A Dunbar High School graduate who attends the University of Kentucky has been named a Rhodes Scholar, one of the most prestigious scholarships in the world. It will pay for her to attend Oxford University in England for graduate work.
Hadeel Abdallah, the daughter of Younes Abdallah and Maissa Abdallah of Lexington, becomes the first Rhodes Scholar from UK since 1955. At Oxford, she plans on getting graduate degrees in refugee and forced migration studies and global governance and diplomacy. The Rhodes Trust named 32 winners across the United States.
“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 has been a standout student at UK thus far; as an activist working for educational opportunities for immigrant and refugee women, she founded and directs the Bilal Scholarship Endowment, which provides scholarships to underrepresented students across Kentucky.
A recipient of both the Chellgren Fellowship and the Gaines Fellowship, she previously served as the president of the Muslim Student Association and as director of inclusion and outreach for the UK Student Government Association. She was also national outreach director for the Muslim Youth of North America. Earlier this year, she was named a Truman Scholar, a national scholarship that provides $30,000 to 58 U.S. students for graduate work.
“Hadeel’s passion for public service and resolve to make a positive impact on the world are an inspiration to the UK family,” said UK President Eli Capilouto. “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.”
She will graduate from UK this spring with a double major in political science and Arabic and Islamic studies. During her time at UK, Abdallah also interned in the office of the Lexington Vice Mayor Steve Kay; the Washington, D.C., office for U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee of Texas; and with the Kentucky House Democratic Caucus in Frankfort during her undergraduate years.
“I first met her when she was helping to organize one of the early gatherings to celebrate diversity in the community,” Kay said. “She stood out — she’s smart, she’s upbeat and she worked on ways to improve outreach to the immigrant community. I know whatever she does, it will be of great benefit to the world, she’s just that kind of person.”
Dunbar teacher Greg O’Bryan worked with Abdallah her senior year in a mentoring program, where she created an anti-bullying program.
“She was an amazing student, very mature, lots of leadership, empathetic, assertive, and always smiling,” he said. “She held leadership positions in all these clubs geared toward helping people, she had a heart to help people.”
The most recent Rhodes Scholar named from Lexington was in 2015 when Bryan Station High School graduate Logan C. Jackson won the award. She attended Northeastern University in Boston. Another Dunbar graduate, Victor Yang, was named a Rhodes in 2011 while he was attending Harvard.
The Rhodes Trust said in a press release that this year’s class of 32 scholars includes 21 women, the most ever in a single class. Almost half of the 32 winners are also immigrants or first-generation Americans. Rhodes Scholarships provide all expenses for two or three years of study at Oxford and may allow funding in some instances for four years. They were created in 1902 by the will of Cecil Rhodes. The first class of American Rhodes Scholars entered Oxford in 1904; those elected today will enter Oxford in October 2019.