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College junior Chinaza Ruth Okonkwo was named a Beinecke scholar for 2021.

College junior Chinaza Ruth Okonkwo has been named one of 16 Beinecke Scholars to receive funding for graduate study in the arts, humanities, and social sciences.

Each Beinecke scholar receives $4,000 before entering graduate school and $30,000 while attending graduate school. The scholarship program is open to college juniors at approximately 135 different colleges and universities, and each university nominates a single student for a potential scholarship. Penn nominated Okonkwo in December, and the Beinecke program notified Okonkwo of her scholarship last week.

Majoring in history and philosophy with concentrations in moral and political philosophy and world history, Okonkwo has already sub-matriculated into the philosophy master’s program. At their graduation in 2022, Okonkwo will receive both their master’s and bachelor’s degree. 

Okonkwo said she is majoring in history because she has always enjoyed history and thinks it is fascinating to learn about different cultures. They are also majoring in philosophy because it has helped them find “different ways of thinking in the world.”

Okonkwo said her minors of Africana studies; gender, sexuality, and women’s studies; and Native American and Indigenous studies complement her majors and allow her to focus on the areas that she cares about. 

At Penn, Okonkwo is an editor for the Penn History Review, a board member of the Coalition Against Fraternity Sexual Assault, and a member of the Student Committee for Undergraduate Education. They are also an advisor for the Benjamin Franklin Scholars program and a Research Peer Advisor for the Center for Undergraduate Research and Fellowships.

Okonkwo heard of the Beinecke scholarship through CURF. 

“I think that I’m pretty ambitious, and there are certain goals that I wanted to accomplish. Each year I try to see which scholarship is out there and what I want,” Okonkwo said.

When she received word of her scholarship, Okonkwo said she was very surprised and happy, especially when she realized the amount of applicants for the scholarship.

Okonkwo currently conducts research at Penn about the Igbo people, an ethnic group in present-day Nigeria. 

“It's a pretty big project in terms of scope because the field is so understudied,” Okonkwo said. “There's just so much more to study and uncover, but right now I’m focused on clearly defining an authentic and indigenous Igbo tradition of philosophy and epistemology that is distinct from not only Western forms of knowledge, but also from other forms of knowledge within the African continent.” 

Okonkwo said they have not yet decided their plans for graduate study with the Beinecke funding.