A month before the deadline for the Rhodes Scholarship, Lillian Ngo Usadi was close to not applying — she didn’t think she’d get it. But her advisors pushed her, encouraging her to just try and submit an application.
And last Saturday, their encouragement paid off: Usadi, of Basking Ridge, was selected as one of the 32 Americans chosen for the prestigious scholarship. She will pursue a Master’s of Science in energy systems and one in nature, society and environmental guidance at Oxford University.
“I never thought I was ever going to contend for (the scholarship),” Usadi, 21, told NJ Advance Media. “I knew the people who had gone before me and in my mind, they’re larger than life.”
As a senior at the United States Naval Academy, Usadi is majoring in electrical engineering. She said she entered the military because of her family’s story, which she wrote about for the scholarship application.
Her mother, Oanh Ngo Usadi, is a refugee from Vietnam, escaping the country on a boat and settling in Texas as a young girl with her family. Usadi’s grandfather opened a bánh mì sandwich shop, and her mother wrote a memoir of her experiences.
“That’s why I joined the military,” Usadi said, referencing her mother’s story. “I wanted to give back to the country that gave my family so much.”
A 2017 graduate of Ridge High School, Usadi said she’s always loved science, from physics to space. She is a Bowman Scholar and one of sixteen Trident Scholars in the class of 2021 at the Naval Academy, conducting research in electrical engineering and physics.
She served as the 2nd Company Commander, training incoming plebes, or incoming freshman, this past summer. She’s also interned at Naval Special Warfare Development Group and Sandia National Laboratories where she modeled the performance of molten salt thermal batteries.
Usadi also excels in music. She serves as concertmaster for the Academy’s symphony orchestra and a pianist for a jazz and wing band. She is the president of the Academy’s Jewish Midshipmen Club and a member of the Vietnamese Midshipmen Club.
Usadi will graduate from the Academy in May and start the Oxford term next October. And since she early-selected submarines as her community within the naval service, she’ll serve five years aboard a U.S. Navy Submarine following the completion of her program at Oxford.
“I just want to acknowledge that there have been so many people who have helped me get to this place,” Usadi said, listing family, friends, and teachers. “I really can’t claim the credit of this scholarship.”
Rhodes Scholars are chosen based on high academic achievement, leadership qualities, service commitment, and outstanding character. The Rhodes Trust provides all expenses for two or three years of study at the University of Oxford in England.
Our journalism needs your support. Please subscribe today to NJ.com.
Brianna Kudisch may be reached at email@example.com.