Naomi Mburu’s way forward
Photo by Ian Feldmann.

Naomi Mburu’s way forward

Naomi Mburu, a chemical engineering senior, has recently been distinguished as the first UMBC student to obtain a Rhodes Scholarship. The scholarship, which recognizes her contributions to the field of science, is awarded to students based on their accomplishment in both academic performance and research.

The Rhodes Scholarship is the world’s oldest international scholarship award, dating back to 1902. While several UMBC students have been finalists for the Scholarship in the past, Mburu’s achievement marks a first for the school. In an interview with UMBC News in 2017, Mburu said, “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.”

She went on to say, “As a Rhodes Scholar, I will be completing a Ph.D. in engineering science and likely conducting my research under Peter Ireland to work on heat transfer applications for nuclear fusion reactors,” adding, “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.”

Mburu, a first-generation American whose parents immigrated from Kenya, graduated from Mount Hebron High School in Ellicott City before attending UMBC.

Her accomplishments while on UMBC’s campus include her involvement with research, scholars programs and leadership roles in many student organizations. She serves as a peer mentor for freshmen and sophomores that wish to pursue chemical engineering. She has also served as the president and pre-college initiative chair of UMBC’s chapter of the National Society of Black Engineers.

One of her largest achievements working in the field was working at the European Organization for Nuclear Research. She has had experience working with the Large Hadron Collider. Additionally, she has interned at Intel.

Mburu has collaborated with Gymyma Slaughter, a computer science and electrical engineering associate professor, on developing a bioreactor that would aid in the preservation of human organs that are slated for being transplanted.  Her work also extends into the community, as she volunteers weekly with high school girls on STEM-related projects.

She is passionate about the promise of nuclear fusion and hopes for its implementation in the future, stating in the Baltimore Sun that she hopes her research will “have an impact on getting nuclear fusion power to be commercialized in my lifetime.”

To other students, Mburu has served as a beacon of inspiration.  Her accomplishments have received praise from young black women who also want to enter STEM fields. When news of her scholarship broke, she received an overwhelming amount of support. This includes support from president Freeman Hrabowski, describing her scholarship award as a victory for “middle-class Americans, for women, for minorities, for everyone” in an interview with the Baltimore Sun. He additionally said, “It’s a great American and Maryland story.”

As she prepares to transition to Oxford, it is clear that her work and contributions at UMBC have been valuable to her peers and to her chosen field.