Third UAB student named Rhodes scholar

Barghi is one of just 32 Rhodes scholars across the U.S., and he is UAB’s third Rhodes winner since 2000.

ameen barghi sizedPhoto by Jared BashAmeen Barghi of the University of Alabama at Birmingham was elected to the Rhodes scholar Class of 2015 on Saturday. He is one of 32 outstanding U.S. students who will start their all-expenses-paid, graduate educations at Oxford University next fall.

Barghi is the third UAB student since 2000 named as a Rhodes scholar.

The 2015 competition began with a pool of 877 applicants nominated by their colleges and universities across the nation. On Saturday, 256 of those students were interviewed in groups of 16 in 16 separate districts. Two winners were chosen from each group.

Each applicant was questioned for 20 minutes by a seven-person committee. After nearly three hours of deliberation, the committee announced the two District 7 winners: Barghi and Jane Darby Menton, a Yale University student from Florida.

Barghi, 22, began his work at UAB as a hospital volunteer in 10th grade, and then joined the lab of Edward Taub, Ph.D., a world-renowned behavioral neuroscientist in UAB’s psychology department in the UAB College of Arts and Sciences. There, Barghi worked on computational analyses of MRI neuroimaging, publishing five papers in peer-reviewed research journals. Taub is the pioneer of constraint-induced movement therapy to improve patients’ movement after stroke, multiple sclerosis, or other neurological injuries or diseases.

“He just opened his door to me,” Barghi said. “I had the opportunity to learn clinical neuroscience at its finest. … I’m getting experiences at UAB that kids from the best institutions around the world can’t get.”

“He’s as good as my graduate students,” Taub said of Barghi. “He will be a first-class scientist. He excels in almost everything — reasoning, strong application, and a firm sense of how to get things done and how to approach people.”

Barghi was admitted to UAB’s Early Medical School Acceptance Program. The EMSAP gives highly qualified students an enriched undergraduate experience, with promised admission to the UAB School of Medicine after successful undergraduate work. Barghi is a double-major in the UAB Undergraduate Neuroscience Program, which is run jointly by the College of Arts and Sciences and the School of Medicine, and is working toward an individually designed major in translational research. He is enrolled in the UAB Honors College in the Science and Technology Honors Program, as well as the Business Honors Program at the UAB Collat School of Business.

His grade-point average is 4.0, and he won a Goldwater Scholarship as a sophomore.

“He will be a first-class scientist. He excels in almost everything — reasoning, strong application, and a firm sense of how to get things done and how to approach people.”

“We wish Ameen every success as he pursues his Doctor of Philosophy degree in clinical neuroscience at Oxford next October,” said Ray Watts, M.D., president of UAB. “He exemplifies the passion and excellence we seek from every student at UAB — undergraduate, graduate and professional.”

Barghi credits Amanda Bittinger, his Oak Mountain High School calculus teacher and math team coach, for his intellectual awakening.

“She instilled this constant curiosity, this constant passion,” Barghi said. “She taught us that, even if you get an answer, you still need to know why. I still use that framework in everything I do. Before that, my goals had just been utilitarian — I tried to circle the answer as soon as possible.”

Questions for Barghi from the Rhodes selection committee on Saturday included explaining the physics of magnetic resonance imaging, describing neuroplasticity, naming his favorite composer from his freshman music appreciation class, discussing business/corporate ethics and more. Barghi says the music class actually focused on the Beatles, and he chose John Lennon after watching the movie “A Hard Day’s Night.”

The Rhodes Trust profiles of the American Rhodes scholars-elect for 2015 include this description of Barghi:

“… Ameen is also active in community programs relating to substance abuse, on a crisis line, in blood drives and hospital clinics. He speaks Azari and Farsi and has also done health-related work in Azerbaijan and Iran. He has also, for five years, worked intimately with the low-income community of Bessemer, Alabama. He is interested in developing clinical imaging systems and software technologies that could allow for earlier diagnosis of progressive diseases.”

Carl McFarland, Ph.D., a professor of psychology and co-director of the Undergraduate Neuroscience Program, said Barghi is unusual. “What he has over every student I’ve ever known — graduate or undergraduate — is a confidence that is off the chart. When he talks to distinguished scientists, he is not intimidated.”

UAB’s previous Rhodes winners are Neelaksh (Neel) Varshney in 2000 and Joshua Carpenter in 2012.