Each year, only 32 college students in the United States win the Rhodes Scholarship for postgraduate study at the University of Oxford in England. Now, Sammamish can count a Rhodes Scholar within the community.
Elvin Irihamye, 20, won the prestigious scholarship and plans to study applied digital health during his time at Oxford.
Irihamye currently attends Indiana University, majors in neuroscience, and is on track to graduate this upcoming spring. His family moved to Sammamish from Kentucky at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic due to his father’s job at Microsoft. Both of his parents are immigrants from Rwanda.
He applied for the scholarship during his junior year. After months of hearing nothing back, Irihamye finally landed an interview with a panel of professors at Indiana University because of his high academic standing and compelling extracurriculars.
“They really ask you the tough questions. The first interview, I thought, was more difficult than my last interview and that’s because I was much less prepared,” Irihamye said.
Irihamye is involved in a multitude of activities including Create Circles, a nonprofit that connects college students with senior citizens through virtual calls. He is the co-founder of The Eckford Mentorship Program, which helps minority students find mentors who are working professionals in the industries that the students are interested in. Irihamye is also credited as a co-author of multiple scientific papers in peer-reviewed publications.
Additionally, Irihamye is active in student government and undergraduate research. He was admitted to Indiana University as a Herman B. Wells Scholar, which covers the full, four-year cost of attendance.
After a successful first interview on campus, Irihamye’s resume was sent to the district level and reviewed. He then made it to the final interview along with 13 other students in his district.
In a typical year, Irihamye would have traveled to Washington, D.C. for the final interview. But due to the pandemic, the interview was conducted over Zoom on Nov. 20.
Prior to the interview, Irihamye was able to join a Zoom call with all of the other nominees from his district. This allowed them to talk about their interests and get to know each other.
“You’re competing against kids who are Princeton student body presidents. I remember there was a woman who made an algorithm that the government of India is using to diagnose patients. It just went on and on,” Irihamye said.
Irihamye’s final interview lasted only 20 minutes and covered a variety of topics from African politics to jazz music.
“The Rhodes Scholarship interviews aren’t necessarily difficult, but they require a lot of creative thinking,” he said.
The next day, Irihamye found himself in an empty library on his school’s campus. He logged into a Zoom call and awaited the results. Only two students are chosen from each of the 16 districts in the U.S. After a long 30 minute wait, his name was called first.
“I ended up by myself in a library calling all my family and all my friends,” Irihamye said. “It was just overwhelming. I just thought, damn, like this is really happening. I had to go take a picture of the email just to make sure.”
Irihamye said a big area of his interest is in healthcare technology. He has already been accepted to medical school at University of California, San Francisco, and Indiana University-Bloomington. He is also interested in University of Washington’s School of Medicine.
Now back at home for break, Irihamye is spending quality time with his family in Sammamish and celebrating his win. He is also finishing up his application to Oxford for his planned course of study.
He hopes that his success will inspire other Sammamish students to apply for the Rhodes Scholarship.