Two UW–Madison seniors were finalists this year for the Rhodes Scholarship

// Chemical & Biological Engineering

University of Wisconsin–Madison seniors Qianyun (Lexi) Luo and Hawra Aljawad reached the final stage of competition this year for the Rhodes Scholarship, one of the most prestigious and selective undergraduate academic honors in the world.

Photo of Hawra Aljawad
Hawra Aljawad

The 32 Americans chosen as Rhodes Scholars were announced Nov. 20, 2021. An additional 203 American students were finalists for the coveted awards, including Luo. Aljawad was a finalist in her native Saudi Arabia. (The scholarships are awarded by countries or groups of countries.)

Luo, of Bloomington, Illinois, is majoring in biochemistry and statistics. Aljawad is a chemical engineering and biochemistry major.

“To make it to the finalist stage is a tremendous honor — only the most elite students can claim this accomplishment,” says Provost Karl Scholz. “We are so proud of Hawra and Lexi and all they’ve achieved during their time with us. I know they will go on to do remarkable things in their careers.”

Luo has conducted cancer research for more than three years in two labs, earning co-authorship on three publications. Since her freshman year, she has worked with Professor Randall Kimple, director of cancer biology and translational medicine in the Department of Human Oncology at UW–Madison, researching a possible mechanistic pathway to induce radiation sensitivity in head and neck cancer. Luo also conducts research in immunology at the MD Anderson Cancer Center at the University of Texas under Assistant Professor Alexandre Reuben.

Photo of Qianyun (Lexi) Luo
Qianyun (Lexi) Luo

Because of her strong research skills and leadership abilities, Luo was selected to serve as an undergraduate teaching assistant for the Introduction to Biochemistry course and as a peer group leader for the advanced Biochemical Methods course. She serves as a tutor with the Greater University Tutoring Service, a facilitator with the student-run Peer Learning Association and an academic mentor with the Center for Academic Excellence.

Beginning her freshman year, Aljawad has worked in several labs focused on health research, including ones devoted to understanding Alzheimer’s disease and the flu virus. She currently is an undergraduate researcher in the Department of Neurology.

During her time on campus, Aljawad has been a volunteer troop leader for the Girl Scouts of Wisconsin–Badgerland, a facilitator for the Peer Learning Association at UW–Madison and a volunteer for SCIENCountERS at the Boys & Girls Club of Dane County. She is a member of the Society of Women in Engineering and the Wisconsin Engineering Student Council.

Both Luo and Aljawad have earned numerous prestigious awards. In 2021, Luo was named a national Goldwater Scholar and Astronaut Scholar. Both awards support U.S. students who show promise of becoming part of the next generation of STEM research leaders. Aljawad is a recipient of the KAUST Gifted Student Program Scholarship. It is awarded by King Abdullah University of Science and Technology in Saudi Arabia to 100 top-tier high school students pursuing their bachelor’s degrees in the U.S.

“Lexi and Hawra have embraced a rich set of learning opportunities here at UW–Madison, pursuing cutting-edge research and community service,” says Julie Stubbs, director of the Office of Undergraduate Academic Awards, who assisted both students through the application process. “They are committed to careers in biomedical research and have the potential to become leaders in their fields. We were proud to have them represent the university in the Rhodes competition.”

Rhodes Scholarships provide all expenses for several years of study at the University of Oxford in England. Candidates are judged on a proven record of intellectual and academic achievement, integrity of character, interest in and respect for others, leadership ability, and the energy to fully utilize their talents.

Author: Doug Erickson