Rice University

Rice University Center for Civic Leadership

Latest Student Spotlights

Cyrus Ghaznavi

Cyrus M. Ghaznavi

Age: 21
Degrees: B.A. in Biological Sciences; Policy Studies, Rice University, (expected) 2017
Nominating Institution: Rice University
Field of Professional Interest: Medicine; Global Health

Cyrus Ghaznavi is a Luce Scholar. Raised in a Dallas home by an Indian mother and an Iranian father, Cyrus Ghaznavi was imbued with the spirit of multiculturalism, which has been pivotal in granting him a global outlook later in his education, especially with respect to international health.

Cyrus will graduate from Rice University in May 2017 with a B.A. in Biological Sciences and Policy Studies. While an undergraduate, he researched rotavirus infection of human intestinal cells to understand how reactive oxygen species incur robust interferon responses. His affinity for virology has earned him the nickname, “Cyrus the Virus,” which was especially appropriate for a class he taught at Rice entitled, “WWIII: Intro to Biowarfare.” In the same vein, he presented on the ethical dilemmas associated with dual-use biological research at Rice’s inaugural TEDx salon.

Drawing on his experience as a researcher and global health enthusiast, Cyrus founded the Rice University chapter of END7, an international campaign devoted to raising awareness of neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) and funds for their elimination in disadvantaged nations across the globe. Since its founding, he has traveled to Washington, D.C. annually to lobby for increased funding for the USAID NTD budget by speaking to congressional representatives. Recognizing the importance of policy in the advancement of science, he interned in D.C. at the Federation of American Scientists, where he researched legal trends in biotechnological patent law after a string of paradigm-shifting Supreme Court cases.

Back in Houston, Cyrus has demonstrated a commitment to scholastic life at his university by tutoring his peers in STEM courses and general academic matters as part of the Academic Fellows and Peer Academic Advisors programs, respectively. Cyrus hopes to attend medical school, focus on infectious diseases, and build a career at the World Health Organization.

In his free time, Cyrus enjoys trying new restaurants, listening to audiobooks, writing poetry, and studying Japanese.

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Natasha Mao

Natasha Mao, a recipient of the Wagoner Foreign Study Scholarship in 2015, recently published an article in Faenza, the official journal of the Museo Internazionale della Ceramiche (International Museum of Ceramics) in Faenza, Italy. Natasha was able to conduct the research for this project thanks to the scholarship. It supported her research on rare collections of puzzle cups in London, UK, and Florence, Italy, for six months in 2015. Being able to physically touch and experiment with Renaissance drinking cups in person had been a truly transformative experience.

The paper examines a sixteenth century puzzle cup. This curious cup features an inscription and a central column. For the first time, its inner workings have been deciphered with a water test by the author. The cup is a “Tantalus cup,” that is, a deceptive drinking vessel known since the antiquity. The cup’s design shows that it was appropriate for contemporary courtly entertainment that favored ingenuous, witty deception. Furthermore, the cup reflects the era’s interests in Hellenistic pneumatics.


The paper can be located at:
Natasha Mao. “‘Bevi Se Puoi:’ An Italian Renaissance Tantalus Cup in the Museo Internazionale delle Ceramiche in Faenza.” Faenza, Bollettino del Museo Internazionale delle Ceramiche Cll, no. 2 (2016): 37-53.                                                  

Nathan Truong

Year: Class of 2014

Major: Biochemistry and Cell Biology

CCL Programs participated in: Alternative Spring Break


The winner of a 2016 Luce Scholarship, Nathan Truong graduated from Rice in 2014 with a degree in Biochemistry and Cell Biology. Born to Vietnamese refugees and raised in ethnically diverse southwest Houston, Nathan grew interested in the role of education in determining one’s overall life outcome. His own enthusiastic teachers kindled a lifelong appreciation of science, particularly its positive effects on society via translational research and elucidation of natural phenomena. At Rice, Nathan optimized a diabetes diagnostic assay intended for resource-poor settings in a bioengineering lab and characterized the genetic underpinnings of Rett Syndrome—a debilitating neurological disorder—at the Baylor College of Medicine. He interned for the Office of Legislative and Public Affairs at the the National Science Foundation advocating for investment in basic science research.

