Three Yale students heading abroad via Gates, Luce scholarships

Three students from Yale have been chosen by two highly selective scholarship programs for work or study abroad.

Yale senior Sarah Armitage and 2011 graduate Harold McNamara are among 40 scholars nationwide who have received Gates Cambridge Scholarships for postgraduate study at the University of Cambridge, and senior Reid Magdanz is one of 18 young Americans selected by the Luce Scholars Program for professional positions in Asia.

The Gates Cambridge Scholarship was established by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation for scholars of outstanding academic merit and leadership potential from outside the United Kingdom to study at the University of Cambridge. The scholarship supports students who are accepted by Cambridge to pursue a second bachelor's degree as an affiliated student (a two-year program); to take one-year postgraduate courses; or to do research leading to a doctorate. The Yale Gates Scholars for 2012–2013 were chosen from an applicant pool of around 750.

The Luce Scholars Program is dedicated to enhancing understanding of Asia among future leaders in American society. Luce Scholar candidates are nominated by 75 colleges and universities across the nation. The program provides stipends, language training, and individualized professional placement in Asia for 15–18 scholars —including college seniors and graduate students — and young professionals in a variety of fields. The program only considers applicants who have had limited exposure to Asia.

Brief bios of Yale’s Gates and Luce scholars follow.

Sarah ArmitageSarah Armitage

Armitage, from Concord, Massachusetts, sees British urban history in her future as a Gates Scholar. For her M.Phil. at Cambridge, she intends to write a dissertation on how the city of London administered social services between World Wars I and II.

Armitage gives credit to her “incredible mentors” at the Yale Center for British Art, where she did research originally as an art history major, for fostering her love of history, and indirectly steering her to a new major. She is now writing her senior paper under the guidance of Jay Winter in the Department of History on the German bombing raids on London that took place between 1915 and 1917. 

While the WWI Zeppelin attacks might have been sidelined in the history books by the later, more devastating, bombing of London in WWII, notes Armitage, the earlier attack on the city was a pivotal event for London and for the nation. 

“I’m fascinated by cities and how they function,” says Armitage who has spent the last two summers conducting research on sustainable urban planning and development in Copenhagen and Hong Kong.

After completing her M.Phil. degree at Cambridge, she hopes to work with cities in some capacity, whether as an academic historian or through another form of policy research.

She lists working with a socially responsible investment fund, volunteering at an agency for low-income and homeless clients, and “exploring the collections of the Yale Center for British Art,” as among her extracurricular experiences at Yale, and she has recently started to train for her first half-marathon race.

Harry McNamaraHarold (“Harry”) McNamara

McNamara said he is pursuing an M.Phil. degree in micro-and nanotechnology enterprise as preparation for subsequent doctoral studies in condensed matter physics.

“The virtue of doing this one-year M.Phil. first is that I’ll be able to get the broad interdisciplinary perspective on nanotechnology,” he says. “Completing this degree before plunging into a Ph.D. in condensed matter physics will allow to me better handle and navigate the interdisciplinary challenges my later research will face.”

McNamara, who is from greater Pittsburgh and currently works for a Connecticut technology start-up firm, ultimately envisions a career in nanotechnology development. He is especially interested in its medical applications.

“The emergent field of ‘nanomedicine’ promises new modes of molecular imaging, drug delivery, and cancer therapy,” he says. “There is also some fascinating work in neuroscience to develop nanoscale modalities for neural sensing and stimulation.”

Nanotechnologies manipulate matter on the incredibly small nanoscale. A nanometer is one billionth of a meter, or about 1/100,000th the width of a human hair.

McNamara graduated from Yale with degrees in physics and ethics, politics and economics. In addition to science, he has a deep interest in the Middle East and spent two college summers in Cairo — the first working with Egypt’s International Economic Forum, then with Children’s Cancer Hospital Egypt.

McNamara expects that his post-Cambridge doctoral work will focus on nanotechnologies for use in neural sensing. His undergraduate research focused on the application of circuit quantum electrodynamics to quantum information processing.

He begins his studies at Cambridge in October.

Reid MagdanzReid Magdanz

Magdanz, who grew up in Kotzebue, Alaska (population 3000), 30 miles north of the Arctic Circle, hopes to be placed in an undeveloped region of Southeast Asia as a Luce Scholar. Magdanz has hunted caribou and helped the Iñupiat Eskimos, who make up 75% of Kotzebue’s population, with beluga whale hunts. He says he naturally gravitates to untamed settings.

Without romanticizing a subsistence life, which depends entirely on local resources, he says he greatly values the culture that such a life engenders. “A close connection to the land is not just a way to stay alive but gives meaning to life,” he notes.

While he admits that he had to adjust to Yale’s urban campus, he says he came to enjoy New Haven, thanks to the friends he made here, the opportunities to meet people who are tops in their field, and, finally, the convenience of city living. An environmental studies major, Magdanz has also managed to incorporate Alaska’s natural resource policies and its indigenous cultures into his academic studies.

After his year as a Luce scholar, Magdanz intends to return to Alaska, with the ultimate goal of contributing to resource decisions confronting the state, from offshore oil drilling to management of national parks.

Working in a developing part of the world, he says, will help him understand such competing interests as traditional, native subsistence uses of natural resources versus non-native uses, and industrial development versus conservation. Although the subtropical climate of Southeast Asia might be vastly different from that of northeast Alaska, “people in both areas are struggling with the same on-the-ground issues,” he remarks.

While he does not exactly know what form his career will take, Magdanz says, he knows his future is in Alaska working to protect the interests of its rural people.