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November 22, 2006

Pitt student wins Rhodes scholarship

Thanks to two University Honors College students, Pitt has become the only public university in the nation to boast back-to-back Rhodes Scholars.

Daniel Armanios, a mechanical engineering and political science major who minors in economics, is among the 2007 Rhodes awardees. He joins Pitt’s 2006 Rhodes Scholar Justin Chalker, who majored in chemistry and history and philosophy of science, among the recipients of the prestigious academic prize.

Chalker currently is studying chemistry at Oxford.

Armanios is the fifth Pitt Honors College student to win a Rhodes scholarship since 1983. He also is a 2004 Goldwater Scholar in engineering, science and mathematics and a 2005 Truman Scholar for leadership as an undergraduate, and is the first Pitt student to win all three of these prestigious academic awards.

This year’s 32 Rhodes winners came from 21 schools from a pool of 207 interviewees from 94 American colleges and universities.

Pitt was one of only five public universities and the only Pennsylvania school to have a Rhodes Scholar chosen for 2007.

In addition to Armanios and Chalker, Pitt’s other Rhodes Scholars are David Frederick (1983), Donna Roberts (1987) and Nathan Urban (1991).

Armanios was among a dozen candidates interviewed by a Rhodes committee Nov. 18 at Emory University in Atlanta. Interviews were conducted at 16 locations nationwide; two from each geographic region were chosen.

“They asked very open-ended, broad questions that tied in aspects of my professional career and personal activities,” Armanios said. He was asked about work he’d written and for his thoughts on playing chess — one of his pastimes — against humans compared to computer competitors. He said he was thrown a curve when the committee, in an apparent nod to his Coptic Egyptian heritage, asked about Egyptian Nobel literature prize winner Naguib Mahfouz, whose work Armanios said he knows only by reputation.

“It was challenging, but I really enjoyed it,” he said of the interview.

“I got to engage with 12 amazing, inspiring finalists,” he said, adding that he did not believe he’d be chosen, given the high caliber of fellow nominees he’d met on the day of the interview. When the announcement was made to the room where the candidates were waiting together, “I was pretty shocked when I heard,” he said.

While still at Emory, he phoned his mother in his hometown of Marietta, Ga. “She was completely awestruck,” he said, adding that she’d enlisted the entire community in praying for him. He’s remained in Georgia following the interview and plans to return to Pitt after the Thanksgiving holiday.

At home, his award was celebrated quietly with a family dinner, Armanios said. However, when he returns to Pittsburgh, a bigger celebration with friends at Pitt may be on the horizon.

Armanios “is a remarkable individual who already has unusual experience in both the technical and policy worlds,” stated Honors College Dean and Rhodes institutional representative Alec Stewart in a prepared release. “It is no surprise that he was offered the Rhodes Scholarship this year and is one of the few undergraduates ever to win three major national scholarships. He is ideally positioned for his knowledge and wholesome ambition to make future leadership contributions in both government and academe.”

Rhodes winners are chosen on the basis of high academic achievement, personal integrity, a spirit of unselfishness, respect for others, leadership potential and physical vigor.

The Rhodes Scholarships, the oldest of the international study awards available to U.S. students, provide two or three years of study at the University of Oxford in England. Armanios noted he had to make the difficult decision to decline a Marshall scholarship to pursue the Rhodes interview, but, in consultation with his advisers, finally decided that Oxford was a better fit with his goals.

Armanios plans to begin his studies next October for a master’s degree in drylands science and management. His Coptic Egyptian heritage sparked his interest in studying arid lands and how to apply science and technology as well as policy in areas of scarce resources. His ultimate goal is to pursue a doctorate in engineering systems or mechanical engineering, he said, to give students the message that they can empower change through sustainable development.

“I want to pursue field research as part of my work, not just theories but how to apply them,” he said. “This is my chance to empower change,” he said.

Armanios credited a number of professors and staff members in the Honors College, School of Engineering and Department of Political Science as being supportive and encouraging. “Staff and faculty are really, really key in molding who I’ve become. They made a lot of opportunities possible and were generous with their time and with their aid. Whether I was asking questions on engineering or politics or life,” he said, their doors were always open.

Armanios is a member of Pitt’s Model United Nations; a founder of “Session: Middle East,” an undergraduate forum for debating the Arab-Israeli conflict, and an exchange and events editor for the Oxford International Review, working with the U.S. Embassy of the United Arab Emirates to institutionalize an exchange program connecting young American and Emirati scholars. A Pitt Henderson Scholar in engineering, Armanios was a member of the USA Today 2006 All-USA College Academic second team and was a 2005 American Helicopter Society Vertical Flight Scholar.

Armanios, who said he has never visited England, is looking forward to his study at Oxford. “It will be a new experience in every sense of the word,” he said.

In addition to his studies, he said he plans to continue his work with the Oxford International Review and to enjoy the opportunity to watch plenty of soccer games while in the U.K.

—Kimberly K. Barlow

Filed under: Feature,Volume 39 Issue 7

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