Sabah Sial, a University of Utah senior majoring in finance, is one of 32 Rhodes Scholars named this month.
Sial, from Sandy, was selected from among 2,300 U.S. applicants this year for the prestigious scholarship, which provides tuition and living expenses for two years of international graduate study at Oxford University. Sial plans to study the intersection of finance, criminology and criminal justice next year.
“White collar crime is an area of finance that doesn’t really get talked about, but can be really impactful for everyday people,” Sial said. “I want to make finance more accessible for individuals, regardless of their socioeconomic or racial background.”
Born in Pakistan and raised in Utah, Sial has dedicated her undergraduate study to economic policy and white collar crime—and their particular impact on disadvantaged and under-represented populations. She views financial crime in a “holistic framework of criminology.” Sial’s Honors thesis explored how to make IPOs more diverse. For the past two summers, she interned at Goldman Sachs’ Salt Lake City office, in the criminal compliance division.
While Sial is the first Rhodes Scholar from the U in 20 years, the university has had increasing numbers of students awarded Churchill, Fulbright and other national and international scholarships.
“This award speaks to the remarkable intellect of Sabah Sial. As a Rhodes Scholar, she joins the ranks of U.S. presidents and governors, philosophers and inventors, journalists and diplomats,” President Taylor Randall said. “Further, it reflects the dedication of faculty who teach, challenge, support and mentor students at the University of Utah.”
Required qualifications for a Rhodes Scholarship include academic excellence, social impact, ability to work with others, commitment to making a difference for good in the world, awareness of inequities and concern for the safety of others. Public service is a critical component of the application process.
While at the U, Sial has advocated for diversification of the Honors College’s curriculum, worked to give students a voice in the Chief Safety Office through the SafeU Ambassador program and volunteered at the Vice-Presidential Debate in 2020.
“Her work ensures that students have the opportunity to be heard and to shape policy on safety on campus,” says Ginger Smoak, director of the Office of Nationally Competitive Scholarships. “She is a visionary, using her extraordinary intellectual ability and talents, able to see the big picture and work to include many diverse voices.
“The Rhodes Scholarship will give her the opportunity to continue to hone those abilities over the next two years. I have full confidence that she will contribute to the future of the world in a big way.”
And L. Jackson Newell, professor emeritus, who taught Sial in two Honors ethics courses and mentored her as a teaching assistant, said she was dedicated to learning liberal arts and sciences, as well as finance. “Her eyes radiate not only intelligence, but curiosity, commitment and kindness,” he added. “No surprise that she inspires and serves others so well. These are marks of a Rhodes Scholar and qualities every student should cultivate.”
Sial is a Presidential Intern, chief justice for the ASUU Supreme Court, and an Eccles Scholar in the Honors College.
All of that experience, Sabah said, “led me to mentors who really care about their students, saw the kind of direction that I wanted to go before I even realized it myself, and pointed out opportunities to me. The university was critical in connecting me with individuals who really want to see their students succeed.”
Sial will pursue two master’s degrees while at Oxford—one in criminology and criminal justice, the other in financial economics. Her father owns a business in Salt Lake City. Her mother received a medical degree in Pakistan, but gave up her career in medicine to raise her children.
“No one wins the scholarship alone,” Sial said. “I had a whole community of people supporting me—professors, elected officials, university leaders. The belief that my mentors and advisors had in me was critical to me even getting to where I am, and a cornerstone of my application. I’m grateful for everyone who has helped me get here.”
Since 1904, the University of Utah has had 23 total winners, the last in 2002. Sial is one of 22 women named Rhodes Scholars from U.S. universities this year. Women have only been allowed to apply since 1976. In its nearly 120-year history, 3,578 Americans have won Rhodes Scholarships—627 of them women. Over 100 Rhodes Scholars will be selected worldwide in 2021.