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UNC alumnus Justin Hadad wins Rhodes scholarship, will study economics at Oxford

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UNC alumnus Justin Hadad will become the University’s 53rd Rhodes scholar. Hadad is pictured in Zurich, Switzerland. Photo courtesy of Justin Hadad.

Justin Hadad, a 2021 UNC graduate, will become the University’s 53rd Rhodes scholar and the second of three UNC scholars named as part of the class of 2022. 

The scholarship will fund Hadad’s Master of Philosophy in economics at the University of Oxford, where he hopes to continue studying market design. He is currently pursuing this discipline as a research assistant for Marek Pycia, a professor of organizational economics at the University of Zurich.

Hadad, whose parents emigrated from Trinidad and Tobago, grew up in Columbus, Ohio. His great-grandparents are refugees from Syria and Lebanon. His family background is of great importance to him, he said. 

"It is a reason why I do everything," Hadad said.

Part of what brought him to UNC is its location in the South, the place "farthest out of his comfort zone," he said.

"I wanted to explore an environment so unfamiliar to me," Hadad said. "But I also wanted to do it in a place that's well-regarded not only for its academics, but also for its culture."

Hadad graduated from UNC in 2021 with an economics major and an interdisciplinary studies major in applied physics, as well as a minor in Latin. 

Sharon L. James, a professor in the Department of Classics, said Hadad is a renaissance man.

“It's a rare person who brings together physics, economics, Latin, poetry and technology, and does well in all of them,” James said. “And he sees connections between them that I think the rest of us would struggle to see.”

Hadad also graduated from the University as a Morehead-Cain scholar, an Honors Carolina laureate and a member of Phi Beta Kappa. 

Julie DeVoe, director of scholar advising for the Morehead-Cain program, said Hadad brings a lot of energy to all of his studies and diverse involvements. 

“He also was really wonderful at recruiting others to join a cause,” DeVoe said.  

This ability has served him during his undergraduate years, where he engaged in multiple entrepreneurial and collaborative pursuits. 

Hadad said he spent the summer after his first year in Louisville, Ky., as a government research fellow researching policies to optimize the welfare of immigrant small-business owners. 

He said his family has driven his interest in applying his studies to issues that refugees and immigrants face.

“I've found that economic theory provides a framework for analyzing humanitarian problems," Hadad said. "I found that I'm drawn to problems that affect people like my family."

During his sophomore year, he worked for a software startup called Wage, which he said focused on optimizing the matching of shifts to employees. This idea became the topic for his honors thesis at UNC. 

But Hadad said his biggest accomplishment during that year was being co-founder and chief strategist for UNCUT, a media platform for sharing athlete stories off the field. He continued his work with UNCUT through his junior year.

Hadad said his most fulfilling work, though, was developing and teaching a course through the Honors Carolina C-START program. The course was run under the faculty mentorship of Daniel Young, a  teaching assistant professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy. The course covered game theory market design, microeconomic theory and introductory physics principles. 

During his final year at UNC, Hadad co-founded a web-based team management tool called SplitTime, inspired by the now dissolved startup Wage.

Now, in Zurich, Hadad continues to apply his experiences and interest in market design to answer theoretical questions concerning the global refugee crisis and labor force deficits. 

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Looking ahead, Hadad reflected on the people and places that shaped him during his time at UNC.

"I am the sum of my community, I am nothing without the people who've been able to teach me things," he said. "I am privileged to collaborate so closely with people who are naturally inclined to share their depth of experience with a young, curious kid like me."

Hadad will begin his studies as a 2022 Rhodes scholar at Oxford next fall, alongside UNC senior Takhona Hlatshwako and fellow UNC 2021 graduate Kimathi Muiruri. 

@salvatierralia |