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Hunter Seniors Win 2019-2020 NYC Urban Fellowships

Madelyn Adams ’19 and Saif Zihiri ’19 have both won acceptance to New York City’s nationally competitive Urban Fellows Program.

The nine-month fellowship begins next fall, when Adams, Zihiri and other young scholars from across the U.S. will gather in New York, and after a series of interviews, be posted to mayoral offices or city agencies. Fellows will also attend regular seminars on urban issues and public policy, where the speakers will include high-level city officials.

Because it offers new graduates a unique opportunity to work with major decision-makers and aid in the implementation of public policy, the program is considered a premier training ground for careers in public service. Many alumni go on to top government positions, and others become leaders in the non-profit and private sectors.

Thanks to her Hunter education, Madelyn Adams is clear about her own professional goals.

Adams grew up in a small town near Ocean City, New Jersey. She came to New York to study advertising at the Fashion Institute of Technology, but as editor of the college’s digital fashion magazine, found herself regularly pitching articles on political and human rights. After earning her associate’s degree, she transferred to Hunter to major in political science.

A course on reproductive rights set Adams on her present path. After taking that course and completing two internships – one at the Center for Reproductive Rights and another at National Advocates for Pregnant Women – she made plans for the future. “I decided I wanted to go to law school and become a lawyer protecting reproductive rights,” she says. “My dream job is attorney for Planned Parenthood.”

Adams joined her political science major to a human rights minor and found the perfect academic home at Roosevelt House, Hunter’s public policy institute. “I found so many amazing opportunities there,” she says. Beyond Hunter, she volunteered with The City Tutors, helping talented high-school students succeed in college-level courses at CUNY.

She admits that when she submitted her Urban Fellowship application, she thought her chances of acceptance were slim: “I really didn’t think I’d get the fellowship, because they limit the CUNY-wide acceptances to just three or four a year, and many of the 25 spots go to students from elite schools like Harvard, Yale and Brown.”

Adams hopes she’ll be able to devote her fellowship to women’s health care. She’d particularly like to help implement the mayor’s five-year plan to eliminate the wide disparities between black and white women in maternal mortality.

Saif Zihiri came to Hunter expecting to follow one professional path, but he quickly discovered a different calling.

Born in Brooklyn and raised on Staten Island, he’s the oldest of five children. His parents, Egyptian immigrants, both work in health care as physical therapists, and Zihiri graduated from Stuyvesant planning his own future in medicine – possibly with the global nonprofit Doctors Without Borders. He chose Hunter for its Pre-Health Program and Macaulay Honors College – especially the free dorm for Hunter’s Macaulay Scholars.

Not far into his freshman year, he had a life-changing epiphany:  He had never liked studying science. “I realized I was mostly interested in the human rights and public policy side of Doctors Without Borders – not the practice of medicine,” he says. He credits the Macaulay staffers and advisors with providing the understanding and help he needed to change course. “I wouldn’t have felt comfortable shifting without their support,” he says.

In the spring of his sophomore year, he interned with the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect, researching mass atrocity crimes around the world. He also won a Jeannette K. Watson Fellowship with full funding for three years of summer internships. He ended up spending his first Watson summer at America Needs You, a nonprofit that provides intensive career counseling to low-income, first-generation college students, and his second Watson summer at the Southern Poverty Law Center. He’s currently interning at the ACLU, and he’ll work this summer for an NGO in Ghana. At Hunter, he served as the USG’s student welfare commissioner and as co-coordinator of the Peer Health Exchange, which sends Hunter student to local schools as trained health educators.

Like Adams, Zihiri combined a political science major with a focus on human rights. Inspired by a course in the Abrahamic faiths; he also pursued a second major in religion. He graduates with two majors and a Human Rights Certificate.

When he learned about the NYC Urban Fellowship, he saw it as a logical follow-up to his past internships. “I’ve benefited and grown a lot from the Watson Fellowship, and I want more of that kind of experience,” he says. Noting that his past work has been at nonprofits, he adds, “I’ve never worked at a government agency, and I don’t know which sector will allow me to be most effective.”

For now, Zihiri mirrors Adams in what he’d like to do as an Urban Fellow. “I’m interested in discovering and addressing the health disparities in different communities,” he says.

To get expert help with applying for NYC Urban Fellowships and other local, national and international fellowships and scholarships, Hunter students and graduates should contact The Ruth & Harold Newman Office of Prestigious Scholarships & Fellowships at (212) 396-6910 or

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