Ohio State University alumna Ilhan Dahir has been named a 2016 Rhodes Scholar. The Rhodes Scholarship supports two years of graduate study at the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom; thirty-two scholarships are awarded annually to outstanding seniors and recent graduates across the United States. The Rhodes Trust selected Ilhan for her commitment to the empowerment of refugee communities around the world and her potential as a leader and advocate for refugees and communities in turmoil.
A Morrill Scholar, Buckeye Leadership Fellow, and member of the University Honors Program, Ilhan graduated in May 2015 magna cum laude with honors degrees in English and political science. Attending Ohio State allowed her to continue working with the Columbus Somali community while building a strong academic framework for her advocacy through Ohio State's internationally-ranked political science department. Her honors thesis, advised by Dr. Randall Schweller, focused on the role of western foreign fighters in the Islamic State of Syria and the Levant's threat to global peace. Her poster presentation of the project won third place in the university's Denman Undergraduate Research Forum. Ilhan's interest in the topic did not go unnoticed, as she was invited to participate in the Department of Homeland Security's Community Engagement Program in 2014. The program sent her to represent the U.S. in Brussels, Belgium, for an international cross-communal discussion on countering violent extremism. In 2015, Ilhan was awarded a grant from the Fulbright U.S. Student Program, through which she is spending the current year teaching English to university students in Izmir, Turkey.
Ilhan's interest in refugee advocacy and community building was in place before stepping foot on Ohio State's campus. The daughter of Somali immigrants in Hilliard, Ohio, she became involved with Face to Face – Faith to Faith, an organization which brings together Christian, Jewish, and Muslim teenagers from all over the world in an effort to develop effective leaders for a multifaith global society. After going through the leadership program herself, she returned as a counselor to help empower more future leaders. The experience prompted Ilhan to start a group at her high school, Interfaith Service Youth Corps, with similar goals of fostering faith-based service. In addition to her faith-based organizations, Ilhan tutored middle- and high-school Somali students and participated on the Columbus Youth Commission. Her efforts in the Greater Columbus community were recognized when she was named a White House Champion of Change in 2012.
In addition to her service to the Columbus community, Ilhan has been an active and engaged leader on Ohio State's campus and beyond. She has served as Editor of The Algerian, OSU's student magazine on political science and international relations; interned with the Ohio Democratic Party and the Canadian Parliament; worked as a student instructor for the Ohio State Libraries, teaching undergraduates about research methods; led OSU's Collegiate Council on World Affairs as the chapter's secretary; and organized for prison reform through the Ohio Student Organization, a statewide nonprofit group advocating for progressive public policy. Ilhan has been engaged globally as well, spending the summer of 2013 teaching English at the Iman School for Girls in Mogadishu, Somalia.
As a Rhodes Scholar, Ilhan will spend two years at the University of Oxford in England, obtaining master's degrees in Refugee and Forced Migration Studies and Global Governance and Diplomacy before returning to the U.S. to attend law school and beginning a career as an international human rights attorney. She plans to dedicate her career to advocating for refugees and communities in turmoil. "Since I have had extensive experience working within refugee communities as the founder of a Somali mentorship program in the central Ohio region, I am immensely aware of the difficultly new citizens have in adjusting to their newfound communities. Navigating social spheres is difficult enough, but the intricacies of legality pose a different and ultimately more complicated challenge," writes Ilhan.
Ilhan is Ohio State's sixth Rhodes Scholar; the University's last scholar was Jessica Hanzlik in 2008. Ohio State University students interested in pursuing the Rhodes Scholarship or other national fellowship opportunities should contact the Undergraduate Fellowship Office, http://fellowships.osu.edu. More information on the Rhodes Scholarship can be found through the Rhodes Trust, http://www.rhodesscholar.org/.