University of Louisville rower Birdie Maxwell
University of Louisville rower Birdie Maxwell

University of Louisville rower Birdie Maxwell will help carry on the legacy of one of the city’s most iconic athletes and social activists as she was selected as a 2021-2023 Muhammad Ali Scholar through the UofL Muhammad Ali Institute for Peace and Justice.
The Muhammad Ali Scholar program provides Cardinal students with “a unique international learning experience to explore justice issues in a different cultural, political, social, and economic context,” according to the program’s description.
“This is just another step for me in my success and an even bigger opportunity for impact on my community for change,” Maxwell said.
Maxwell is one of just 10 UofL students to earn acceptance into the two-year program, and she’s the first student-athlete to join in roughly six years, said program director Ashleigh Hazley.
“Students had to do a reading on the K-12 education system, and we had a facilitated dialogue about it,” Hazley said. “I looked for students who were passionate, but also really respected group dynamics and could just be supportive members of a group. That’s definitely something that I saw in Birdie as well as the other nine students we have.”
Barring COVID-19 restrictions, students within the Muhammad Ali Scholar program travel to nations across the country to study social justice, and they also participate in projects to aid communities within the city of Louisville itself.
Past projects students within the program have participated in include a health inequality and food justice project with Wesley House in creating a healthy eating curriculum and a community garden, partnering with YouthBuild on community outreach for the Smoketown Laundromat Project and a college readiness video project in collaboration with Louisville’s 15,000 Degrees Initiative.
UofL head rowing coach Derek Copeland takes pride in his athlete receiving this opportunity to reach her goals.  
“Birdie is hungry to effect change, but sometimes that is easier said than done,” Copeland said. “This program will be a great opportunity to help her move her passion and ability to action. We are proud of Birdie for being selected and very excited for what this means to/for her ability to make an impact.”
Birdie joins Lorenzo Rowan, Shradda Patel, Taylor Griffith, Edison Pleasants, Maegan Heller, Ashley Aguilera-Rico, Pamambuna Touray and Kaylee Boyd as this year’s Ali Scholars.