UM Student, Alumna Among Rhodes Scholarship Finalists

Arielle Hudson, Chinelo Ibekwe prepare for interview process for prestigious international award

Arielle Hudson, a senior English education major from Tunica, will compete for a Rhodes Scholarship during a series of interviews Nov. 22-23 in Birmingham, Alabama. Hudson has been involved in a variety of organizations at UM, including the Associated Student Body and the Black Student Union. Photo by Thomas Graning/Ole Miss Digital Imaging Services

OXFORD, Miss. – An education major at the University of Mississippi and an engineering alumna are both finalists for the prestigious Rhodes Scholarship at the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom.

Arielle Hudson, a senior English education major from Tunica, will compete for the scholarship during a series of interviews Nov. 22-23 in Birmingham, Alabama. Chinelo Ibekwe, a 2018 chemical engineering graduate from Nigeria, is a finalist for the Rhodes Scholarship for West Africa and will travel to Lagos, Nigeria, between Nov. 29 and 30 for her interview.

UM has produced 26 Rhodes Scholars in its history. Last year, Jaz Brisack became the university’s first female Rhodes Scholarship recipient.

A Tunica native, Hudson graduated from the Mississippi School for Mathematics and Science in Columbus in 2016. She notes the possibility of earning a Rhodes Scholarship has been in the back of her mind for years.

“I first found out about (the scholarship) when I started high school,” she explained. “But because I was at a school in the Mississippi Delta, I didn’t view it as something I would ever qualify for.

“But by the time I was at MSMS, and I learned more about those who have earned the scholarship, I felt it was more in reach.”

Hudson came to the university after accepting a full scholarship from the UM chapter of the Mississippi Excellence in Teaching Program. A second-generation Ole Miss student, she remembers visiting campus as a child with her mother, Tammie Turner, who earned two degrees in education from UM.

Even though Hudson had originally planned to attend the University of California at Berkeley, the METP scholarship provided an opportunity for her to follow in her mother’s footsteps and attend the university.

“I always thought I would go to an out-of-state school, but when I received the scholarship, I started to think about how I would make a difference here,” she said. “So, I decided to go for it, thinking I could go out of state for graduate school.”

Being accepted as a Rhodes Scholar certainly could make that goal happen.

The Rhodes Scholarships, established in 1902, bring 32 high-achieving students from around the globe to the University of Oxford each year. In addition to “intellectual distinction,” the selection committee looks for college graduates with potential for effective service to the world.

Rhodes Scholars receive tuition, travel, room and board, and a living stipend for two years, with a possible third year.

Arielle Hudson

“As part of the Mississippi Excellence in Teaching Program, Arielle is already one of the top academic students at the University of Mississippi,” said David Rock, UM education dean. “To be selected as a Rhodes Scholar finalist is simply a sensational accomplishment for any student. We are so proud of Arielle and her recognition.

“More importantly, we are all blessed that she has the desire, passion and commitment to become an English teacher in the state of Mississippi. She will have a powerful impact on so many children in our state.”

If selected, Hudson hopes to pursue master’s degrees in comparative social policy and comparative international education, before returning home to the Mississippi Delta to fulfill her five-year teaching requirement as an METP scholarship recipient.

When looking back at her time at Ole Miss, Hudson is most proud of her role as an Associated Student Body senator and a leader within the Black Student Union.

Specifically, she cites her work on the ASB’s Inclusion and Cross-Cultural Engagement Committee and the work that went into the ASB’s unanimous vote in March 2019 to relocate the Confederate monument on campus.

Each year, Hudson has risen through the ranks at the BSU and currently serves as its president.

“I’m most proud of the environment (that the BSU) has been able to foster for African American students on campus by becoming a safe space to voice opinions,” she said. “Students can let us know what they need – not only what they need to be here at the university, but to thrive here, as well.”

A theme of service is woven throughout Hudson’s story. Besides her work on campus, she has volunteered in schools with the Marks Project, a collaborative effort to improve educational opportunities and more in Quitman County. Through this experience, she developed an appreciation for the need for books and reading materials in schools and homes.

As a result, in 2017, Hudson establish a program called “Literacy L.I.G.H.T.S.,” meaning “Literacy Lets Individuals Gain Height to Success,” which had helped provide more than 400 books or reading materials for classrooms and homes in Tunica, Oxford and other places.

For fun, Hudson has participated in seven beauty pageants at the state and national level, including the Miss Black International Pageant, where she was the second runner-up. The pageant places an emphasis on community service, and Hudson said that’s an important factor in her participation.

“I chose that pageant specifically because of its focus on community service,” she said. “To see that a pageant system values service over just looks was something that really drove me in that direction.”

