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Kudzai Mbinda ’22 named Rhodes Scholar-Elect

November 15, 2021
portrait of Kudzai MbindaKudzai Mbinda '22, a chemical engineering major from Harare, Zimbabwe, has been selected as a Rhodes Scholar. Mbinda plans to pursue a master’s degree in energy systems at Oxford, followed by an MBA. (Photo by Frederick Liu '23)

The chemical engineering major from Harare, Zimbabwe, is Rochester’s second recipient of a Rhodes Scholarship in two years.

Kudzai Mbinda ’22, a chemical engineering major from Harare, Zimbabwe, is among the 100 students worldwide chosen to begin graduate studies at the University of Oxford in Great Britain as a Rhodes Scholar next fall. The Rhodes Scholarship is among the most prestigious academic honors in the world, and Mbinda was one of two chosen from 10 finalists competing in the Zimbabwe competition.

This marks the second consecutive year a University of Rochester student has been awarded the scholarship. Beauclaire Mbanya Jr. ’20 of Cameroon was selected last November and currently is at Oxford pursuing a master’s degree relating to sustainable energy.

First awarded in 1902, the Rhodes is the oldest international scholarship program for postbaccalaureate study. Scholars are selected on criteria including outstanding intellect and character, as well as motivation to engage with global challenges, commitment to serving others, and promise to become principled leaders in the future.

“Being announced as a Rhodes Scholar-elect was a surreal and humbling moment,” says Mbinda, who was joined by Macdonald Mutekwa, a graduate of Nanjing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics in China, as Zimbabwe recipients. Applicants compete in constituencies based on their citizenship, and each competition region selects scholarship winners from its own pool of finalists.

Mbinda is the first Rochester student to earn a Rhodes while still an undergraduate since J. Timothy Londergan ’65, now a professor emeritus of physics at Indiana University–Bloomington. Rochester’s only other Rhodes Scholar was the late Robert Babcock ’37, who went on to become lieutenant governor of Vermont.

Mbinda plans to pursue a master’s degree in energy systems at Oxford, followed by an MBA. He is committed to social impact leadership in his home country, at the intersection of engineering and business. Like Mbanya, he came to Rochester through the African Leadership Academy in Honeydew, South Africa. “I’ve been studying away from home since 2016 and have only been home a handful of times,” he says. “But I plan to leverage the knowledge and network that I develop at Oxford to contribute to the development of the industrial sector in Zimbabwe by using business as a tool to drive growth.”

Mbinda took part in a 45-minute Zoom interview last week with the eight-person selection committee (which includes five former Rhodes Scholars). “It was very intimidating and nerve-wracking,” Mbinda says. “I had practiced my responses, done a practice interview, and decided on the way I was going to structure my responses. But once it started, I instantly forgot my structure and rehearsed answers. They asked tough questions and picked up on even the smallest details in my responses.”

Once Mbinda learned he had been selected, the first person he told was Suzanne Hunter, director of scholar search and selection at the African Leadership Academy and one of his references.

Mbinda is a member of the University’s Chem-E Car team, the Pan-African Students Association, and the varsity track and field team, where he holds the school record in the indoor 60-meter dash (7.08 seconds). He also was a summer teaching assistant in 2019 and 2020 for Early Connection Africa, a four-week bridge program hosted by the University for African students who are starting college in the United States and abroad. He says a summer analyst position made him want to pursue an MBA. “It helped me realize there are numerous business, financial, and administrative considerations that need to be made before innovations are readily available for people to use,” he says. “An MBA is an opportunity to start learning about the ‘non-technical’ considerations that affect the engineering field.”

Wendi Heinzelman, dean of the Hajim School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, says she is “thrilled” to see Mbinda’s hard work recognized with a Rhodes Scholarship.

“As a scholar-athlete who excels both in his chemical engineering coursework as well as a member of the varsity track team, Kudzai has taken advantage of the many opportunities available at the University,” Heinzelman says. “I look forward to seeing all the incredible things Kudzai will be able to accomplish as a Rhodes Scholar and beyond.”

Belinda Redden, director of fellowships in Arts, Sciences & Engineering, says Mbinda’s selection “elates” her and her staff.

“It’s a fully deserved recognition of Kudzai’s keen intellect, leadership example, high moral character, and deep commitment to marshal his talents for a purpose beyond his own material comfort and self-satisfaction. He has a servant-leader’s heart as big as his ambitions,” she says.

Recognizing the controversy in both southern Africa and Britain that surrounds the namesake of the scholarship, Cecil Rhodes, Redden points to another reason for elation: the possibility that he and his future work can help transcend a painful history.

“It’s fitting that this son of Southern Africa will pursue the next phase of his academic, professional, and personal journey at Oxford with funding made possible by wealth originally extracted from the land and labor of his forebearers,” she says. “He is a most excellent person to transcend this history by deploying the social and cultural capital of an elite education for transformational change to benefit Africans.”

Varsity track and field coach Sam Albert, who has known Mbinda perhaps longer than anyone at the University, says he is “absolutely thrilled” to see him rewarded for his tireless work.

“Since joining our program three years ago, Kudzai has embodied everything we ask our Rochester student-athletes to be,” Albert says. “He has excelled in his studies while also putting together a record-setting career as a sprinter. He consistently demonstrates genuine appreciation for the opportunities Rochester has provided, and all of his achievements have been possible because he holds himself to such a high standard.”

Read more

portrait of Beauclaire MbanyaBeauclaire Mbanya ’20 awarded Rhodes Scholarship in global competition
As a 2021 Global Rhodes Scholar, the Cameroon native is pursuing a master’s degree relating to sustainable energy.
headshots of 5 Fulbright recipientsFive students, alumni awarded Fulbright grants for overseas study
Rochester has consistently excelled in the Fulbright competition, included in the list of top Fulbright Scholar producers five times since 2014.

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