By Monica DeMeglio University Communications Ilhan Dahir has packed a lifetime of experience into the last four years. After graduating from Ohio State in May, she headed to Izmir, Turkey, to teach English through a Fulbright grant from the U.S. Department of State. In 2014, the Department of Homeland Security selected her to represent the […]
By Monica DeMeglio
Ilhan Dahir has packed a lifetime of experience into the last four years.
After graduating from Ohio State in May, she headed to Izmir, Turkey, to teach English through a Fulbright grant from the U.S. Department of State. In 2014, the Department of Homeland Security selected her to represent the United States in Brussels, Belgium, in an international discussion about countering violent extremism.
In 2013, she interned at the Canadian Parliament and also spent time in Mogadishu, Somalia, to teach English to middle school-aged girls, even ensuring they had safe and reliable transportation to their lessons.
And the year before that, she traveled to Washington, D.C., to speak at the White House about her work with the Somali immigrant community in central Ohio.
In 2016, Dahir will have another prestigious entry to add to that impressive resume: Rhodes Scholar.
The prestigious scholarship supports two years of graduate study at the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom. One of only 32 recent graduates or students to receive the honor nationally, Dahir was selected based on her commitment to the empowerment of refugee communities around the world and her potential as an advocate for refugees and communities in turmoil.
“Ilhan is a forward-thinking individual who has a real desire to help international communities — to make an impact,” said Linn Van Woerkom, associate provost and director for University Honors & Scholars, who worked closely with Dahir during her time at Ohio State. “She was primed to think about issues on a global scale, drawing from her experiences locally.”
Dahir’s own parents fled Somalia in the midst of civil war in the 1990s. They settled with their five daughters in Hilliard, Ohio, and became part of a burgeoning Somali community in Columbus.
As a youth, Dahir became involved with Face to Face – Faith to Faith, an organization that brings together Christian, Jewish and Muslim teenagers from all over the world in an effort to develop effective leaders for a multi-faith global society. She later established Interfaith Service Youth Corps at her own high school, which had similar goals of fostering faith-based service.
Her work with the Somali community continued while she pursued honors degrees in English and political science at Ohio State.
Randall Schweller, a professor of political science, remembers Dahir’s reasoned and respectful contributions to discussions in his honors course covering contemporary foreign relations in the spring of 2014.
“I was impressed that she was so current about world politics and had a very sophisticated view for someone her age. She had a real sense of why she was saying what she was saying,” Schweller says. “The honors students at Ohio State are tremendous — and she stood out among them.”
Schweller advised Dahir on her senior thesis. It focused on the role of western foreign fighters in the Islamic State of Syria and the Levant’s threat to global peace. Her poster presentation of the project won third place in the university’s Denman Undergraduate Research Forum.
“She came up with very good reasons for why ISIS has been so successful in recruiting foreign fighters, and at the time people weren’t talking about it as much as we are now,” he says. “I’m still waiting to see the press cover some of the things she raises in her thesis.”
At Oxford, Dahir will pursue master’s degrees in refugee and forced migration studies and global governance and diplomacy. She plans to return to the United States to attend law school and launch a career as an international human rights attorney.
“Going to a top academic institution and being able to continue working with the local Somali community allowed her to do what she needed to achieve this honor,” Van Woerkom says. “The only way you have real impact is to have sustained effort, and that’s what she did here — and will continue to do.”