College Senior Awarded Gates Cambridge Scholarship
By Kevin Wu '12, News Section Editor
Senior neuroscience major Clare Howard recently became one of only 29 students nationwide to receive the Gates Cambridge Scholarship toward graduate study at the University of Cambridge in England. The scholarship, which covers the full cost of studying at Cambridge, is awarded by the Gates Cambridge Trust, established in October 2000 thanks to a $200 million donation to the University from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, based in Seattle, Washington.

The international scholarship program evaluates outstanding students from outside the United Kingdom on the basis of academic excellence, a good fit with the University, evidence of leadership potential and a strong commitment to improving the lives of others. It enables its beneficiaries to study and research in any subject available at Cambridge.

The University received around 800 applications from American students to pursue graduate study starting from October 2010. Of the 800, 200 were ranked by academic departments solely on the basis of academic merit. Of the 200, 104 were short-listed, having successfully met the four aforementioned criteria. Finally, after an intensive interview to gauge each candidate’s intellectual and ethical outlook, 29 new scholars were selected from the United States. The remaining 50 scholars, to hail from other countries, will be selected in late March of this year.

Howard attributes all of her success so far to the support of loved ones, and the friends and mentors she has met at Amherst.

“I think that any success I’ve had has been entirely due to the amazing support system that I have, both here at Amherst, and at home as well,” she said. “This includes, of course, my parents and friends, but also professors and mentors in science. Their encouragement has been invaluable to me as I’ve navigated not only this fellowship process, but also my way to this point in my scientific career.”

In retrospect, a future in neuroscience would have seemed foreign to Howard before she had arrived at Amherst.

“When I applied to Amherst, science wasn’t even on my radar. In high school I was always more focused on the humanities and social sciences, and I was thinking about majoring in either history or political science,” she said. “However, when I was a senior in high school I took a science elective that focused on Neuroscience, and I was completely hooked. I loved the cutting edge nature of what I was learning. After that year, and a great summer working in a laboratory at Northeastern University, I was pretty sure that I was going to major in Neuroscience. At the same time, I’ve never lost my love of the humanities and social sciences, and I’ve enjoyed the fact that at Amherst I’ve been able to explore all these fields.”

Howard is looking forward to continuing her studies and research in developmental biology at Cambridge.

“I think that it is a very exciting subject to study, because during development is when the brain is the most plastic and has the greatest ability to change. This means that anything we learn about this period may have implications for how the brain rewires itself in response to damage.”

“My interest in the biomedical side of neurobiology has been reinforced by various experiences I have had shadowing pediatric neurosurgeons and neurologists, where I have seen first hand the pressing need to better understand the developing brain. Being at Cambridge is a great opportunity in a variety of ways… [T]he lab I will be working in (run by Dr. Andrea Brand) gives me the chance to both build on previous work I have done on regeneration in the central nervous system and also to explore a new field: that of stem cell research. I hope the experience will give me a strong foundation in developmental neurobiology which I can bring to bear on my interest in disease.”

Considering Howard’s accomplishments, it hardly comes as a surprise that she has now become the College’s second student to receive the Gates Cambridge Scholarship since its inauguration 10 years ago.

Having assisted in research at the New York University School of Medicine, the Children’s Hospital Boston and Northeastern University, Howard has substantial and diverse research experience that will help her take full advantage of the opportunities available to her at Cambridge’s Gurdon Institute of Cancer and Developmental Biology. Moreover, having served as a Resident Counselor, the chair of the Amherst AIDS Coalition, the co-founder and president of the Amherst chapter of Face AIDS, a leader of the Amherst Hillel and even a docent at the Mead Art Museum, she has proven that she is capable of becoming a future leader in the global community.

Earlier this year, Howard was elected to the nation’s oldest honor society, Phi Beta Kappa, which also recognizes academic and personal excellence. Professor Lisa Raskin, in her letter of recommendation for Howard, has put it best: “She is Amherst at its finest!”

Issue 16, Submitted 2010-02-24 03:52:07