I knew that I wanted to continue learning Kurdish while living in Turkey as a high school exchange student. While several universities in the US offer Turkish, the University of Arizona is the only institution that offered quality programs in both languages. I chose UofA over similar programs on the East Coast because of the competitive language programs and generous scholarships offered through the Honors College.
At seventeen, I was tossed into discussions with graduate students about the history and future of the Middle East. I don’t know of any other department that encourages students to take small, engaging classes throughout their entire degree program. The School of Middle Eastern and North African Studies and the Critical Languages Program gave me a specialized, rigorous education at a state school price.
Thanks to the Accelerated Master’s Program in MENAS, I will (hopefully) finish both my B.A. and M.A. in four years. The department has been incredibly supportive of student scholarship at every academic level. I didn’t know what to expect when I moved to Arizona, but I couldn’t be happier with my experience.
After graduating from the University of Arizona Honors College and the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences in May, Leah Crowder dove immediately into graduate studies. With the recent announcement of her selection as a Rhodes Scholar, she is England bound as one of 32 representatives from the U.S. to enter the University of Oxford this fall.
Of the more than 2,500 U.S. Rhodes Scholarship applicants, 880 were endorsed by 281 different colleges and universities. Crowder is the only one of the 32 newly announced Rhodes Scholars to attend an Arizona university and is one of a record 21 women in the U.S. cohort.
Rhodes Scholarships provide all expenses for two or three years of study at the University of Oxford, with the total value of the scholarship averaging approximately $70,000 per year.
Crowder, a Petersburg, Virginia native, completed a B.A. in Middle Eastern and North African studies at the UA with a 4.0 GPA and promptly began pursuing a master's in the same program.
"Leah has been an exceptional student at the University of Arizona," said UA Interim Provost Jeff Goldberg. "I have no doubt her passion for education combined with her desire to solve global problems will make a difference in the lives of people around the world. This is a tremendous honor, as the selection process includes the best students in the U.S."
Rhodes Scholars are chosen on the basis of criteria including academic excellence, great personal energy, ambition for impact, and an ability to work with others and to achieve one’s goals. In addition, a Rhodes Scholar should be committed to making a strong difference for good in the world, be concerned for the welfare of others, and be conscious of inequities.
"A Rhodes Scholar should show great promise of leadership. In short, we seek outstanding young men and women of intellect, character, leadership and commitment to service," said Elliot F. Gerson, American secretary of the Rhodes Trust, a British charity established to honor the will and bequest of Cecil J. Rhodes. “These basic characteristics are directed at fulfilling Mr. Rhodes' hopes that the Rhodes Scholars would make an important and positive contribution throughout the world. In Rhodes' words, his scholars should 'esteem the performance of public duties as their highest aim.'"
Crowder has been working on the ground in Turkey since her teenage years to advance peacekeeping and child protection initiatives, and continues to research how to end cyclical violence in areas divided by deep cultural and political differences.
Crowder has also used her global experiences to contribute to the UA and the greater Tucson community. As an undergraduate student, she coordinated globally-focused programs with UA Residence Life, mentored incoming high school exchange students, and worked with UA faculty to develop outreach programs for immigrant and refugee youth in Tucson. She regularly returns to Turkey to work on youth empowerment projects in areas impacted by regional violence.
"In post-conflict settings, there's often little connection between research and work on the ground," Crowder said. "I want to help build bridges between them, and my peers at Oxford come with a wide variety of perspectives not only for discussion, but to help make decisions that can ultimately benefit displaced people."
At Oxford, Crowder will work toward a doctorate in international relations.
"Leah's poised, resilient nature gives her extraordinary adaptability. Even on campus, she stepped into difficult situations to bring people together. Perhaps her greatest gift is giving voice to those who are voiceless," said Karna Walter, assistant dean of student engagement in the UA Honors College.
Crowder was recently named as a recipient of a UA 2018 Global Excellence Award, which recognizes those who make significant contributions to the fields of global education and service. It would appear the Rhodes Scholarship is simply the next, logical step for this mission-focused young woman.