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Nicholas Thomas-Lewis (left) and Raveen Kariyawasam have received the Rhodes Scholarship. (Photos from Nicholas Thomas-Lewis and Raveen Kariyawasam)

Two members of Penn’s Class of 2022 have been awarded the prestigious Rhodes Scholarship, which gives students funding for up to three years of graduate study at the University of Oxford.

College senior Nicholas Thomas-Lewis from Kimball, Nebraska and Wharton and Engineering senior Raveen Kariyawasam from Colombo, Sri Lanka bring Penn’s total number of Rhodes Scholars to 33. The Rhodes Scholarship is the oldest international scholarship program in the world, awarding 102 scholarships each year to students from all over the world. 

This is the fifth year in a row that Penn students have been among the recipients of the scholarship. In 2020, College graduate Mackenzie Fierceton was named a Rhodes Scholar, and in 2019, two Penn students won scholarships.

Thomas-Lewis is a double major in cognitive science and health and societies with a minor in neuroscience. His interests involve mental health and addiction, as well as how to combat those issues from a social perspective. Thomas-Lewis said that his majors have allowed him to gain a more holistic understanding of these topics.

“I’ve always found that I really wanted to do something that could make a change and a difference in society and studying at Oxford is really going to allow me the opportunity to do that,” Thomas-Lewis said. 

He plans to pursue master’s degrees in medical anthropology and evidence-based social intervention and policy evaluation, which is a research-based program focused on studying the practices and policy surrounding issues such as poverty and mental health.

Thomas-Lewis, who will be one of the 32 American Rhodes scholars for 2022, said he draws a lot of inspiration from his family. Thomas-Lewis said his father struggled with alcoholism which motivated him to make sure no one else has to go through what he went through.

He said youth-based intervention is necessary to break the cycles of intergenerational issues such as addiction.

In addition to his coursework, Thomas-Lewis is a co-chair of the Admissions Dean’s Advisory Board, a tour guide for the Kite & Key Society, and a member of Penny Loafers a cappella.

Kariyawasam is studying finance and entrepreneurship and innovation at Wharton and bioengineering at Penn Engineering. He entered Penn as a bioengineering major and soon became interested in engineering and health care software. His curiosity about why certain lab technology wasn’t present in his home country and hadn’t been applied to the real world led him to add the degree from Wharton in addition to Engineering.

Kariyawasam said he is focused primarily on the relationship between health care software and the social and cultural barriers that can limit accessibility. He said some of the stand-out research projects he has worked on during his time at Penn include an electronic medical record system for low-resource countries and a self-monitoring kit for cystic fibrosis patients in low-resource settings. 

Outside of class, Kariyawasam is an executive board member of the Wharton Undergraduate Healthcare Club, a DJ at WQHS, the editor-in-chief of the biotech academic journal Synapse, and vice president of Phi Sigma Biological Honor Society.

Kariyawasam said he decided to apply for the Rhodes because of the opportunity to study at the Oxford Martin School where he could merge his interests in business and STEM.

He will join a special program on global epilepsy within the Martin School which focuses on epilepsy in low- and middle-income countries. He will pursue a D. Phil. degree, which is known as a Ph.D. in the United States, in engineering science while concentrating in bioengineering. 

“I really wanted to find a place where I would fit in,” he said about Oxford. “Since I’m an international student, I’ve stayed in America for five years. I kind of want to see what’s happening across the pond, too.” 

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