Inspired by Parents' Story, Daughter of Afghan Refugees Earns Rhodes Scholarship

The Southern Connecticut State University student has 4.0 GPA and will earn two degrees before heading to the University of Oxford on a full scholarship.

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Asma Rahimyar says there were times she would fall asleep with her head on a textbook. Her mother would then come in the room, take the book away and put a pillow under her head before turning off the light.

The studying paid off, as she has become one of 32 Rhodes Scholars nationwide. Rahimyar isn’t the first student from a New Haven University to achieve such acclaim but is the first from Southern Connecticut State University.

“She has the highest level of academic aptitude I’ve ever encountered but also the most strength and depth of character,” says Dr. Patricia Olney, one of 13 SCSU professors who wrote a recommendation for Rahimyar.

Rahimyar’s character is one shaped by the story of her parents. Both fled Afghanistan during the Soviet occupation (1979-1989).

“I’ve been raised in a legacy of sacrifice and work and striving,” explained Rahimyar.

After spending time in Pakistan, Rahimyar’s parents came to the US in 1997. She was born here and lives in Trumbull. Rahimyar and her three brothers know the struggles her parents, and others, faced.

Asma Rahimyar

“What haunts me within my nightmares is the death, the life, the life that could have been. It’s the life, that perhaps was, before it was extinguished,” she said.

While studying at SCSU, stories of war-torn Afghanistan served as motivation. Before graduating in May, Asma Rahimyar will complete her senior thesis on War Crimes.

As a Rhodes Scholar at the University of Oxford, she’ll seek a double master's degree. She’ll study global governance and diplomacy, and refugee and forced migration studies. Upon completion, she intends to pursue a career in international human rights law with the goal of helping people like her parents.

“Her entire purpose in all of this is to get justice for what they fled from,” said Olney.

Rahimyar said her father went to medical school in Kabul and now works at Norwalk Hospital. Her mother, however, never returned to school after leaving Afghanistan. Instead she focused on the four children. Rahimyar explained her mother is among her biggest supporters and her mother’s story inspires her today.

“It’s such a legacy of sacrifice and selflessness it’s difficult to fathom but it’s shaped me in the most fundamental of ways,” said Rahimyar.

When she graduates SCSU in May, Rahimyar will have achieved a double baccalaureate degree in political science and philosophy.

Asma Rahimyar
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