He also led an Alternative Spring Break trip to implement a nutrition curriculum at a KIPP middle school. After graduation, Nathan joined Teach for America and began working as an Instructor of Physics at the Brays Oaks campus of YES Prep Public schools, where he leads efforts to expand STEM resources and programs. As a Luce Scholar, Nathan aims to work in an organization specializing in education policy to gain new insights into productive educational practices. He also plans to immerse himself in language study, and develop a deeper level of critical consciousness through cultural immersion.

Meet the 2015 Wagoner Foreign Study Fellows

The Wagoner Foreign Study Scholarship provides students the opportunity to conduct independent research abroad for a minimum of 8 weeks to 1 year. An independent research project may be combined simultaneously with the advanced study of a language, or an introductory level of languages not offered at Rice. Undergraduate students and recent alumni/ae are eligible to apply for the Wagoner.

Meet the 2015 Wagoner Fellows by clicking on their names below to watch videos of their experiences:

Charlotte Larson

Zurich, Switzerland

Ellen Huang

London, UK

Disha Kumar

Bangalore, India

Students interested in applying to the Wagoner for 2017 may contact Dr. Madalina Akli or view the Fellowships page for more information.

Kelsey Walker

Year: Class of 2015

Major: MathEcon with Certificate in Civic Leadership

CCL Programs participated in: Houston Action Research Team (HART), Civic Leadership Capstone

What I have achieved: 

Through the Houston Action Research Team program, I worked with an interdisciplinary team of students to conduct a map-based survey regarding transportation patterns and preferences for a grassroots community development group in Southeast Houston. After analyzing how and where people traveled through their neighborhood, we identified promising locations for hike and bike paths in the area. The Southeast Houston Transformation Alliance created a community master plan based on our recommendations.   

Around the same time, I worked with Dr. Stephen Klineberg to analyze the Kinder Institute Houston Area Survey data. I investigated the sources of metropolitan satisfaction in Houston, and found that Houston area residents who express an interest in public transportation are statistically less happy to be living in Houston than individuals who are committed to their cars. Dr. Klineberg and I shared our findings through an editorial in the Houston Chronicle, and I was eager to try to improve the quality of Houston's public transportation system. 

The civic leadership capstone provided the perfect opportunity to do so: I partnered with the Metropolitan Transit Authority of Harris County (Metro). I worked with system planners to develop a bus ridership forecasting model for weekends. Metro used the model to project weekend ridership before they implemented their redesigned bus system in June, and will continue to refine and apply the model over time. 

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Daniel Cortez

Year: Class of 2015

Major: Political Science and Hispanic Studies with Certificate in Civic Leadership

CCL Programs participated in: America Reads, Leadership Rice Mentorship Experience (LRME), Civic Leadership Capstone (Mi Familia Vota)

What I have achieved: 

Throughout my time at Rice University, I have been involved in numerous activities and organizations focused on Latino education. I am an active member of HACER, Rice University’s largest Hispanic student association. My freshman year, I worked with the Partnership for the Advancement and Immersion of Refugees (PAIR), where I organized and taught English lessons for Latin American high school aged students. And as part of the America Reads program, I was a mentor at the Nehemiah Center, an educational outreach center for low-income and disadvantaged youth. Additionally, during my sophomore year, I joined the Baker Institute for Public Policy as an undergraduate researcher, working in drug policy and as a fellow in the Mexico Center. I am also a current undergraduate fellow at the Religion and Public Life Program.

Through the Center for Civic Leadership, I have acquired a firsthand understanding of politics and have been able to act on my interest in Latino civic participation. As part of the Leadership Rice Mentorship Experience, I interned in Senator John Cornyn’s office in Washington, D.C. during the summer of 2014. More recently, I lead the development and implementation of the Emerging Latino Leaders Fellowship for my Civic Leadership Capstone project. Working with Mi Familia Vota, I encouraged Houston area Latino youth to be civically engaged and to develop their leadership capabilities. The leadership of Mi Familia Vota believes that my program will be a model for the organization’s efforts in San Antonio and Austin.

