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Senior Alexa Mohsenzadeh named Emory’s first Mitchell Scholar
Alexa Mohsenzadeh

Emory College senior Alexa Mohsenzadeh will pursue a master’s degree in Ireland next year as Emory’s first recipient of the prestigious George J. Mitchell Scholarship.

The nonprofit U.S.-Ireland Alliance named just 12 U.S. students for the competitive scholarship on Saturday. The award covers tuition and housing and provides a stipend for living expenses and travel for one academic year of postgraduate study at any institution of higher education in Ireland and Northern Ireland.

Mohsenzadeh, a neuroscience and behavioral biology major, will complete a master’s degree in gender, globalization and rights at the University of Galway during her Mitchell year. Following her study in Ireland, she plans to attend law school on her way to a career in human rights law.

“Alexa Mohsenzadeh has boldly pursued discovery as an Emory undergraduate student, spanning disciplines with a limitless desire to learn and serve others,” says Emory President Gregory L. Fenves. “Alexa considers herself a ‘weaver’ — someone who brings groups together to take on immense challenges. As a Mitchell Scholar, she will continue her extraordinary weaving in defense of women’s rights all over the world.”

The scholarship, named in honor of former U.S. Sen. George Mitchell for his commitment to the peace process in Ireland, recognizes young leaders for their intellectual achievement and commitment to public service.

Mohsenzadeh sought the scholarship to build on her academic and community work that combines different interests and disciplines for her singular goal to connect feminism, science and human rights in ways that support the development of public policy.

Her master’s program offers the opportunity to apply that vision and work with the Irish Centre for Human Rights, which is housed at the University of Galway.

“Part of the blessing and curse to be invested in divergent areas of study is that there is no one else to model exactly,” Mohsenzadeh says. “The Irish Centre for Human Rights, though, is doing the work to combine research, advocacy and policy reform. I’m grateful to the Mitchell for giving me the chance to connect with a community of people who can help me visualize my future.”

Committed to human rights

Mohsenzadeh committed herself to an expansive view of human rights as soon as she arrived at Emory as a Robert W. Woodruff Scholar and recipient of the Faramarz and Ziba Taji Yaghmaie scholarship. On campus, she served for two years as an intern with the American Journal of Bioethics (AJOB) Neuroscience and is now an undergraduate fellow at Emory’s Center for Mind, Brain & Culture.

When the pandemic struck, she used her time at home to launch a nonprofit that provides hygiene products to people in need. That organization, Her Drive, now operates in 45 states, Canada, Mexico and the United Kingdom. 

Some of the populations served include the Chicago Public Schools, the Oglala Lakota and Navajo Nations and correctional facilities in Illinois, Virginia and New York. When she returned to campus, Mohsenzadeh coordinated three drives to supply released immigrant detainees in Georgia with hygiene products while also working during her junior year with New American Pathways to support the state’s newly arrived refugees.

“Alexa Mohsenzadeh embodies our liberal arts mission through her passion for learning and her drive to understand complex human rights issues from multiple perspectives and disciplines,” says interim Emory College Dean Carla Freeman.

“I have no doubt that this well-deserved honor will allow her to further her tremendous dedication to advocacy and engagement around the particular challenges women face in the world and for human rights more broadly,” Freeman adds. “I look forward to following Alexa’s next steps and to all she will achieve through the Mitchell Scholarship and beyond.” 

Her junior year, Mohsenzadeh also reached out to Deboleena Roy, Emory College’s senior associate dean for faculty and a professor in both neuroscience and behavioral biology and women’s, gender and sexuality studies, about research opportunities.

She spent the year as Roy’s research assistant, learning how to use research methods to analyze qualitative and ethnographic data that examined connections between molecular biologists studying neuroepigenetics and sex difference research and reproductive justice advocates invested in scientific research on reproductive health.

“I am so excited for her,” Roy says. “She really wants to apply what she is learning and is one of the most self-motivated, intellectually daring and ethically driven undergraduate students I’ve had the pleasure of working with here at Emory.”

Manifesting ‘intellectual excellence into action’

Mohsenzadeh originally planned to apply that research on an honors thesis focused on the intersection of law, gender and health by analyzing the inclusivity of language used in existing neurorights frameworks.

A summer internship with The Carter Center’s educational programs reinforced her interest in international issues. Then came the September killing of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini in Iran, which sparked the longest major demonstrations against the cleric-led security state.

The daughter of Iranian immigrants, Mohsenzadeh completely overhauled her thesis. She is now examining how censorship and propaganda in Iran restrict freedom of thought, which she argues is a neuroethical issue that limits Iranians’ ability to think for themselves.

“Alexa is a true interdisciplinary scholar who engages different ideas to examine and understand our environment and our moment, because it’s very important to her to have a positive impact on our world,” says Hossein Samei, a senior lecturer and Persian language coordinator in the Department of Middle Eastern and South Asian Studies who has taught Mohsenzadeh in seven courses.

Mohsenzadeh plans to spend the rest of her senior year completing another project, started last year as a Humanity in Action (HIA) Fellow. As a member of the HIA’s global Mapping Inequities program, she is charting Atlanta Vintage Books and is hoping to host events to connect Emory students with the shop a few miles north of the Emory campus.

“She is deeply thoughtful and empathetic in everything she does, especially in considering what people need to flourish,” says Pamela Hall, an associate professor of religion who met Mohsenzadeh in her “Human Goodness” course that includes examining the work of historical change makers who tackled systemic injustice problems from slavery to health care inequity.

“She is an elegant thinker who is working from many different perspectives that she integrates very effectively,” Hall adds. “She shows the best of what the liberal arts can offer, understanding the world better so that you can contribute to its betterment. She is able to manifest that intellectual excellence into action.”

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