Pair of seniors awarded
Rhodes, Marshall

With dual degrees under their arms and visions of economic development on their minds, two Penn seniors will spend next year studying in England under the prestigious Rhodes and Marshall scholarships. In the University’s history, only one other pair of Penn students has received these two awards in the same year [“Gazetteer,” March/April ’01].

Rhodes scholar Brett Shaheen, who is majoring in international relations in the College and economics at Wharton, will study at the University of Oxford, where he plans to gain exposure to the macro-level issues of international development.

Meanwhile, Marshall recipient Aziza Zakhidova will head to the University of Cambridge in the fall. A student in the dual-degree Huntsman program, Zakhidova is majoring in international studies in the College and economics in Wharton. She plans to expand her knowledge in these areas, earning advanced degrees in development studies at Cambridge and economics at the London School of Economics.

What Zakhidova refers to as her “intuitions about central Asia” have deep roots. When she was growing up, her family moved often, and she spent her formative years in Italy, Japan, and Uzbekistan before settling in the United States in the late 1990s.

Uzbekistan, her birthplace and childhood home, became independent from the Soviet Union in 1991, and has since been struggling to improve its economy. Zakhidova hopes to return to the former Soviet countries of Central Asia after her schooling to aid in their economic growth and development.

Though her Uzbek parents were raised in a communist state, they have been supportive of Zakhidova’s academic pursuits.

“It was a bit new to them,” she says, “especially finance and economics, in the capitalism sense. My parents always joke that when they were students, capitalism was something that was very negatively taught in their school, but here it’s the opposite. They think it’s ironic that now this is what their daughter’s studying.”

Zakhidova is a University Scholar and Joseph Wharton Scholar, and organized a Japanese-American student conference two summers ago.As a freshman she helped found a Middle Eastern dance group known as Ya’lla, which became an official part of Penn’s Performing Arts Council last year.

Shaheen, like Zakhidova, has carved out a niche for himself at the University. A community-service enthusiast since childhood, he has worked as a fellow with the Penn Law School’s public-service program for three years.

While at Penn, Shaheen has served as a Big Brother to a nine-year-old boy he visits every week at the West Philadelphia Community Center. “Some community-service projects are tough because you have a one-time encounter,” he says. “It’s nice to stay consistent over a period of years.”

It was in part this civic spirit that took him to Southeast Asia last summer, where he worked as a consultant to the Association for Rural Community Development (ARCOD). Shaheen spent a month in Roya Kottai, India, showing local entrepreneurs how to refine their business strategies and helping ARCOD design better loan products.

A devoted classical musician, Shaheen won first prize at the National Beethoven Society Piano Competition several years ago. He has served as harpsichordist for the Penn Baroque Ensemble, and has worked at the Shaw and Penn Alexander elementary schools with the Penn Music Mentoring Program.

With only 32 Rhodes and 40 Marshall Scholarships awarded annually, both Zakhidova and Shaheen triumphed over a competitive selection process and a pool of highly qualified applicants. Their example “helps instill confidence in other Penn students,” says Art Casciato, director of the Center for Undergraduate Research and Fellowships. “Even as we all build on this year’s success, such amazingly talented and accomplished young people as Aziza and Brett also challenge us to aim higher.”

—Molly Petrilla C’06

©2006 The Pennsylvania Gazette
Last modified 03/03/06