Sabah Sial poses for a photo on the University of Utah campus. (University of Utah Communications and Marketing)
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SALT LAKE CITY – Sabah Seal, a senior finance specialist, is one of 32 nationwide Rhodes researchers named earlier this month and the first Rhodes researcher from the University of Utah in 20 years.
Sial said, reflecting on the moment she learned she had been named a Rhodes scholar after the traumatic experience of three and one—a half-hour waiting period during a Zoom call during the selection committee’s deliberations.
Sial, from Sandy, was selected from among 2,300 US applicants this year for a prestigious scholarship, which provides tuition fees and living expenses for two years of international postgraduate studies at Oxford University. Sial plans to study the intersection of finance, criminology, and criminal justice next year.
“You would have thought my Zoom screen just froze – I was just smiling and not moving at all,” Sial said.
Sial said the idea to apply for the scholarship arose from conversations she had with Honors Dean Sylvia Torte, as well as professor L. Jackson Newell, while working as their teacher’s assistant during her sophomore year.
“They connected me to some of our advisors in the US and a former Rhodes scholar, so it was really helpful in terms of making the idea of the grant seem more realistic and not just the ephemeral idea that (the grant) was making it sound more real,” Seal said.
Born in Pakistan and raised in Utah, Sial dedicated her undergraduate studies to economic policy and white-collar crime – and her special impact on underserved and underrepresented populations. For the past two summers, Sial has trained in Goldman Sachs’s Salt Lake City office in the Criminal Compliance division, an experience that has been “pivotal” to her desire to enhance accountability and access to funding.
“I come from a financial background, but most of the people in the compliance job at these banks come from a legal background. I have been able to see the complexities of how markets affect money laundering and at times facilitating money laundering for individuals or committing illegal activity or Hide it through the flow of money.”
Sial also said she wants to make funding more accessible to individuals, regardless of their socioeconomic or ethnic backgrounds.
“I think the financing itself seems somewhat far-fetched in terms of who has access to the financing and who can get to the negotiating table in terms of enactment of legislation as it relates to fiscal and economic policy,” Seal added. “Tackling this specific process in terms of access to loans, making it easier for individuals from different backgrounds and different socio-economic backgrounds to access financing needs – which will in fact have long-term implications for their growth potential in terms of their economic growth and output.”
Qualifications required for a Rhodes Scholarship include academic excellence, social impact, ability to work with others, commitment to making a difference for the good in the world, awareness of inequality and concern for the safety of others. Public service is a critical component of the application process.
While at the University of Utah, Seal advocated for a diversification of Honors College’s curriculum, worked to give students a voice in the Head Office of Safety through the SafeU Ambassador program and volunteered for the Vice President debate held in the United States in 2020. Seal is a presidential intern, Chief Justice at the University of Utah. Arizona State University, and Scholar at the Eccles School of Honors.
“Her work ensures that students have the opportunity to be heard and to formulate campus safety policy,” said Ginger Smoke, director of the Office of Nationally Competitive Scholarships. “She is a visionary, using her extraordinary intellectual abilities and talents, able to see the big picture and work to include many diverse voices.
“The Rhodes Scholarship will give her the opportunity to continue to hone these capabilities over the next two years. I have full confidence that she will make a significant contribution to the future of the world.”
Although being named a Rhodes Scholar is undoubtedly an impressive individual achievement, Ciel does not want to underestimate the supportive community at the university that helped her achieve this feat.
“I would just like to stress the role that everyone else played in getting me to my place in terms of my professors who encouraged me to apply and especially the University of Utah supporting me so much in connecting me with people and making it feel more real to me – I certainly wouldn’t have applied without that kind of support Sial said.
Ciel would earn two MSc degrees while at Oxford – one in criminology and criminal justice, and one in financial economics.
“(I) am very excited about the people I’m going to meet as well as the broader community in Oxford in terms of professors and research opportunities and also that being in the UK is a very exciting opportunity,” Seal added. . “I am grateful that I not only watched[research]but I am actually a part of that research and that new knowledge that is emerging.”
Since 1904, the United States has had 23 Rhodes Scholarship winners, most recently in 2002. Ciel is one of 22 women named Rhodes by US universities this year. Women have only been allowed to apply since 1976. In its nearly 120-year history, 3,578 Americans have won Rhodes Scholarships—627 of whom are women. More than 100 Rhodes Scholars from around the world will be selected in 2021.
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