SDSU's first Rhodes finalist
Mekany continues tradition of firsts for SDSU
Over the past two years, Sandrien “Sandy” Mekany has amassed an impressive resume of firsts at San Diego State University.
This fall, the 2023 SDSU graduate in political science accomplished another as the university’s first Rhodes Scholarship finalist.
Mekany is the first SDSU student in the Rhodes Scholarship’s 120-year history to make it to the penultimate step for the most competitive and prestigious international scholarship, which is awarded to 100 people globally each year — and to only 32 in the U.S.
Mekany, who in 2023 became the first SDSU student to receive the Harry S. Truman Scholarship Foundation’s graduate scholarship for public-service leadership, said she was ecstatic to have made it to the final stage of the arduous Rhodes’ selection process.
Mekany said she immediately called her parents when she received the news.
“They were screaming and elated for me, and I was screaming as well because I was in shock,” she said. “It was incredible and so meaningful for me.”
The Rhodes Scholarship, considered the preeminent international scholarship, is a fully funded, full-time postgraduate award for students to study at the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom for a year.
The application process is notoriously rigorous, often requiring students to spend six months to prepare and submit.
Mekany, who was studying abroad during the summer in Italy, began researching about the scholarship and working on her application in July, more than a month after the application window opened.
“Applicants from other schools where it’s common for students to apply usually start the process earlier in the summer around May or June,” said Mekany, who grew up in Scripps Ranch and later El Cajon. “I really started putting my application together in August.”
Applicants must have a bachelor’s degree with a 3.7 grade point average or higher, and must submit an academic statement, personal statement and a whopping eight letters of recommendation, a daunting task, Mekany said.
And Mekany, who graduated with a 4.0 GPA and a distinguished resume of student involvement and community service, did this while transitioning from Italy to Washington, D.C., for her Truman Scholars’ program.
“To find eight people who care about you enough and want to see you succeed and are willing to write a full two pages, that in and of itself can feel very intimidating,” Mekany said. “The personal statement was also difficult, because it can’t be peer- or teacher-reviewed. The entire process was grueling.”
In addition to serving as the vice president of University Affairs for Associated Students, Mekany, who was in Weber Honors College and minored in sociology and honors interdisciplinary studies, was also involved with the Center for Intercultural Relations (CIR), the Middle Eastern Student Union, Cru Ministries, Tijuana Homebuild and Rotaract. She also tutored students and signed students up for COVID-19 vaccines.
Mekany received four of her letters of recommendation from professors - three from SDSU and one who taught her during a summer fellowship at UC Berkeley - her supervisor during her internship with US Rep. Katie Porter (D-Irvine), another from her advisor with Associated Students, one from her longtime violin instructor and one from her CIR Supervisor. The last letter came from SDSU president Adela de la Torre.
“Sandy’s drive and her intelligence are immediately apparent,” de la Torre said. “She is an incredible advocate for others, and for what she believes in. I felt strongly that her positive demeanor, unwavering pride in her cultural identity, and proven leadership would make her an invaluable addition to the scholar community and the Rhodes Scholarship Foundation.”
Mekany submitted her application Oct. 5 and received word that she was a finalist on Oct. 31.
Two weeks later, she flew from D.C. to Los Angeles and headed to Pasadena for the finalists’ reception, including a dinner with the finalists and judges, and the final interviews.
Mekany said that the group of students in the room were incredible, passionate and deserving to be there. “If I were to tell you someone among the finalist group had a cure for cancer, I would not be exaggerating,” she said.
Although she didn’t receive the Rhodes Scholarship, Mekany said the experience of applying and becoming a finalist was worth it.
“I learned so much about myself,” she said. “I learned how much I could actually handle. I had to be patient with myself when looking at my essays and reviewing them by myself, probably hundreds of times if I am being honest.
“I learned how important it is to have grace. There’s always going to be one small thing that separates a scholar from a finalist, but just because you don’t get the title doesn’t make you any less,” Mekany said. “I put myself out there and went through the process, and that’s what matters to me, even if I didn’t get it. I believed in myself enough to do it, and to know you believe in yourself is enough. That is something I wish I could impart to my fellow students.”
Mekany’s mother, Ban Mekany, who has witnessed her daughter’s drive and hard work pay off with milestone after milestone, said she couldn’t help but cry when her daughter told her and her father the news.
“I can’t explain how happy I was, I started crying immediately,” she said. “My daughter is a fighter, she doesn’t give up, she’s very ambitious and she has a lot of things to look forward to in her future.
“What I love about my Sandy is that during this entire journey, she has never forgotten to be a good human, a helper, a supporter,” Ban Mekany said. “Even if she didn’t get it, I know God has other plans for her and she learned a lot through her journey.”
Mekany just completed her White House internship in the Office of Presidential Correspondence – which was part of the Truman-Albright Fellows Program that she qualified for through the Truman Scholars program. She has permanently relocated to the nation’s capital and is looking for work while studying to take the LSAT exams and preparing for law school.
She still aspires to become an immigration rights’ attorney with an eye towards politics - potentially elected office.
“My ideal goal is to stay at the White House, but I am also interested in working on Capitol Hill,” Mekany said. “It’s crazy to exchange the San Diego sunshine for D.C., but I think it’s super special to see that it’s possible to make change here in the capital of our nation, so there’s hope there.”