UH Moment

UH Moment: Student-Athlete Earns Prestigious Phi Beta Kappa Scholarship

Once I see a gap in the community that needs to be filled, I become determined to fill it”

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Doing work to benefit the community is a mindset ingrained in Sondos Moursy's family culture. Ever since the University of Houston student-athlete immigrated to the United States from Alexandria, Egypt when she was 4 years old, she's done work to uplift and empower neglected communities.

"We were always involved in charity projects when we were kids and that remains central to my purpose today," she said.

It's no wonder that now as a junior psychology major at the University of Houston, Moursy was one of 20 students just selected as a Key into Public Service Scholar by The Phi Beta Kappa (PBK) Society, the nation's most prestigious academic honor society. The award recognizes students who have demonstrated an interest in working in the public sector and possess a strong academic record in the arts, humanities, mathematics, natural sciences and social sciences.

"Once I see a gap in the community that needs to be filled, I become determined to fill it," said Moursy, a student in the Honors College and College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences.

Action Research in Communities

The Spring, Texas native has spent the last three years researching the mass incarceration of women and was saddened to discover minorities from poor communities are disproportionately incarcerated, despite misdemeanors making up the majority of offenses. She proposes well-structured diversion programs as a solution.

"Our criminal justice system criminalizes poverty," she said. "When a main provider is ripped out of their home because they can't afford bail for a nonviolent crime, it creates a generational trajectory for the entire family. They don't have options."

In an effort to create an emotional support system for women returning to society after being in jail, Moursy initiated a weekly arts program at Angela House, a re-entry center for women in Houston which provides trauma-informed rehabilitative services. She calls it a "safe space" for the women to connect and share experiences. The work was conducted through UH's Action Research in Communities (ARC) program, a fellowship which offers exceptional undergraduates opportunities to conduct faculty-mentored action research based on service projects in the Greater Houston community.

Moursy also interned at the Houston Mayor’s Office of Complete Communities where she developed a workforce initiative focused on providing legal income revenues for offenders. She hopes to one day become a human rights attorney to empower those in underprivileged communities.

Phi Betta Kappa Society

"Sondos is a shining example of how taking action through research can have a significant impact for the betterment of society. To be honored by the Phi Beta Kappa Society is a remarkable accomplishment and a testament to her true grit and commitment to public service," said Paula Myrick Short, UH senior vice president for academic affairs and provost.

Chosen from almost 900 applicants attending Phi Beta Kappa chapter institutions across the nation (PBK's 284th chapter was installed in 2016 at UH), Moursy received a scholarship and will take part in a conference convening in late June to provide training, mentoring and reflection on pathways into active citizenship.

"The society selected the 2022 Service Scholars for their intellectual curiosity; breadth and depth across liberal arts and sciences coursework; positive contributions on and off campus through academic research, internships and community work; and demonstrated commitment to serve others," said Frederick M. Lawrence, Phi Beta Kappa secretary.

Creating Opportunities

Not just a rising researcher and scholar, Moursy is also a runner on the University of Houston cross country team. With legs churning and muscles burning, she grinds through rough terrain – hills, woods and mud are no match – to achieve a much grander goal than simply winning a race. Much like her work with mass incarceration, she competes to create opportunities for others.

Moursy is the only cross country or track and field athlete in the NCAA who competes while wearing hijab, a headscarf worn by Muslim women in public to maintain modesty and privacy in accordance with teachings of the Qur’an.

"I've seen so many amazing Muslim athletes give up on their dreams because they're led to believe they have to choose between wearing hijab or playing sports. We shouldn't have to choose. I didn't," she said. "I hope that by the time I graduate, we have a pipeline of Muslim athletes empowered to run – with hijab on – at the highest level.”

In addition to her research and athletic endeavors, Moursy initiated a tutoring program for elementary and high school students from low socioeconomic backgrounds and organizes UH Athletics volunteer days, consisting of packaging meals for distribution to those in need.

With every step she takes, Sondos Moursy is blazing a trail that could open doors for so many.

"Even with few resources, you can create significant impact in your community through hard work and persistence," she said. "I want to have a career that changes the way we approach crime and policing our communities."