Three Stanford students named Rhodes Scholars
Stanford graduate students Abdallah AbuHashem and Ziyi Wang and senior Nicolas Fishman have been awarded Rhodes Scholarships for study at Oxford University.
Stanford graduate students Abdallah AbuHashem and Ziyi Wang and senior Nicolas Fishman have been awarded Rhodes Scholarships, which provide all expenses for two or three years of study at the University of Oxford in England and may allow funding in some instances for four years.
All three hope to begin studying at Oxford in October 2021, depending on the pandemic.
AbuHashem was awarded a Rhodes in October through the Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, Palestine constituency. He is from the Palestinian Territories and graduated from Stanford with a bachelor’s degree in computer science and a minor in education in June 2019. He is pursuing a master’s degree in computer science and will graduate in June 2021. At Oxford, he plans to pursue a MSc/DPhil in education.
Fishman, who is from Washington, D.C., is a senior completing majors in computer science and sociology, with honors. He is one of 32 Americans chosen from the United States in late November. Fishman is still working out the details of his study at Oxford, but hopes to pursue two one-year master’s degrees, one in the history of science and one in statistics.
Ziyi Wang, who graduated from Stanford with a bachelor’s degree in history in June 2020, is pursuing a master’s in international policy and will graduate in June 2021. At Oxford, she plans to pursue DPhil in politics. She was awarded a Rhodes through the China constituency.
AbuHashem learned of his Rhodes on Oct. 31, just three hours after he interviewed for the scholarship.
“I had my interview at 6 a.m. Around 9 a.m. the committee sent me a message asking me to rejoin the Zoom meeting,” he said. “They told me then that I had won it. That moment is still very vivid in my memory. It took me a second to realize it was real and to believe it’s true.”
A month later, AbuHashem acknowledges that he still finds it hard to believe.
“I’m really humbled and joyous that it happened,” he said. “More than anything though, I’m excited and scared. This kind of fear always precedes the best experiences of my life. It is the same kind of fear I had when I left my home, Gaza, Palestine, to come here to Stanford.”
At Stanford, AbuHashem concentrated on developing strong technical skills through coursework and internships before his interests turned to education. He pursued research with James Landay, the Anand Rajaraman and Venky Harinarayan Professor in the School of Engineering, on narrative and technology for education.
Among his many activities at Stanford, he also worked with the CartaLab and HCI Lab, developed a student-initiated course, served as a resident assistant in Toyon Hall, was co-president of the Muslim Student Union and has been a computer science teaching assistant.
“Knowing that I want to have an impact through education, the Rhodes looked like the next natural step,” he said. “I was particularly drawn to the global problems Rhodes Scholars aim to tackle, and I decided to apply because I believe Rhodes can equip me with the tools necessary to have a global impact.”
AbuHashem, whose brother also attends the university, is grateful to the faculty and friends at Stanford who encouraged him to apply and supported him through recommendations. But he has dedicated his Rhodes experience to his late grandmother.
“I left home in 2015, and I remember vividly my grandma praying for my safety the morning I left,” he said. “That was the last day I saw my grandma before she passed away just a few weeks before my undergrad graduation. She was a tough woman who stood resilient in the face of the many challenges she faced, and whenever I’m faced with a tough situation, I look back at her and at the lineage I come from, and it always inspires me to keep at it.”
Fishman learned about his Rhodes Scholarship award on Saturday, Nov. 21, via a Zoom session from his apartment in Washington, D.C.’s, Dupont Circle, where he is studying during his senior year.
Fishman was encouraged to pursue a Rhodes by Stanford faculty members, including Guillaume Basse, assistant professor of management science and engineering and of statistics, who convinced him he could actually win one.
“At the time I didn’t really believe him, but I decided to give it a shot because he argued a Rhodes would let me tackle big, ambitious problems in a way that would be difficult from any other platform,” Fishman said.
Fishman says his studies of inequality, the criminal legal system and the health care system have made clear to him deep social injustices, as well as methods to improve people’s lives.
“That’s what I have tried to do at Stanford, and it’s what I want to continue to do at Oxford,” he said. “But studying the problems does not automatically fix them; that requires politics. I believe in using my education to support activists and movement leaders on the ground, in any way I can, to translate those ideas into realities.”
Fishman has conducted independent research at Harvard, Stanford, Northwestern and the National Human Genome Research Institute and Data for Progress. At Stanford, he pursued research at the Stanford Center on Poverty and Inequality and Stanford Network Analysis Project and the Kundaje Lab. He also was active in get-out-the-vote efforts as part of the Sunrise movement.
Fishman said he feels a sense of responsibility to make the most of his Rhodes Scholarship, partly because he realizes the extraordinary pool of talent against whom he was judged.
“I really did not expect to win this award. My fellow finalists are so accomplished,” he said. “I got lucky – only considering the finalists I actually met in my district. That leaves me a certain responsibility to make sure I use the opportunities presented by this scholarship to do as much good as I can.”
Fishman said he also feels a responsibility to create positive change because of the complicated legacy of scholarship founder Cecil Rhodes.
“The fact that Cecil Rhodes was, without a doubt, a vitriolic racist and a colonialist increases that responsibility,” he said. “If I will benefit from a scholarship that bears his name and support by his capital, then I must ensure the impact of my work is decidedly anti-racist, decolonial, egalitarian and democratic.”
Wang, who is from Beijing, learned of her Rhodes Scholarship through a Sunday early morning email from the National Secretary of Rhodes China. The email directed her to call, and Wang remembers being “extremely honored, privileged and humbled” by the news.
Wang said she was prompted to pursue a Rhodes by the examples of Ash Carter, former visiting fellow at the Hoover Institution and lecturer at the Freeman Spogli Institute until becoming U.S. Secretary of Defense; Michael McFaul, director of the Freeman Spogli Institute and former U.S. ambassador to Russia; and Stanford alumna Susan Rice, former national security adviser and U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.
At Stanford, Wang served as a research assistant on a COVID-19 team, led by H.R. McMaster, the Fouad and Michelle Ajami Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution. The research was designed to capture non-partisan lessons from the U.S. response to COVID-19, focusing on coordination of government and private sector efforts in response to pandemics and other large-scale crises. Wang also pursued research on political communication in China with the rise of the internet under the mentorship of Condoleezza Rice, the Tad and Dianne Taube Director of the Hoover Institution.
Wang also was a member of the women’s golf team throughout her Stanford career and wrote a column for Golf China. Ironically, it was the SARS-C0V-1 in 2004 that introduced Wang to golf.
In a September perspective piece about the pandemic written for Stanford Athletics, Wang remembered, “My golf story started when the lockdown for SARS-CoV-1 in 2004, in Beijing, China, introduced the sport into my life. The pandemic that disrupted an entire society exempted golf as a permissible activity, thereby irrevocably reshaping the temporality and spatiality of my world.”
Rhodes Scholars are chosen in a two-stage process. First, applicants must be endorsed by their college or university. Applicants are chosen on the basis of the criteria set down in the will of Cecil Rhodes. The criteria include, first, academic excellence. In addition, a Rhodes Scholar should have great ambition for impact, and an ability to work with others and to achieve one’s goals. The Rhodes also recognizes a commitment to making a difference for good in the world, concern for the welfare of others and acute conscious of inequities.
Stanford students interested in overseas scholarships and Stanford faculty interested in nominating students for such awards should contact Diane Murk, manager of the Overseas Resource Center at [email protected], of the Bechtel International Center.