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Five awarded Gates Cambridge Scholarship

Three students and two alumni were awarded the 2014 Gates Cambridge Scholarship. David Abugaber ’14, Isabel Kasdin ’14, Madeline McMahon ’13, Elizabeth Presser ’10 and Simone Sasse ’14 will study at the University of Cambridge.

They were offered the scholarship via email on Feb. 4.

The Gates Cambridge Scholarship, established in 2000 by a donation from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, allows recipients to study in any of the academic departments within Cambridge University.

Because the selection of scholars is competitive, the process is divided into four stages. The first stage is the departmental ranking of the applicants, in which applicants are ranked on academic merit. In the second stage, the Gates Cambridge committees review the applications and decide which applicants move on to an interview.

Abugaber, a linguistics concentrator, said he “really couldn’t believe it” when he received the email about winning the scholarship.

Abugaber said he plans to pursue a Master of Philosophy in theoretical and applied linguistics at Cambridge. He added that his research will focus on psycholinguistics and improving second language acquisition.

“David perfectly fits the profile of a Gates Scholar,” senior research scholar in computer science and lecturer in computer science and linguistics Christiane Fellbaum said. “He is an original thinker who needs to carve out his own path for research.”

Fellbaum, who taught Abugaber in a Bilingualism class when he was a freshman, said that his final paper has become a “classic” in the course and is still being read by students. Fellbaum is also Abugaber’s academic adviser and worked with him on his senior thesis, which focuses on the Ixil-Mayan language spoken in Guatemala.

In addition to conducting research in Guatemala, Abugaber has conducted research in Berlin, where he analyzed results of psycholinguistics studies, and he has traveled to South Korea and Brazil, where he taught English.

On campus, Abugaber is the president of the Linguistics Club and has led Outdoor Action. He is also a Spanish language editor and translator for the Princeton University Language Project. Off-campus, he has volunteered in Trenton and at the Princeton Medical Center teaching English to Hispanic immigrants and interpreting Spanish for monolingual patients.

“The [scholarship] provides him with the opportunity to grow in a first-class academic environment while bringing the perspective of his own background and social engagement to the Cambridge community,” Fellbaum said.

Kasdin, a history concentrator, said she is planning to obtain a Masters of Philosophy in archeology and focus on archaeological heritage and museums. For her senior thesis, Kasdin is studying the usages and portrayals of American history in nineteenth- and twentieth-century American world fairs.

“It’s still kind of overwhelming to me,” Kasdin said of receiving the award.

“She is very passionate about her work and excited about what she’s learning. She’s a great researcher,” history professor Martha Sandweiss said. Sandweiss is serving as Kasdin’s thesis advisor. “Izzy is the type of person you can have a conversation with about an idea, and she runs with it.”

Jill Dolan, Annan professor in English, professor of theater in the Lewis Center for the Arts and director of the Program in Gender and Sexuality Studies, was one of Kasdin’s scholarship recommenders and said she was delighted to hear the news.

“She’s one of the best students I’ve taught, not only at Princeton but throughout my 30-year career,” Dolan said. “History is her major, but her work touches on so many forms of studies: gender sexuality, theater and anthropology. She’ll be a terrific representative of Princeton.”

Kasdin said she was excited about the scholarship especially because it is linked with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

“You have to be doing something that will impact the world or society in some way, and that’s really exciting to me,” Kasdin said. “It’s not just about the academia but also how it impacts people and the world at large.”

Kasdin has also been honored with the Shapiro Prize for Academic Excellence and was the winner of the Westminster Conservatory Voice Scholarship Competition in 2012. She is currently president of the Princeton University Players and the Chapel Choir.

McMahon, a history concentrator, said she plans on obtaining a Masters of Philosophy in early modern history at Trinity College. She said that she plans on building off the research she did for her senior thesis, which focuses on the ways in which sixteenth-century churchmen drew on ecclesiastical history as they defended and shaped the Church of England.

She will specifically look at the scholarship of Lancelot Andrewes, whose private library remains can be found at Pembroke College, Cambridge. Andrewes was an English bishop and scholar who occupied a high position in the Church of England during the reigns of Elizabeth I and James I.

“One of the reasons I’m so excited to go to Cambridge is because this is the sort of project I can only really pursue at Cambridge,” McMahon said. ”My love for British history is longstanding. To have this opportunity to study British history at Cambridge is a dream come true.”

McMahon has also been honored with the Walter Phelps Hall Prize, the Joseph R. Strayer Prize and the Asher Hinds Prize for Excellence for her senior thesis.

Presser, a classics concentrator, said she will pursue a Master’s in Public Policy at Cambridge.

“I hope to gain a better understanding of the various factors that drive social policy,” Presser said.

After graduating from Princeton, Presser worked in Northeast Thailand for two years teaching English at Khon Kaen University as a Princeton in Asia Fellow. In 2011, she and Glenn Brown ’09 were awarded Princeton in Asia’s Carrie Cordon Fellowship. They co-founded The Isaan Record, a bilingual news source.

She is currently working as a research assistant for journalists Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn on their upcoming book.

Sasse, an ecology and evolutionary biology concentrator, said she plans on obtaining an Master of Philosophy in pathology. She explained that she would be performing research on Toxoplasma gondii, a protozoan parasite that infects hosts who are incapable of a normal immune response.

Over the summer, Sasse was able to conduct research at the Oxford University Clinical Research Unit in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, where she explored the efficacy of mosquitoes’ vector in transmitting the dengue virus.

Adel Mahmoud, a lecturer with the rank of professor in molecular biology and public policy at the Woodrow Wilson School, explained that he helped Sasse with this project, which then became the focus of her senior thesis.

“She is a fantastic student,” Mahmoud said. ”She is bright, hardworking and cheerful. And she is very academically committed.”

Mahmoud described Sasse as a “global citizen” and said that her academic stand, interest in mechanisms of disease and talents made her a qualified candidate for the scholarship.

In addition to doing research in Vietnam, Sasse has conducted research at the California Institute of Technology and in Panama for a semester abroad.

“She has academic excellence but also a very wide global personality and interests,” Mahmoud said.

On campus, Sasse has served as a leader trainer for the Outdoor Action Program and as the French officer and editor for the Princeton University Language Project. She is also currently an academic and pre-health adviser in Wilson College.

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