As part of her participation in this pageant and others, she was able to further develop Literacy L.I.G.H.T.S. and make professional connections.

“In pageants, you meet a lot of intelligent people who are in so many different sectors,” she said. “I think people don’t realize that in pageants, a lot of the women are doctors, scientists, lawyers and teachers. There is so much more depth to pageantry than people realize.”

Next semester, Hudson will student-teach ninth-grade English in the Oxford School District and finish the requirements for her bachelor’s degree. Long term, Hudson also hopes to pursue a law degree and one day work as an education policymaker.

In the meantime, she is preparing for the rigorous Rhodes interview process just around the corner.

“A lot of people hear about my accomplishments and think I have it all together,” she said. “That’s definitely not true. I’ve had so many rejections, and so many ‘Nos’ over the years.

“But I think you have to be resilient and know you have a purpose. For me, my purpose is that I want to serve other people. That’s what pushes me to keep going.”

Chinelo Ibekwe

Ibekwe was a 2017 semifinalist for the Rhodes Scholarship for West Africa while completing her senior year at Ole Miss. After graduation, she reapplied and was named a 2018 finalist for the award and took third place.

“The Rhodes application cycle has been an interesting journey for me, and I have watched myself grow with each cycle,” Ibekwe said. “It’s such a competitive process that it forces you to dig deeper into how effective your career path connects with standing up for the world.”

If Ibekwe wins the scholarship, she will apply for postgraduate data science degrees at the University of Oxford. While she hasn’t chosen her research yet, Ibekwe said she is looking forward to connecting with Matt Willis, a research associate at the Oxford Internet Institute at the University of Oxford, to learn more about the institute’s work on the automation of repetitive tasks in medical care delivery.

She is also excited to connect with researchers at the Oxford Big Data Institute, focused on implementing data-driven research in clinical medicine and population health.

“I want to learn the fundamentals of analyzing unstructured data on human behavior, which will serve as a foundation for my career in artificial intelligence for health care,” said Ibekwe, who works for Corporate Council on Africa to foster partnerships between U.S. companies and African governments. She is also pursuing coursework in data science and AI to equip her to address Nigeria’s health care infrastructure challenges.

“I am interested in how behavioral health data could influence medical innovations,” she said.

Ibekwe said the Rhodes would give her an opportunity to connect with well-rounded leaders passionate about tackling complex global problems such as health care. Long-term, she plans to use technology and investment to revitalize the health sector of Nigeria.

“With the state of bureaucracy in the Nigerian Ministry of Health, change-makers are beginning to disrupt the health sector through private sector innovations,” she said. “Hence, I plan to start an artificial intelligence company, which will improve clinical, financial or operational outcomes needed to upgrade population health and accountable care in Nigeria.”

Although AI is revolutionizing health systems worldwide, lack of good quality data is a major obstacle preventing developing countries from fully implementing it, Ibekwe said.

“Only a small percentage of the world’s medical data is available in a form that AI machine-learning algorithms absorb,” she explained. “Therefore, to explore AI, there is a need to understand how to acquire and manipulate big data, which is why I am applying to study data science at Oxford.”

Chinelo Ibekwe, a 2018 University of Mississippi chemical engineering alumna, is a finalist for the Rhodes Scholarship for West Africa. Submitted photo

Ibekwe said she needs the scholarship because her parents are unable to afford University of Oxford’s fees. She was able to afford college only after Ole Miss awarded her a full-tuition scholarship.

Ibekwe’s undergraduate honors thesis was a systematic review of socioeconomic literature on breastfeeding support programs, and the impact of breastfeeding on reduced rehospitalization of preterm and low-birth weight babies in the Mississippi Delta.

While in college, she interned at Mars Inc., Goldman Sachs and Medtronic. Ibekwe also spent some of her school breaks shadowing physicians at Johns Hopkins University Hospital, Batson Children’s Hospital and the Emory University School of Medicine’s Department of Pediatrics (Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta).

In 2016, Ibekwe was selected as a summer pre-MBA student under Dartmouth College’s Tuck Business Bridge Program. In 2017, she was a summer public policy fellow at Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson school. While in college, she was also an active member of Engineers Without Borders and took part in building an elementary school in the West African nation of Togo.

After graduation, Ibekwe moved to Washington, D.C., to work for two nonprofits focused on health care development in African countries. She then worked as a regulatory affairs researcher for five months at Proxima Clinical Research Inc. in Houston, Texas.

Ibekwe is pursuing coursework in Python, C++ and Java programming to prepare for her career transition into data science and artificial intelligence.