SMU alumna Roza Essaw ’13 is the recipient of a 2013 Mortar Board Fellowship. The $5,000 award from the national honor society recognizes outstanding achievement in scholarship, leadership and service.
Essaw majored in political science, communication studies and human rights at SMU. In the fall, she will pursue a master’s degree in human rights at the London School of Economics in England.
As an undergraduate, Essaw traveled to three continents and 17 countries. While participating in SMU-in-Copenhagen, she focused her studies on European countries with a history of human rights violations. Essaw also journeyed to Ethiopia to conduct independent research on women’s health and rights and spent time in Rwanda interviewing survivors of the 1994 genocide. Her exploration of human rights issues also took her to El Salvador to better understand the challenges of violence, crime and poverty following civil war.
All of these experiences shaped Essaw’s interest in a career in international human rights. “I continue to remind myself of the unforgettable stories…in hopes of bettering the dignity and humanity of men, women and children with similar unfortunate stories around the world,” she says.
Essaw was initiated into the Decima chapter of Mortar Board in 2011 and held many leadership positions at SMU. She served in the SMU Student Senate and as a student representative to the President’s Commission on Alcohol and Substance Abuse. She also participated in student life as an Academic Advising Registration and Orientation (AARO) leader for first-year students and was a member of the debate team and three-year resident of the SMU Service House.
Among other achievements, Essaw received the John L. Freehafer Memorial Award and the Outstanding Senior Woman Award from the SMU Mothers’ Club. At SMU she also was a Bill and Melinda Gates Scholar, a Ray and Nancy Hunt Leadership Scholar and a Mustang Scholar.
Essaw was born in Ethiopia and moved with her family to the United States when she was eight years old. Despite her self-described “culture shock and an inability to speak English,” Essaw thrived in her adopted country, graduating in 2009 from Wylie High School as a recipient of the principal’s leadership award. She is the daughter of Essaw Jagiso and Senedu Asfaw of Wylie, Texas.
This year, the Mortar Board National Foundation awarded eight fellowships totaling more than $30,000 to exceptional university seniors who are Mortar Board members.