Two students with Maryland ties named Rhodes scholars

Naomi Mburu
Naomi Mburu (Courtesy of UMBC)

Two college students with ties to Maryland were named Rhodes scholars on Sunday.

The Rhodes Trust, which awards scholarships for two years of postgraduate study at Oxford University in England, named University of Maryland Baltimore County student Naomi Mburu of Ellicott City and Naval Academy midshipman Nathan Bermel of Brookline, Mass., two of this year’s 32 Rhodes scholars.


Mburu, 21, a senior studying chemical engineering at the University of Maryland Baltimore County, is the first student in the school’s history to receive a Rhodes scholarship.

UMBC President Freeman Hrabowski said the recognition “speaks volumes about both Naomi as a fine thinker and future leader and about the education she’s received here.”


Hrabowski said he got goosebumps and tears in his eyes when he learned Mburu had been selected. He was one of the school officials who recruited her to UMBC, with the promise that she would be able to attend any graduate school of her choosing afterward.

“I knew if she came here she would have great opportunities to do research and grow as a person,” he said. “We’re very honored that people saw the strength of her thinking and capacity to be a major leader in our society.”

Naval Academy midshipman Nathan Bermel
Naval Academy midshipman Nathan Bermel (Courtesy of the Naval Academy)

Bermel, 22, is a midshipman first class — a senior — studying political science and quantitative economics at the Naval Academy. He has a perfect 4.0 grade-point average.

Bermel is the 16th Naval Academy student to be named a Rhodes scholar in the past 15 years, according to school officials.

“I really think it’s a testament to the Naval Academy and the opportunities it provides,” he said. “It really sets us up for success.”

Beyond numerous academic achievements, Bermel is a member of the academy’s two-time National Championship Club Lacrosse team, and works as a mentor for children in Annapolis. Last summer, he was one of four midshipmen to summit Denali, the highest mountain peak in North America.

He has interned with the State Department’s Bureau of Energy Resources and studied the impact of climate change on the Republic of the Marshall Islands.

After pursuing a master’s at Oxford, he will attend flight school to become a Navy pilot. Bermel said he is unsure whether he will make the military a career, but he knows he plans to study climate change in some capacity, which he says “will be the defining issue of my generation.”

Mburu is a first-generation American whose parents immigrated from Kenya. She works as a peer mentor for freshmen and sophomores pursuing chemical engineering and physics.

She is partnering with a UMBC professor to develop a bioreactor that would extend the viability of human organs awaiting transplant.

A graduate of Mount Hebron High School in Ellicott City, she has interned at Intel and spent last summer in Geneva at the European Organization for Nuclear Research.

Mburu served as president and pre-college initiative chair of UMBC’s chapter of the National Society of Black Engineers, and volunteers weekly with high school girls on STEM-related research projects.


Mburu said she hopes the research she conducts in the future will “have an impact on getting nuclear fusion power to be commercialized in my lifetime.”

UMBC, Hopkins researchers work to extend the life of organs destined for transplantation.

She said Sunday evening that news of the scholarship hadn’t fully sunk in yet. She said she’s been flooded in the last 24 hours with messages from other UMBC students — many of them young black women also interested in the STEM fields — telling her she’s an inspiration.

“Me getting this scholarship is putting UMBC on the map as a place that fosters these types of experiences, for minority students especially,” she said.

Hrabowski said this announcement is a victory for “middle-class Americans, for women, for minorities, for everyone.”

“It’s a great American and Maryland story,” he said.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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