Katherine Pogrebniak ’14 was awarded a Churchill Scholarship to study for a master’s degree at the University of Cambridge.
The Churchill Scholarship, funded by the Winston Churchill Foundation, is awarded to at least 14 students each year who wish to pursue studies in engineering, mathematics or the sciences, according to its website.
Pogrebniak, a computer science concentrator, said she is planning to obtain a Master of Philosophy in computational biology and is excited for the classroom-based learning and the research component of her studies.
There were two phases of the application process — applying for the Princeton nomination and then competing at the national level. Pogrebniak was one of two students nominated by the University to move on to the national level and was then invited to do a phone interview.
The interview occurred over reading period. She was offered the scholarship at the end of the call.
“It was exciting and crazy. In one 20-minute conversation, something great and amazing happened to me,” Pogrebniak said. “I was completely thrilled. I’ve actually never been to England before, so I’m excited to go there.”
Professor of Computer Science Mona Singh served as Pogrebniak’s independent work advisor. Pogrebniak’s project focused on trying to predict aspects of small molecules that bind to proteins.
“She did a great job on her project. She was extremely consistent; she came in everyday and made steady progress throughout the term,” Singh said. “She worked independently, at a grad student sort of level.”
Computer science professor Brian W. Kernighan GS ’69 was also able to work with Pogrebniak in his advanced programming techniques class and was impressed by her work ethic.
Kernighan is a former faculty columnist for The Daily Princetonian.
Last spring, Pogrebniak, along with three other juniors, built a program called “Project Nightcrawler: easy access to transport schedules,” which provided information about public transport routes along with corresponding schedules and prices.
“I’m surprised at how well it worked and how fast it was,” Kernighan said. “She seems to get an enormous amount done. Her time management skills are off scale as far as I can see. It’s amazing how she can do all kinds of things and maintain sanity and a perfectly normal life.”
Pogrebniak also made an impression on professors outside of Princeton, including Pam Crawford, chair of the mathematics department at Jacksonville University, who taught her from 2002-2003, when Pogrebniak was eight years old.
“We enjoyed having her in class,” Crawford said. “She interacted well with the other students. She was a good student. She was inquisitive. She was bright. She wanted to learn, and when you’re eight, nine and ten, that’s not a typical age we see students.”
Crawford said she was thrilled to hear the news of Pogrebniak’s scholarship and recalled having Pogrebniak in a precalculus class.
“I remember one of the students in the precalc class, after about a month, said to me, ‘So that’s not your daughter in our class?’ and I said, ‘No, that’s a student,’ ” Crawford explained.
On campus, Pogrebniak is very involved with Wilson College, serving as a residential college adviser during her junior and senior years. She is also a peer tutor.
“Katherine is a remarkable student on several fronts: she is wildly intelligent and, working at the intersection of computer science and medicine, she belongs to a new generation of young women who will no doubt help shape the future of both fields,” Master of Wilson College and English professor Eduardo Cadava said.
She is also heavily involved with Community House, a tutoring center on campus, both as a tutor and the Community Outreach Chair.
“I enjoy mentoring younger students, especially women in math and sciences. We’ve come a long way with getting them more interested,” Pogrebniak said. “I organized science experiments there to keep them interested outside the classroom. I enjoy it and am passionate about it. Hopefully I can do that at Cambridge.”
Pogrebniak has also been honored with the Princeton Class of 1939 Scholar Award and the Princeton Accenture Prize for Computer Science in 2013. She is Vice President of Princeton’s chapter of Tau Beta Pi, a national engineering honor society, and a member of Phi Beta Kappa, an academic honor society.