Intellectual Journey

UAB's newest Rhodes Scholar prepares for Oxford
By Jeff Hansen and Charles Buchanan • Photo by Steve Wood
Photo of Ameen Barghi teaching ACT prep class
UAB's newest Rhodes Scholar prepares for Oxford
By Jeff Hansen and Charles Buchanan • Photo by Steve Wood

“Even if you get an answer, you still need to know why.”

That advice from a high-school calculus teacher and math team coach sparked an intellectual awakening in Ameen Barghi. “Before that, my goals had just been utilitarian—I tried to circle the answer as soon as possible,” says the Birmingham native. “She instilled this constant curiosity, this constant passion.”

Now that curiosity will lead Barghi to Oxford University as a Rhodes Scholar—the third in UAB’s history and one of 32 U.S. students selected for the prestigious honor for 2015.

Barghi is a double major at UAB—in neuroscience and an individually designed major in translational research. He also is a member of the UAB Honors College, the Science and Technology Honors Program, Business Honors Program, and Early Medical School Acceptance Program. But his first experience with UAB was in 10th grade, when he began work as a hospital volunteer. Later, he joined the lab of Edward Taub, Ph.D., University Professor in psychology and a world-renowned behavioral neuroscientist who developed constraint-induced movement therapy to improve patients’ movement and function after stroke, multiple sclerosis, or other neurological injuries or diseases.

Taub “just opened his door to me,” Barghi says. “I had the opportunity to learn clinical neuroscience at its finest,” from working on computational analyses of MRI neuroimaging to publishing five papers in peer-reviewed research journals. “I’m getting experiences at UAB that students from the best institutions around the world can’t get.”

Barghi, named a Goldwater Scholar in 2013, “will be a first-class scientist,” Taub says. “He excels in almost everything—reasoning, strong application, and a firm sense of how to get things done and how to approach people.”

Beyond the lab, Barghi has worked on health-related projects in Azerbaijan and Iran. (He speaks both Azari and Farsi.) Closer to home, he has supported the community by teaching an ACT prep class at Bessemer City High School and by volunteering with substance abuse programs, a crisis line, and hospital clinics.

Barghi will begin his all-expenses-paid graduate education at Oxford University this fall. He plans to study clinical neuroscience, with an eye toward developing imaging systems and software that could help clinicians diagnose progressive diseases earlier. “Oxford’s college system is world-renowned for forging lasting relationships among students of all disciplines,” Barghi says. “I am excited to be part of a think tank of brilliant people at a very global university.”

After the Award

Catching up with UAB's other Rhodes Scholars

Neelaksh (Neel) Varshney, M.D., was an engineering student when he won UAB’s first Rhodes scholarship in 2000. He studied neuroscience and mathematical modeling at Oxford, followed by medical school at Harvard and MIT. Today the Huntsville native works on the business side of health care as vice president at Linden Capital Partners, a Chicago private equity firm that invests in health-care providers, medical device manufacturers, and pharmaceutical companies.

Joshua (Josh) Carpenter, who graduated from UAB with a degree in accounting and economics, had already amassed a wealth of experience before winning the Rhodes in 2012, serving as a White House intern and working with Teach for America at a high school in Alabama’s Black Belt. The Florence, Alabama, native currently is completing his D.Phil. degree in politics at Oxford, focusing on the intersections of public health and voter participation. Last year he cofounded Bama Covered, a nonpartisan, volunteer organization that shared information about the Affordable Care Act among uninsured Alabamians.

Published April 2015