Greek-Americans Damianos and Melas-Kyriazi among Rhodes Scholarship Winners

Oxford University, Radcliffe Camera, a reading room of the Bodleian Library. Photo: Tejvan Pettinger, via Wikimedia Commons

PHILADELPHIA – University of Pennsylvania (Penn) May graduate Stephen Damianos from North Hampton, New Hampshire has been awarded a Rhodes Scholarship for graduate study at the University of Oxford in England, Penn Today reported. Penn senior Nurul Ezzaty Binti Hasbullah from Selangor, Malaysia, and Harvard senior Luke G. Melas-Kyriazi of Manhattan, were also awarded the prestigious and highly competitive scholarship which provides all expenses for up to four years of study at Oxford. The Rhodes Trust announced the winners on November 23.

Penn President Amy Gutmann said, “all of us at Penn are incredibly proud of our newest class of Rhodes Scholars. Each shares a passion for engagement and embodies the finest attributes of Penn scholars who are working to make a profound difference in the world. Each is truly deserving of this preeminent recognition.”

Guttman noted that, Stephen has dedicated himself to the cause of empowering refugees and is now studying the integration of refugees into formal labor markets and rights-based approaches to international development, with plans to attend law school,” Penn Today reported.

“Damianos is one of the 32 American Rhodes Scholars chosen to represent the United States,” Penn Today reported, citing the Rhodes Scholarship Trust, and adding that “this year more than 2,900 American students began the application process; 963 were endorsed by 298 different colleges and universities; and 236 applicants from 90 colleges and universities reached the final stage of the competition.”

According to the report in Penn Today, Damianos graduated summa cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa in May with a bachelor’s degree in political science from the School of Arts and Sciences and is currently pursuing a master’s degree in development studies at the University of Cambridge.

Stephen Damianos at Cambridge. Photo: Courtesy of the Damianos family

He “plans to attend law school and eventually work at the intersection of forced migration, labor policy, and human rights,” Penn Today reported, adding that “at Oxford, he hopes to earn a doctorate in migration studies with a focus on development.”

While at Penn, he was the founder and president of Penn Undergraduates for Refugee Empowerment which connects students with refugees, providing support such as academic tutoring and translation. Damianos continues to work with Penn’s employment administration and with refugees through Philadelphia resettlement centers. He has also volunteered with refugees in Greece, New York, and Cambridge

Working with refugees motivated him to apply for the Rhodes Scholarship, Damianos told The Daily Pennsylvanian.

“The desire to apply came directly from the fact that these incredible and inspiring and deeply resilient people would come to me looking for support and asking questions I did not have the answers to,” Damianos said, The Daily Pennsylvanian reported, adding that “in 2018, Damianos received the Truman Scholarship, which awards recipients with $30,000 to pursue graduate studies relating to public service.”

He was selected as a Dean’s Scholar and received the Sol Feinstone Award, James Howard Weiss Memorial Award, and Robert Holtz Memorial Prize for Excellence in Political Science and conducted independent research as a Perry World House Student Fellow.

“The refugee study center at Oxford [is] the only of its kind there in the world and the scholars there have deeply influenced my academic research and works,” Damianos told The Daily Pennsylvanian.

“Binti Hasbullah and Damianos applied for the Rhodes Scholarship with assistance from Penn’s Center for Undergraduate Research and Fellowships. The awards bring the number of Penn Rhodes Scholars to 30 since the Scholarship’s inception in 1902,” Penn Today reported.

Also among the American winners is Luke G. Melas-Kyriazi of Manhattan, a Harvard senior pursuing a BA in Mathematics and a MS in Computer Science. According to his biography, his research agenda on machine learning has included work analyzing demographic diversity and blood laboratory data in order to improve clinical decision-making. As treasurer of the Harvard Student Agencies, the largest student-run company in the world, Melas-Kyriazi manages a $1.2 million reserve fund to support educational and business opportunities for students. He also organizes hackathons for computer science undergraduates across the United States and Canada. At Oxford, Melas-Kyriazi will work on a D.Phil. in Computer Science.

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