Support for Wherever the Road Leads
For over a century, the Rhodes Scholarship has opened the door for some of the world’s best and brightest to pursue graduate studies at Oxford University. This year, the University of Michigan’s Amytess Girgis (LSA Class of 2021) became the 29th U-M student to receive the scholarship since it began in 1902.
“It’s been a roller coaster of emotions: joy, shock, anxiety,” Amytess posted on Twitter, moments after receiving news of the scholarship.
Amytess Girgis is a political science major and a double minor in urban studies and anthropology at the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts (LSA). While the highlight of her academic journey so far might be receiving the Rhodes Scholarship, it all started with a different award.
Four years ago, Amytess was a senior in high school in West Michigan, applying to schools nationwide. With aspirations for both a full-ride academic scholarship and a college career in cross country, she was keeping options open. But months passed and with them came a series of uninspired college visits, rejection emails, and offers with out-of-state tuitions she couldn’t afford. Then one day an unexpected letter came in the mail. It was from the University of Michigan, congratulating her for being selected as a Penny W. and E. Roe Stamps Scholar. Stamps Scholars at Michigan receive four years of paid tuition along with a monthly stipend and summer funding to pursue research and extracurriculars. In short, U-M made an offer she couldn’t refuse.
Amytess arrived in Ann Arbor as a pre-med major. Raised by a family of doctors, she knew she wanted to spend her life helping people, and medicine seemed like a natural fit. But after several months on campus, immersed in a new world of people and ideas, she began having second thoughts.
“I had no idea what I wanted to do at the time. But I did know that the path from pre-med to medical school is very linear and that didn’t feel right for me,” she said.
So Amytess dropped her major and, in search of meaningful work and research, she began filling her schedule with courses in neighborhood planning, sociocultural anthropology, and other topics that captivated her imagination. Beyond the classroom, she also started volunteering for Abdul El-Sayed’s (BA, BS ’07) gubernatorial campaign, working as a law clerk for the Michigan Immigrants Rights Center, and leading efforts for the One University Campaign, a grassroots movement promoting equitable long-term funding for UM-Flint and UM-Dearborn campuses. Eventually, she found her niche in political science.
Reflecting on her journey so far, Amytess credits her scholarship support for the time and flexibility it provided her to chart her own path at U-M.
“The Stamps Scholarship completely transformed my entire undergraduate experience,” she said. “I never had to work jobs to pay for school or my living expenses, which has allowed me to invest my time in the opportunities I’m truly passionate about.”
Amytess’ interest in political science might have been sparked at U-M, but her passion for social justice and for amplifying minority voices began at home, years ago. She grew up in an immigrant family: her mother is from Iran, and her father, from Egypt. Much of her work today, she explained, stems from trying to make meaning of her childhood.
“In many ways, my life story makes no sense, and the same thing is true for a lot of the people I have worked with,” she said. “I am interested in what it means to build cohesive narratives out of seemingly incoherent stories. How to find common threads that can lift up those who are underrepresented and lead us toward a better future.”
With Oxford on the horizon, Amytess is doing her best to finish her senior year on the right note—a task she admits has been particularly challenging amid COVID-19 and online classes. Currently, she is putting the finishing touches on her honors thesis, which she’s been researching since the summer. The project investigates how communities that were hit hard by the pandemic have horizontally organized to support each other through mutual-aid groups and local programs.
“There is such a contrast between the organizing work I have done in undergrad and what I continue to read in academic literature,” she said. “My goal with this project is to make the struggle of others more visible, especially those right next to me.”
Amytess is set to graduate from U-M in May. This fall, she plans to move to the UK to commence postgraduate studies in social sciences at Oxford University.