UMBC’s Naomi Mburu receives first Rhodes Scholarship in school history

Naomi Mburu ’18, chemical engineering, is the first student in UMBC history to receive the prestigious Rhodes Scholarship. She is one of 32 students from across the United States to receive this prestigious honor for the 2018 year. Several UMBC students have been finalists for the Scholarship in the past.

Established in 1902, The Rhodes Scholarship is the world’s oldest international scholarship award. Rhodes Scholars are selected based on their academic and research accomplishments, their leadership and commitment to others.

“Being selected as a Rhodes Scholar will provide me with the network and resources to be an influential scientist and education advocate on the global level,” says Mburu.  

“As a Rhodes Scholar, I will be completing a Ph.D. in engineering science and likely conducting my research under Dr. Peter Ireland to work on heat transfer applications for nuclear fusion reactors,” says Mburu. “I believe the Rhodes Scholarship will allow me to foster a stronger community amongst my fellow scholars because we will all be attending the same institution.”

As a UMBC student, Mburu is involved with research and scholars programs, and is a leader in many student organizations. As a Meyerhoff Scholar, she is a peer mentor for freshmen and sophomores pursuing chemical engineering. Mburu is also a MARC U*STAR Trainee. The Meyerhoff Scholars Program and the MARC U*STAR Scholars Programs aim to increase the number of underrepresented minorities who pursue Ph.D.s in STEM fields. She has a passion for supporting STEM education and increasing diversity in STEM fields, which led to her involvement with programs and organizations with similar missions.

“The UMBC community as a whole has been incredibly instrumental in preparing me to compete for these awards. As a Meyerhoff and MARC U*STAR Scholar, I have learned how to write compelling personal statements that express my desire to influence the world in terms of both nuclear fusion power generation and in the removal of barriers to quality education for all people,” says Mburu. “The staff and faculty in the Honors College and chemical engineering department have engaged in mock interviews with me to help me prepare for the broad varieties of questions I could be asked, and I actually found some of their questions to be more difficult than my actual interview questions.”

Mburu is currently working with Gymama Slaughter, associate professor of computer science and electrical engineering, to develop a bioreactor to extend the viability of human organs awaiting transplant. The sensors will track glucose levels, lactic acid, and nitric oxide to ensure that the organ remains healthy as it is transported to the recipient.

“Increasing the participation of underrepresented minorities in STEM fields reflects our changing world and is what we desperately need for working toward discoveries that will improve the human condition,” says Slaughter. “As a mentor, I’m fortunate to work with the best and brightest students at UMBC, including Naomi, who have a strong desire to change the world. Naomi’s aspiration is to become an advocate for scientific advancement in renewable energy sources and education equality. The Rhodes scholarship is a well-deserved recognition of the positive impact she will have in the field of nuclear engineering and on the human condition across the world. We are very proud of Naomi’s accomplishments.”

This past summer, Mburu interned at Intel and developed an interactive model to estimate the cost of coatings applied to equipment. Her work helped improve the pricing negotiations and paved the way for additional should-cost models to be established for other chemical processes.

Mburu’s success shows UMBC’s commitment to research and unique undergraduate academic opportunities is working, explains April Householder ‘95, visual and performing arts, director of undergraduate research and nationally competitive scholarships. “What is particularly striking about Naomi is that she is accomplished in doing high-level scientific research, has a sophisticated grasp of issues related to nuclear energy, and is thoroughly committed to becoming a leader and a role model for other young scientists in her field,” she adds. “It is truly rare to find this combination of intellectual virtuosity and attention to detail, along with the ability to bridge different disciplines and a true desire to give back to others.”

Outside of the classroom and lab, Mburu is involved with many local chapters of national organizations. She has served as the president and pre-college initiative chair of the UMBC’s chapter of the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE), and currently is the vice chair for Region II of NSBE. Mburu is committed to mentoring youth and supporting them in their schoolwork. She spends time each week working with high school girls on STEM-related research projects, and worked with K-12 students on homework during her first semester at UMBC.

While Mburu was a student at Mount Hebron High School, she completed research with Lasse Lindahl, biological sciences. Her work focused on how the introduction of phosphate affected the ribosomal protein L4. She has also pursued research at The Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory and Vanderbilt University. In summer 2016, Mburu spent the summer in Geneva, Switzerland at the European Organization for Nuclear Research. She worked alongside physicists to measure the impurities found in the Large Hadron Collider particle accelerator.

“Rhodes Scholars come from all over the world, but they are unified by a joint passion to make great change in their communities.” says Mburu.

Mburu’s award is highlighted in The Washington PostThe Baltimore Sun, CBS BaltimoreThe Sacramento BeeThe Washington Post, WUSA9Inside Higher EdWTOP, and CBS Baltimore.

Banner image: Naomi Mburu. Photo by Marlayna Demond ‘11 for UMBC.