the university. These major awards honor exceptional students across the nation. Students who are interested in these opportunities are encouraged to begin work with Whitlow, well in advance of the scholarship deadline.

Rhodes Scholars are chosen in a two-stage process. First, candidates must be endorsed by their college or university. Committees of Selection in each of 16 U.S. districts then invite the strongest applicants to appear before them for interviews.

Applicants in the United States may apply either through the state where they are legally resident or where they have attended college for at least two years. The district committees met separately, on Friday and Saturday, Nov. 16 and 17, in cities across the country. Each district committee made a final selection of two Rhodes Scholars from the candidates of the state or states within the district.

The 32 Rhodes Scholars chosen from the United States will join an international group of scholars chosen from 19 other jurisdictions around the world.

UK is the University for Kentucky. At UK, we are educating more students, treating more patients with complex illnesses and conducting more research and service than at any time in our 150-year history. To read more about the UK story and how you can support continued investment in your university and the Commonwealth, go to: #uk4ky #seeblue