Two alumni and a student are UNC’s latest Rhodes Scholars, the first time three Tar Heels have been chosen in the same year for one of the world’s oldest and best-known scholarships for graduate study at the University of Oxford.
The recipients are senior Takhona Hlatshwako, Justin Hadad ’21 and Kimathi Muiruri ’21, all Morehead-Cain scholars at UNC. Their selection brings the University’s total Rhodes Scholars to 54 since the program began in 1902.
Hlatshwako, from the Kingdom of Eswatini in Southern Africa (formerly Swaziland), plans to pursue a master’s in international health and tropical medicine through the Oxford Centre for Tropical Medicine and Global Health within the Nuffield Department of Medicine. The course is a one-year interdisciplinary program that examines major health challenges of populations in low- and middle-income countries.
Hlatshwako’s interest in public health stemmed from a childhood during which she witnessed the devastation that HIV wrought within her home country. “It just became a normal part of life, and that really bothered me because that should never be something that we get used to,” said Hlatshwako, who is studying health policy and management at UNC’s Gillings School of Global Public Health. “I think I always had this thing in me…to go into health or health sciences.”
As a rising sophomore, she returned to Eswatini over a summer to work on a USAID-funded research project with Sharon Weir ’78 (’85 MPH, ’97 PhD) of the Carolina Population Center and Dr. Joseph Tucker ’04 (MD) of UNC’s School of Medicine. Hlatshwako collaborated on strategies that might increase HIV testing and use of HIV-related services among men. During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, she collaborated with University researchers through the Carolina Collective Initiative to amplify community voices in the search for the most effective, safe and equitable ways to serve the campus population. She also worked on a global COVID-19 study through the UNC Institute for Global Health and Infectious Diseases and is the co-chair of Gillings’ Minority Health Conference, the largest and longest-running student-led health conference in the country.
Hadad majored in economics and applied physics and minored in Latin at Carolina and is a member of Phi Beta Kappa, an Honors Carolina laureate and an entrepreneur.
His family has a long-running tradition of taking challenges head-on and finding their own solutions. For his ancestors living in civil strife in the Middle East, that meant seeking a new life in Trinidad. When his parents were faced with unrest in Trinidad in 1990, they moved to Ohio.
“It’s all about finding solutions to the problem they had, and it didn’t quite stop with the easy solution. They went to the hardest solution possible, which is leaving their homeland and finding a new place to live,” Hadad said. “I’ve taken that tenet and built my life around it — finding problems that people face and building solutions around those problems.”
While at Carolina, he created scheduling software that merges machine learning and economic theory to help businesses manage employees’ shifts; co-founded UNCUT, a storytelling platform that highlights student-athletes lives off the field to help them address their mental health; helped Silicon Valley companies design algorithms to analyze 3D printed parts and develop infrastructures for theft recovery; and was a research fellow for Louisville Forward, creating new financial policies for immigrants in the Kentucky city. After graduating, he designed software for low-tech industries.
As he pursues a master’s degree in economics at Oxford’s Martin School, he plans to use economic resource allocation algorithms to place refugees in environments where they’re best suited to thrive.
Muiruri — a member of Phi Beta Kappa, Honors Carolina laureate, and history and environmental studies major — served as the editor-in-chief of the Carolina Political Review and was an undergraduate editor for Traces, a student-run history journal. He has also supported research on land, agriculture and food systems at Columbia University’s Columbia Center on Sustainable Investment.
As a Rhodes Scholar, Muiruri will study environmental change and management at Oxford’s School of Geography and Environment.
“I know that the program has produced leaders and people who operate at the forefront of world systems in the past,” Muiruri said. “I am excited at the prospect of building relationships with peers and alumni, across scholarly disciplines, who are current and future leaders across the world.”