New Rhodes scholar class includes a Wolverine, Spartan

Jennifer Chambers
The Detroit News

One will research the behavioral ecology of large carnivores including lions in East Africa. The other, a daughter of immigrants and refugees from Lebanon, will “fight the world’s fight” by studying medicine, public health and forced migration.

Nadine Jawad and Clara Lepard

One’s a Spartan and the other a Wolverine, but both have achieved their dream of becoming a prestigious Rhodes scholar. University officials believe this is the first time MSU and UM each have one in the same year.

Clara Lepard, a Michigan State University Honors College graduate, and Nadine Jawad, a senior at the University of Michigan, are among 32 Americans chosen Saturday as 2018 Rhodes scholars representing the United States.

Lepard, who graduated from MSU in May with a degree in zoology, said she is passionate about animal and plant species conservation.

“I have known my entire life I wanted to work with animals and zoology,” said Lepard, 22, on Monday. “It was a journey that started when MSU allowed me to get involved in research as a freshman and allowed me to get all the experience I needed. I learned a lot about where my passions lie and what I want to do with the rest of my life. With the Rhodes scholars, I will continue to live that dream.”

Clara Lepard, a Michigan State University Honors College graduate, has been named a 2018 Rhodes Scholar.

Lepard, who’s from East Lansing and graduated from East Lansing High School, will pursue a doctorate at the University of Oxford, researching the behavioral ecology of large carnivores and working on community conservation efforts.

A graduate of East Lansing High School, Lepard is a research assistant in the RECaP lab (research on the ecology of carnivores and their prey) at MSU, where she studies the behavioral ecology of lions and ungulates in Murchison Falls National Park in Uganda. She spent three months there this summer.

Lepard said she is driven in her research because wildlife conservation and biodiversity conservation are challenges the planet is facing.

“And I am driven to be part of the solution. How do we keep our planet functioning for its intrinsic value and the value that it brings back to us?” Lepard said. “The struggle is to protect nature and some of the most vulnerable people on the planet.”

MSU assistant professor Robert Montgomery said Lepard has been an exceptional undergraduate researcher in his laboratory at MSU, developing sustainable solutions for large carnivore conservation.

Montgomery recalled meeting Lepard as a freshman, and she asked to volunteer in his research lab.

“Clara has a profound sense of self. That was evident to me. ... She knew exactly who she was and what she wanted,” Montgomery said.

At MSU, Lepard continues to research an initiative called Snares to Wares, which has Spartan conservationists finding solutions for protecting human livelihood while saving wildlife in East Africa.

“Clara spent three months in the field this summer studying dynamics of these issues and working with youth artisans to create new products around the world,” he said. “She is a game-changing leader in the field of wildfire conservation.”

MSU has produced 18 Rhodes scholars, while UM has had 28.

Jawad, a 21-year-old from Dearborn Heights, is a senior in UM’s Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy. At Oxford, she plans to study International Health and Tropical Medicine.

Nadine Jawad, a senior at the University of Michigan, is among the 2018 of Rhodes Scholars.

Jawad oversees campuswide nonpartisan efforts to expand voter registration. As student body vice president, she implements policies and initiatives related to under-representation in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) programs, support for students with disabilities, campus affordability and scholarship opportunities. She co-founded Books for a Benefit, which provides supplementary programs and resources in literacy to students in southeastern Michigan.

“I am interested in being a physician in a global health setting. My interest is women in conflict zones and their health; how they are impacted,” Jawad said. “Looking at forced migration studies, looking at what a cohort of refugees looks like 10 years down the line.”

Ultimately, she wants work at the World Health Organization. Her inspiration comes from her father and his family who were raised in Lebanon and her family in Dearborn. “What drives me most is my family and my community,” she said.

Henry Dyson, director of the UM Office of National Scholarships and Fellowships, the office that nominated Jawad, said she has many exceptional qualities, but the most outstanding is her character. In every activity, she sees herself as a representative of her family, her communities, her faith and as a servant to the underserved, Dyson said.

“Nadine is exceptionally bright and quick-witted. She thinks and talks a mile a minute. ... She is one of the hardest-working students I have ever known at the university. What she accomplishes in a week is astounding,” Dyson said. “For her, nothing is driven by self-promotion. She is absolutely driven by service to others. It is absolutely inspirational just to be around her. Her commitment to service is infectious. She has already inspired countless others to, in the words of the Rhodes scholarship, ‘fight the world’s fight.’ ”

Elliot Gerson of the American Secretary of the Rhodes Trust called the scholarships “the oldest and best-known award for international study, and arguably the most famous academic award available to American college graduates.”

Scholar candidates apply at their respective schools and are selected by a committee to be nominated.

If chosen, Rhodes scholarships provide all expenses for two or three years of study at the University of Oxford in England and may occasionally allow funding for four years. The scholarships were created in 1902. The first class of American Rhodes scholars entered Oxford in 1904. Those elected this past Saturday, including Jawad and Lepard, will enter Oxford in October.