UNC senior wins Rhodes Scholarship


A University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill senior is among 32 Americans picked Saturday as winner of a Rhodes Scholarship that will fund study at Oxford University in England.

Aisha Ihab Saad, of Cary, will pursue a master's degree in nature, society and environmental policy at Oxford. She hopes to go into environmental law and work with different groups to create solutions for sustainable global development.

“I plan to focus on fragmentation in international environmental law, toward shaping comprehensive legal structures that protect equitable resource allocation and development on a global scale,” Saad said.

Saad is the 42nd UNC student to win the Rhodes Scholarship, which pays tuition, fees and living expenses for two or three years – a value of about $50,000 annually.

Two other 2008 Rhodes Scholars have North Carolina connections – Julia Parker Goyer, of Birmingham, Ala., is a senior at Duke University, and Alia Whitney-Johnson, of Leicster, is an alumna of the North Carolina School of Science and Math in Durham.

Whitney-Johnson, a civil and environmental-engineering major at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, was named one of the top 10 college women by Glamour Magazine in 2007.

After going on a tsunami-relief mission to Sri Lanka in 2005, Whitney-Johnson founded a nonprofit business which seeks to empower young women made pregnant through rape and incest. The group has been backed by the World Bank.

Saab, a graduate of J.H. Rose High in Greenville, won a Morehead-Cain Scholarship to UNC and will graduate in May with a double major in environmental-health science and Spanish. She will be recognized as a public-service scholar, volunteering for at least 300 hours during her college career.

"Aisha embodies everything we want a Carolina education to be: great academic accomplishment, sophisticated understanding of the world and its problems and an unwavering commitment to addressing great challenges," UNC Chancellor Holden Thorp said.

On campus, Saad has taught English to Spanish-speaking UNC employees and sought to make connections between faiths, races and cultures as outreach coordinator for the Muslim Students Association.

Off campus, Saad interned with government ministries in Peru and in the blood diseases ward of Cairo University's Teaching Hospitals. Her description of that experience was published in as an article in the policy journal, Health Affairs.

Last summer, Saad interned with Cherokee Investment Partners, which works to redevelop contaminated land. When activists group opposed the firm's plans to clean the Union Carbide site in Bhopal, India, she took action.

“When phone calls and e-mails from my desk in Raleigh brought no resolution, I stuffed my giant blue backpack, laced up my worn boots and headed to India,” Saad said. “Speeding through the contaminated slums surrounding the Union Carbide factory on the back of a motorcycle, I chased after personal stories. … With the victim’s stories, I began to bridge the disparate perspectives of Cherokee’s team and the skeptical activists in Bhopal.”

A naturalized American citizen, Saad is fluent in English, Arabic and Spanish and has reading proficiency in French and speaking proficiency in Hindi.

Saad arrived in the United States as an immigrant from Egypt when she was six. The oldest of five children, she said she got plenty of experience mediating while growing up.

"The role of mediation is something I’d like to carry into my future career,” she said. “My experience with Cherokee allowed me to engage with diverse perspectives at an international level, in a capacity that I have not experienced before.”