New US Gates Cambridge Scholars announced

36 selected for a Gates Cambridge Scholarship, funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

We are sure the new Scholars will flourish in the vibrant, international community at Cambridge as Gates Cambridge Scholars and that they will make a substantial impact in their fields and to the wider global community.

Professor Barry Everitt

Thirty-six of the most academically outstanding and socially committed US citizens have been selected to be part of the 2017 class of Gates Cambridge Scholars at the University of Cambridge.

The US Scholars-elect, who will take up their awards this October, are from 34 universities, including three which have never before had a Gates Cambridge Scholar - Mississippi State University, California State University (Los Angeles) and Loyola University (New Orleans).

They include the first Native American Gates Cambridge Scholar; the founder of the Alabama REACH programme for college students who are homeless, in foster care or wards of the state; and the first millennial scholar [born in 2000].

Montana Wilson, who did his undergraduate degree at Montana State University, will become Gates Cambridge’s first Native American Scholar when he takes up his MPhil [master’s] in Development Studies. His research will focus on governing institutions, most notably tribal governments, and how an individual’s decision affects economic development policies. Montana is a member of the Gros Ventre tribe of the Fort Belknap Indian Reservation. Prior to receiving his bachelor degrees, Montana held commissions as Assistant Public Defender and Deputy Chief Prosecutor for the Fort Peck Tribes.

Caroline James will pursue an MPhil in Education in order to explore research-based methods to help democratise education, with a particular focus on the US. Caroline grew up in foster care and at the University of Alabama created Alabama REACH which aims to provide support for college students who are homeless, in foster care or wards of the state. She has also been featured on CNN for her academic achievements and diversity work. She subsequently worked as a teacher, winning a national teaching award for her work on student leadership development. Caroline has most recently worked in teacher leadership development and at Teach For America she partnered with and managed almost 60 educators.

Angela Madira will be just 17 when she starts her MPhil in Health, Medicine and Society, becoming the first genuine millennial Gates Cambridge Scholar. She began her BSc in Biochemistry at California State University in Los Angeles at the age of 12 and is about to publish a paper on the removal of dermoid cysts based on clinical research at the LA Children's Hospital. Her MPhil dissertation will focus on the efficacy and ethics of existing mammalian research models. She hopes to target the philosophy of cognitive psychology through the multispecies interactions between humans and animals, particularly scientists and their test subjects. She plans to become a paediatric neurosurgeon.

The US Scholars-elect will study and research subjects ranging from collaborative songwriting to improve health outcomes, spider behaviour, voter analytics to cancer therapeutics targeting the side effects associated with chemotherapy. Scholarships were awarded to 20 women and 16 men from a wide range of backgrounds. Twenty five will study for one-year master's degree courses and 11 will pursue three-year PhD degrees.

The prestigious postgraduate scholarship programme – which fully funds postgraduate study and research in any subject at the University of Cambridge - was established through a US$210 million donation to the University of Cambridge from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in 2000; this remains the largest single donation to a UK university. Since the first class in 2001 there have been more than 1,600 Gates Cambridge Scholars from 104 countries who represent more than 600 universities globally (more than 200 in the USA) and 80 academic departments and all 31 Colleges at Cambridge. The gender balance is approximately 50% men and women.

In addition to outstanding academic achievement the programme places emphasis on social leadership in its selection process as its mission is to create a global network of future leaders committed to improving the lives of others.

In the US round 2017 approximately 800 candidates applied for the scholarship; 200 of these were nominated by their prospective departments in Cambridge and 97 were put forward for interview by shortlisting committees and were interviewed by panels of academics from the UK and USA in Washington D.C. at the end of January.

The 36 US Scholars-elect will join 54 Scholars from other parts of the world, who will be announced in early April after interviews in late March and will complete the class of 2017. The class of 2017 will join current Gates Cambridge Scholars in October to form a community of approximately 220 Scholars in residence at the world-leading University of Cambridge.

Professor Barry Everitt FRS, Provost of the Gates Cambridge Trust, said: “We have interviewed nearly 100 outstanding candidates in the US selection round 2017. The 36 US Scholars-elect have been selected to reflect the mission of the Gates Foundation’s generous and historic gift to the University of Cambridge. They are an extraordinarily impressive and diverse group who have already achieved much in terms of their academic studies and leadership abilities and have shown their commitment to improving the lives of others in a multitude of ways. We are sure they will flourish in the vibrant, international community at Cambridge as Gates Cambridge Scholars and that they will make a substantial impact in their fields and to the wider global community.”

Other new US Gates Cambridge Scholars 2017 include:

- Michael Pashkevick, the first Gates Cambridge Scholar from Loyola University New Orleans, will pursue a PhD in Zoology to investigate the role of spiders in Southeast Asian oil palm plantations and how riparian margin restoration within plantations affects spider biodiversity and behaviour. He says: “My aim is to advance understandings of spider ecology, the management of biodiversity in tropical agricultural systems and the public’s relationship with historically disfavoured animals.” Michael, who is interested in science outreach, plans to use citizen science for his research, engaging UK and Indonesian communities.

- Erica Cao is returning to Cambridge for her second Gates Cambridge Scholarship. A graduate in Psychology and Music Performance from Princeton, she did her MPhil at Cambridge in Music Studies in 2014 and will now do a PhD in collaborative songwriting. Erica is interested in the crossover between the arts and sciences. While she pursues her PhD she will be continuing with her medical training at Columbia University and working to build a non-profit organisation called Humans in Harmony which aims to build connections between people through collaborative music-making. Erica believes music can assist those with neuropsychiatric disorders, can encourage reconciliation and understanding between communities and can promote civil society.

- Grant Simpson will pursue an MPhil in Chemistry with the aim of developing new, more selective cancer therapeutics. His research project involves using quadruple helical DNA structures as platforms to hold both cancer-targeting antibodies and cancer-cell-killing drugs. He intends to develop synthetic methods to chemically link these different classes of biomolecules in order to circumvent the poor efficacy and side effects of current, standard-of-care chemotherapy and increase the therapeutic utility of first generation antibody-drug conjugates. Grant, who dropped out of high school, is a graduate of the University of Florida where he majored in Chemistry and Cognitive and Behavioural Neuroscience and minored in Philosophy.

- Rachel Wible, who completed her undergraduate degree in Mechanical Engineering at the United States Naval Academy, will do an MPhil in Nuclear Energy focused on recycling radioactive waste and cleaning the nuclear industry. She says: “Conventional reactors produce large amounts of radioactive waste that can be harnessed for future power production. I intend to research the next generation of nuclear reactors and their ability to utilise this spent fuel discarded from our current reactors. I recognise that our world must soon find a resource for clean energy, and I believe it can be found in nuclear power.” Rachel’s research focus derives from her interest in the way the US Submarine force uses nuclear energy to power its vessels.

- Elyse Fischer will do a PhD in Biological Science and will study the structure determination of protein complexes in order to further understanding of biological processes. Using electron microscopy she will aim to create a framework for designing small molecule inhibitors which induce tumour cell death. Elyse did her undergraduate degree in Molecular Biology at the University of St Andrews and was then awarded a one-year fellowship at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, where her research involved engineering the inherent cellular targeting mechanism of anthrax toxin to specifically target tumours.

Biographies of the 36 US Scholars-elect are available from the New Scholars page.