New fellowships support UChicago College alumni in graduate studies abroad

Three recent alumni of the College awarded as inaugural class of Arley D. Cathey Fellows

University of Chicago College alumni Emily Chen, SB’20, Shree Mehrotra, AB’20 and Meera Santhanam, AB’21, have received 2022 Arley D. Cathey International Graduate Study Fellowships, which will provide them with financial assistance to pursue a rigorous, research-oriented master's degree at an internationally renowned foreign research university. 

With funding from the late Arley D. Cathey’s bequest to the University intended in part to support new international educational programs for College students, the College Center for Research and Fellowships (CCRF) and Study Abroad are jointly administering this international graduate study fellowship for the first time in 2022 as announced earlier this year.

"The inaugural class of Cathey Fellows will embody the University of Chicago’s highest ideals and values at their respective international graduate programs,” said John W. Boyer, dean of the College. “Thanks to Arley’s generosity and investment in international education, each of the fellows will gain access to the academic training and experiences needed to broaden their work on crucial issues and enact positive change on a global scale.”

The Fellows were selected based on their ability to demonstrate the following qualities in their applications: a vision for the impact of their work, academic merit, capacity for leadership, ambassadorial potential and preparation for their proposed program of study. 

Chen, Mehrotra and Santhanam were chosen by a selection committee comprised of University faculty and staff in the College.

Material solutions to the climate crisis

Emily Chen, originally from Hong Kong and Beijing, graduated from the College with a bachelor’s degree in chemistry in December 2020.

Since graduating, she has researched full-time under Prof. Giulia Galli on photoelectrochemical water splitting, a reaction that uses sunlight as an energy source to separate water into hydrogen and oxygen, the former of which can be stored and then burned as fuel. 

Chen said she was drawn to the Cathey Fellowship because its mission of global intellectual collaboration mirrors the global nature of the climate crisis and the collaborative efforts needed to solve it. The Fellowship will help fund her studies at University of Cambridge, where she will pursue an MPhil in scientific computing in order to better understand the underlying high-performance computing technology that powered the research she did at UChicago and explore new methods of modeling materials for sustainability applications. 

“The sun delivers more energy to the earth in one hour than we use in a year––harnessing that sunlight through some cleverly-engineered materials could be one of the most powerful solutions for climate change,” she said.

After Chen completes her graduate studies, she would like to pursue a Ph.D. in materials science and work at a national lab. Given the urgency of climate change, she said, computation will play a powerful role in accelerating the process of materials design for sustainability applications.

“I feel very lucky and humbled to be part of the first class of Cathey Fellows,” she said. “I owe so much to professors who gave me a chance to work in their lab, and I am also grateful to friends who supported me and with whom I shared so many wonderful memories at the College. To have an opportunity to study abroad and explore my intellectual interests is an incredible privilege, and one that I intend on cherishing.”

Advocating for civil and environmental justice

Shree Mehrotra graduated from the College in 2020 with a bachelor’s degree in environmental science and a minor in human rights. 

Since August 2020, she has worked as a paralegal for the U.S. Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division, supporting cases that prevent the segregation of people with disabilities in institutions. A 2019 Boren Scholar, she was drawn to the Cathey Fellowship due to its emphasis on civic engagement, and will be using the financial support to pursue an MPhil in development studies at University of Cambridge.

Her undergraduate studies on the civil impacts of climate change, coupled with her interest in civil rights, led her to pursue a career in environmental and climate justice. Mehrotra, who grew up in a small town in New Jersey, wrote her senior thesis on the connection between increases in temperature, changes in rainfall, and increased gender violence in India.

She also took part in the Summer Links program through the University Community Service Center while in the College, where she engaged with social justice issues while learning about Chicago’s communities and history.

“My time at UChicago shaped my critical thinking and research skills as well as my perspective on the world,” she said. “I had a number of supportive professors and mentors who encouraged me to explore my interests and continue to served as a great resource.”

After attaining her master’s degree, she plans to attend law school and pursue a career in environmental justice law and policy, supporting vulnerable populations affected by environmental issues. She hopes to eventually work directly with impacted communities to support litigation and draft policy.

Effecting change in civil rights law 

Born and raised in San Francisco, Meera Santhanam graduated with a political science degree from the College in 2021 where she focused on studying race and mass incarceration in the United States. She also minored in Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations, as well as chemistry.

Santhanam is currently working as a paralegal specialist in the Criminal Section of the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division, where she is assisting attorneys in the prosecution of hate crimes, human trafficking, and police misconduct cases. 

The Cathey Fellowship will provide her with support to pursue an MPhil in race, ethnicity, and conflict at Trinity College in Dublin. After completing her master’s degree, she plans to attend law school and become a civil rights lawyer.  

“I hope to address the systemic racism that causes people of color to be disproportionately incarcerated and allows police and correctional officer misconduct to persist,” she said. “Specifically, I want to begin my career in direct services and ultimately engage in policy work and impact litigation to challenge the racism and class-based discrimination that persist across carceral systems.”

A 2021 Critical Language Scholar in Arabic, Santhanam said she was drawn to the Cathey Fellowship because she has always loved traveling and experiencing new places and cultures, and said she feels honored and grateful to have been selected.

“I am indebted to all of my professors, mentors, colleagues and friends who have supported me every step of the way,” she said. “UChicago feels like home to me; it has shaped the way I think about the world and has given me a community that I cherish deeply. I see it as a great responsibility and privilege to be able to represent my University as a Cathey Fellow.”

—This story was first published on the UChicago College website.