A MALAYSIAN student at the University of Pennsylvania has been awarded the reputable Rhodes Scholarship to study at the University of Oxford.
Nurul Ezzaty Hasbullah, 23 will be pursuing a Master’s in social data science followed by a Master’s in public policy starting next year.
Established in 1903, the Rhodes Scholarship is the oldest international scholarship programme in the world, aiming to develop future leaders through postgraduate studies at the premier university.
Under the Rhodes Scholarships for Malaysia programme, in partnership with Yayasan Khazanah, Yayasan Khazanah made an endowment of £5mil (RM29 million) over five years to sponsor one eligible Malaysian a year.
To date, only five Malaysian students have received the scholarship.
Hailing from Kota Damansara, Selangor, Nurul Ezzaty is currently completing a degree in health and societies majoring in global health at the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Arts and Sciences.
She has a strong passion for public policy, gender and healthcare.
“In my own experience growing up as a woman in Malaysia, I have always felt like women are placed and treated as second to men.
“This manifested in the smallest experiences, from my sister’s inability to be the class monitor because her teacher said that it’s only for boys, to the largest - my own experience as a sexual assault survivor who faced severe hurdles to get justice until today.
“For the longest time, I thought that is just how the world works. It wasn’t until I came to the United States and saw the powerful calls for gender equality that I felt truly empowered to challenge the faulty gender status quo in Malaysia.
“I dream of a future where no Malaysian woman would have to go through the same trauma that I did and that all of us can live in a society where we are treated as equals,” said Nurul Ezzaty.
Through education, the 23-year-old came to discover the importance of policy making.
“Public policy is truly a powerful mechanism to implement structural change that could leave a personal impact. If we want to create a fairer society for all regardless of gender, class, race, or religion, policies that promote this need to be put in place.”
Nurul Ezzaty believes that the Rhodes Scholarship will serve as a great platform to give back to the society.
“It will bring me a step closer towards my dream of ensuring that all Malaysians have equal access to opportunities and a good quality of life.
“I will not only receive world-class education at Oxford that would equip me with hard skills, but I will also be part of the Rhodes community where I can learn from other like minded and passionate individuals.”
Nurul Ezzaty said that winning the award came as a surprise.
“When I learnt that I was selected, I had to read the e-mail three times just to be sure. I started crying and I couldn’t even tell my parents because it was 2am in Malaysia."
Realising her privileges has motivated her to fight for social change.
“I recognise that a large part of this achievement is due to the privilege that I possess and the opportunities that it has opened for me.
“I was born in a middle class family, to parents who completed tertiary education, and raised in the city center of Malaysia. Realising that my achievements, to a certain extent, are not really my own, and my faith as a Muslim, fuels my passion to use this opportunity to learn and grow."
She added that her parents, Hasbullah Yaakub and Kartina Abdul Latif have always been supportive of her wide-ranging interests and treated her and her siblings equally.
During the application process, Nurul Ezzaty was guided by the University of Pennsylvania’s Center for Undergraduate Research and Fellowship (CURF) and her friends.
“As I had to return to Malaysia for the interview, I am incredibly grateful that my university sponsored my flight tickets.
“I stayed true to myself throughout the entire process. From the application stage to the 45-minute interview, I made sure to bring myself -- a 23-year-old Malaysian Muslim woman with big dreams -- to the table, give my best, and let God do the rest.”