Catching up with UMBC’s Rhodes Scholar, Naomi Mburu

UMBC's two Rhodes Scholars casually sitting around a table smiling at the camera
UMBC’s Sam Paterson and Naomi Mburu with a fellow Rhodes Scholar at Oxford
It’s been five years since UMBC experienced two of its most historic accomplishments– the Men’s Basketball team defeating UVA in the NCAA tournament– the first ever #16 seed to beat a #1, and Naomi Mburu becoming UMBC’s first Rhodes Scholar. In 2020, Samuel Patterson became UMBC’s second Rhodes Scholar in the school’s history. Joshua Slaughter earned a Marshall scholarship in 2022 and is currently working on his Ph.D. in informatics at the University of Edinburgh, and his brother Christopher will be headed to the University of Cambridge as a Gates Scholar in the fall to start his Ph.D. in electrical engineering, establishing a network of UMBC alumni in the UK.

Established 1902, the Rhodes Scholarship is the oldest and most prestigious international scholarship program in the world, enabling outstanding young people from around the world to undertake full-time postgraduate study at the University of Oxford. Each year 32 young students from the United States are selected as Rhodes Scholars. Rhodes Scholars are chosen not only for their outstanding scholarly achievements, but for their character, commitment to others and to the common good, and for their potential for leadership in whatever domains their careers may lead. Here, Devon Fick, Administrative Assistant for the Office of Prestigious Scholarships catches up with Naomi Mburu, who is preparing to finish her Ph.D. at Oxford.

What is it like to pursue your studies at Oxford?
I personally love living in Oxford. Graduate school here grants quite a lot of freedom in that my only responsibility is research (no teaching or coursework). I have found I have a lot more free time to pursue other interests, travel and think deeply. The city is very walkable/cyclable, and the architecture still gives me chills to this day.

Beatles or Rolling Stones?
“Here comes the sun, doo doo doo do!” The Beatles are one of my go-to’s for feel-good music.

What did UMBC do best to prepare you for success as a Rhodes Scholar?
At UMBC, I was pushed out of my comfort zone to attempt leadership positions that I may not have pursued, or even thought of, had I attended a different institution. When I started at UMBC, I was actually quite shy and never imagined running for a position like president of a club, but my UMBC community believed in me and pushed me to try. I specifically remember the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE) president at the time, Nelson Glover, pulling me aside as a sophomore and encouraging me to run for NSBE president. I had not really considered this as something I would be good at, but I ran for the role and grew tremendously as a leader.

When I left UMBC, I had developed a deep love for diversity and inclusion work, which I have pursued here at Oxford in various avenues. Most recently, I worked with the Association for Black and Minority Engineers UK (AFBE) to run their first ever national conference, using the invaluable experience I gained organizing over 10 conferences with NSBE in the US.

Favorite British slang word and meaning?
Bits ‘n Bobs- which is slang for a collection of random things. One of the first friends I made here, Lucy, used to say this all the time during lunch to describe the random contents of her lunchbox.

What is your research focus and status?
One of the major barriers to developing nuclear fusion energy is the need for novel materials on the innermost surfaces of the reactor that can withstand large heat loads and mechanical stresses. Liquid metal surfaces are currently being studied as a potential solution by several groups around the world. I am working on characterizing the impact of magnetic fields and heat fluxes on liquid metal flows in fusion environments. I am now working on finishing my experiments and writing up my thesis.

Other than family or friends, what do you miss most about the US?
Chick-fil-a! Fast food just isn’t the same here (that’s probably for the better, though).

What do you like best about your experience abroad?
I really love some of the simple pleasures of English life: like the abundance of public transportation, the long summer days, the quaint, old buildings, and the strong emphasis on work-life balance. I had never lived in a city before moving here, so I feel I am experiencing a completely different style of living.

Favorite small town in Britain?
I have a friend who lives in Hastings, which is a sort of sleepy beach town. I escape to Hastings about once a year to get a change of scenery and enjoy the water. There are also great hiking opportunities there along the Seven Sisters cliffs.

What are your next steps?
I am looking to transition to do more diversity and inclusion work full time, and I am currently looking at some exciting roles in the US and UK.

Have you become a fan of a football club in Britain? Which one?
No. I did enjoy watching the excitement around the World Cup, but I am not much of a football fan myself.

What is your advice to UMBC students thinking about pursuing graduate studies in the UK or applying for a prestigious scholarship?
Start the application process as early as you can! There are a lot of moving pieces that are easier to manage when you are on summer break than when the semester starts and you have coursework to juggle. Be as genuine as you can be and spend time thinking about how your life experiences and interests have shaped who you are and who you want to become. When writing your essays, keep in mind that the panel is going to read many of these kinds of essays, so try to make your personality shine through- don’t just make it a regurgitation of your resume. Now is your time to pull out your author hat and craft the story of your life. Look at each aspect of the process (the essay, the interview, etc.) as an opportunity to show the panel something new about you.

Thoughts on Rhodes Scholar, Wes Moore becoming the new governor of MD?
This was a very proud moment for me and many of my fellow “Rhodies.” I am excited to see all of the great work he will accomplish as governor.

For more information about prestigious scholarships at UMBC, see:

or contact the Director, April Householder at