Fifty-five of the most academically exceptional and socially committed people from across the globe have been selected as Gates Cambridge Scholars after interviews in Cambridge in March.
The Scholars will join the 35 US Scholars selected in late January to form the class of 2016, all of whom will take up the most prestigious international postgraduate scholarship at the University of Cambridge this October.
The 55 new Scholars come from 30 countries - ranging from Colombia to Australia and Denmark to Sudan - and include the first ever Scholar from Rwanda. They represent 68 universities - 18 of which have produced their first Gates Cambridge Scholar – and at Cambridge will study in 39 University Departments and be members of 24 Colleges. Forty-one will pursue a PhD and 14 a one-year MPhil. Women outnumber men by a ratio of 36 to 19.
The Gates Cambridge Scholarship aims to identify and select applicants who are academically outstanding and are likely to be transformative leaders for the benefit of others in all fields of endeavour.
Competition for the Scholarships is fierce. The successful candidates were selected from a total pool of 3,730 applicants on the basis of their intellectual ability, commitment to improving the lives of others, leadership potential and academic fit with Cambridge. Departments in Cambridge nominated 242 candidates for the Scholarships and, of these, 101 were interviewed in Cambridge in late March (in person or by Skype) by four panels of interviewers drawn from across the University.
The new Scholars include several who have overcome a background of war and violence to become high achievers in their academic studies and service to others:
· Alice Musabende will become the first Gates Cambridge Scholar from Rwanda. She will pursue a PhD in Politics and International Studies. She is currently completing a Masters in International Development at Dalhousie University in Canada. Musabende, a journalist who survived the 1994 genocide in her country in which her family died, will study the concept of sovereignty as the point of interaction between domestic and international actors in relation to peacebuilding interventions in Burundi. She has extensive experience of NGO work and was part of a Canadian-funded programme to provide academic training to young Rwandans.
· Sivapalan Chelvaniththilan will do a PhD in Physics, focusing on the mechanisms of activation and silencing of genes in DNA. His family was displaced 18 times during the civil war in Sri Lanka and he taught himself maths and physics, winning a silver medal in the International Physics Olympiad. He was the highest-scoring student in the Physics Aptitude test for Oxford where he won a first.
· Iryna Shuvalova will pursue a PhD in Slavonic Studies, focusing on the depictions of armed conflict and its aftermath (particularly conflict-inflicted trauma) in Ukrainian oral and written poetry traditions. She has published three award-winning poetry collections in Ukraine and, in the face of threats and physical attacks from ultra-right organisations, co-edited the first anthology of LGBTQ literature in Ukrainian, coordinating a team of 40+ writers, translators and academics from 15 countries.
Other successful candidates include a psychology student focusing on cognitive susceptibility to radicalisation and an imam who does stand-up comedy:
· Leor Zmigrod will do a PhD in Psychology. She grew up in the USA, Europe and the Middle East. She says her background made her “intimately aware that radicalisation can emerge on all sides of conflict and so is not merely a product of a particular ideology or demographic”. By combining cognitive neuroscience and experimental psychology to study the psychological processes that underlie radicalisation to an ideology or group, her PhD will aim to address the gap in our understanding of the cognitive susceptibilities to internalising a doctrine and a willingness to harm and self-sacrifice for an ideological cause. She says: “Through this research, I hope to bring a fresh perspective to questions which have been traditionally only dealt with in the social and political sciences and thereby to shape interventional and educational programmes aimed at identifying vulnerabilities to radicalisation.”
· Mohammad Shomali will do a PhD in Asian and Middle Eastern Studies which will explore ways in which the rights of non-Muslims and Jews are considered and recognised by Shia jurists. He aims to illuminate the principles of human rights that are inherent in Islam and to connect them to current questions. Shomali is an imam who has studied and taught theology, philosophy and Islamic jurisprudence in Iranian seminaries for nine years as well as in Africa. Discovering that one of his students was a member of the Boko Haram extremist group, he began organising workshops to educate young people and prevent them succumbing to radical misinterpretations of Islam, persuading many of the participants to leave Boko Haram. He also performs stand-up comedy with the Cambridge Footlights.
Professor Barry Everitt, Provost (CEO) of the Gates Cambridge Trust, said: "We are delighted to have awarded Gates Cambridge Scholarships to 55 outstanding individuals from such a wide spread of countries and backgrounds. The Scholars are truly remarkable and inspiring individuals and showed at interview that they fit the mission of the Scholarship by their commitment to using their academic skills and leadership capacity to improve the lives of others. We look forward to welcoming all 90 new Scholars to Cambridge in October and to seeing their future impact as Gates Cambridge Alumni."
Biographies of all 90 Scholars are available from the New Scholars page
The 55 will join 35 US Scholars to form the Class of 2016 of the University of Cambridge's leading international scholarship programme for postgraduates.
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