Last year, the CCL also selected me as a fellow with the Center for the Study of the Presidency and Congress, based in Washington, D.C. In addition to conducting research on Latino voter turnout in presidential elections, I attended two CSPC conferences in D.C. with other student leaders throughout the U.S. who are interested in American politics and history.

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Madhuri Venkateswar

Year: Senior

Major: Chemical Engineering; pursuing Certificate in Civic Leadership

Programs participated in: HART, Alternative Spring Break, Urban Immersion, Lowenstern Fellowship Program

What I have achieved: 

I first became involved at the Center for Civic Leadership before my freshman year by participating in the Urban Immersion Program. Since then, I have participated in a Houston Action Research Team, which evaluated Houston transportation policy, and travelled to Udaipur, India as a Loewenstern Fellow to do civic research regarding gender relations. Other than being involved at the Center for Civic Leadership, I serve as the Student Association Executive Vice President, and as a Peer Academic Advisor.

During Spring 2015, I site-led a Women Empowerment Alternative Spring Break to Washington D.C. where I and 14 students performed service work and learned about the status of women in society. In addition to volunteering at a domestic abuse prevention organization and an after-school girl's program, I organized trips to different policy think tanks to learn about how policy affected women with regards to health, education, economics, and reproductive rights.

The ASB program challenged me in a myriad of ways. Not only did I learn about the ethics of service, but I also had the opportunity to build the trip from the bottom up. Every facet - from as broad as the vision to as detail-oriented as where they would be staying - was completely under student control. This program has inspired me to continue learning about Women's Rights.

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Samantha Chapa

Year: Class of 2016

Major: English/History

Programs participated in: Alternative Spring Break, Urban Immersion, Lowenstern Fellowship Program

What I have achieved: 

My sophomore year, Jason, my co-leader, and I planned an Alternative Spring Break trip to Jacksonville, FL to work with a KIPP middle school. Educational equality appealed to both of us, so we decided that we wanted to learn more about the educational gap in the United States. During our trip, we learned about many of the systematic inequalities in the public school system, and how poverty affects educational achievement. Our entire ASB group acquired a deeper understanding of the educational gap.

Once ASB was over, I wanted to continue my relationship with the CCL, so I applied to coordinate Urban Immersion (UI). My coordinators and I worked to restructure the program in such a way that provided students with the ability to actually learn and reflect upon the service they performed. Rather than simply working with an array of agencies (as UI did in the past) my coordinators and I chose specific organizations to work with, centered around Hunger and Homelessness, Refugee and Immigrant Populations, HIV/AIDS, and Environmental Justice. Because we focused on specific types of advocacy and social justice, both the coordinating team and the participants were able to not only perform service, but also learn about the systemic inequalities that cause injustice. As a result of UI, I learned to love Houston, and I became really passionate about immersing myself in the Houston community. I was left with a desire to learn more about community building.

In order to reach that end, I decided that I wanted to immerse myself in a summer of service through the Loewenstern Fellowship Program. Last summer, I traveled to Argentina to work in education and youth development. I learned tools and skills that will help me implement a CCL capstone project (for the Certificate in Civic Leadership).

I can easily say that my experiences with the CCL made me into a more introspective person, and made me cognizant of the structures in place that lead to systematic inequality. I have realized my passion for advocacy and social justice through my involvement with various CCL programs.

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Luce Scholar 2017

Cyrus Ghaznavi (Sid Richardson '17) will conduct a fellowship with the Luce Scholars Program in Tokyo, Japan for thirteen months. For the first two months of the program, Cyrus will attend Japanese classes in order to improve his proficiency of the host country’s language. For the remainder of the program, he will work full-time with a global health organization in Tokyo (TBD), where he will get the opportunity to explore the Asian international health landscape. Throughout the thirteen months, Cyrus will engage in full-fledged cultural immersion, experiential learning, and professional development. The Luce Scholars Program will also host a midterm meeting in Thailand and a wrap-up meeting in India at the conclusion of the program, after which Cyrus will return to the U.S. to attend medical school.