MI Rhodes scholar to study refugees, migration

Charles E. Ramirez
The Detroit News
Rachel Gallina at her spring commencement at Boise State University.

Rachel Elena Gallina of Lake Orion was named among the newest crop of U.S. Rhodes scholars, a class that features more women than any other single class, and of which almost half of this year's recipients are immigrants or first-generation Americans, the Rhodes Trust said Sunday.

Gallina graduated in May from Boise State University in Idaho with a BA in economics and political science, according to the Rhodes Trust website. She maintained a perfect GPA.

Gallina is an outreach specialist at CEED-Albania, a project to spur development in the poorest regions of Albania, the website said. Her research has focused on combating gender-based violence in refugee camps and conflict zones. At Oxford, Gallina will study for a Master of Business Administration degree and a  Master of Science in Refugee and Forced Migration Studies degree.

"I'm still incredibly overwhelmed," Gallina said. "I'm still in shock. It's a massive achievement and I owe my thanks to so many people around the world, my family ... the faculty, staff and students at Boise State."

Gallina, 22, was born in Lapeer but moved to Kosovo with her parents when she was 5. She said her parents went to the Balkan country as humanitarian aid workers after the conflicts of 1999.

Rachel Gallina of Lake Orion was named among the newest crop of U.S. Rhodes scholars. She plans to study for two master's degrees at Oxford University.

"So much of my work was motivated by what I witnessed growing up," she said. "It left an impression, and encouraged and motivated me to use my career, my opportunities and my privilege to give women in post-conflict settings to achieve their own empowerment." 

After growing up in Kosovo, Gallina moved to Lake Orion. She has family in Metro Detroit, she said.

She said she hasn't pinpointed what being named a Rhodes scholar means to her.

"I'm still trying to sort through what it all means," Gallina said. "But I'm very excited about what the next few years look like for the degree I'll get to pursue at Oxford."

Among the other 31 winners is Harvard University senior Jin Park, the first recipient covered by the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, the Obama-era program that shields young immigrants from deportation.

Park, 22, of the New York City borough of Queens, arrived from South Korea with his parents when he was 7, studied molecular and cellular biology at Harvard, and founded a nonprofit to help undocumented students apply to college.

He hopes to become an immigrant advocate, saying it’s important for him to use the opportunity to better others, not just himself.

“When you grow up as an undocumented immigrant in America, that understanding that your talents don’t really belong to you in the traditional sense, that you have to share the fruits of your labor with others, that’s just something you learn,” Park said.

Alaleh Azhir, a 21-year old senior at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, emigrated from Iran when she was 14 – and is also one of 21 female scholars named Sunday. The New York City resident hopes eventually to become a doctor and will study women’s and reproductive health at Oxford.

“I’m just a passionate advocate for women in general and that’s mostly because of my background,” she said. “I thought that the way I could advocate for women could be by advocating for their health.”

The Associated Press contributed.