Two UChicago fourth-years earn Gates Cambridge Scholarships

Fourth-year students Bo-Shiun Lai and Saalika Mela have been awarded prestigious Gates Cambridge Scholarships, which provide full support for graduate study at the University of Cambridge.

Each year, 90 Gates-Cambridge Scholars are selected from a pool of nearly 5,000 eligible applicants; Lai and Mela are among the 50 non-United States students selected for this honor.  

A citizen of Taiwan and Canada, Lai is a Biological Sciences major. He currently conducts research on Toxoplasma gondii under Prof. Rima McLeod, and at Cambridge he will pursue a PhD in pathology.

“The scholarship is more than a sum of money,” Lai said. “It’s also offering me the chance to join a community of scholars who are united by the same mission.” He is particularly interested in collaborating with people in fields that have not been traditionally associated with medicine in order to approach problems like hunger, poverty and disease.

A recipient of the Bernard O. Brown Service Award and a BSCD Summer Research Fellowship, Lai has two published articles with two more under review. He was a co-organizer for the 2012 Chicago Area Undergraduate Research Symposium and is president of the Canadian Student Association. Lai has volunteered with La Rabida Children’s Hospital, Project Brotherhood and the Shedd Aquarium, in addition to teaching assistant for several Core Biological Sciences courses.

After completing his studies at Cambridge, he plans to attend medical school and pursue a research career.

Mela, a double major in Political Science and Comparative Human Development, is deeply committed to improving education in her native Pakistan. She hopes to join the small ranks of educators in Pakistan who are dedicated to offering students a combination of secular learning and Islamic values. “The goal is curbing Muslim extremism, and empowering young people with their native identity and values,” she said.

Mela founded the Road to Innovative Social Entrepreneurship in Pakistan program. She also designed and implemented the “Read, Pakistan Read” summer program, which introduced innovative teaching and learning methods to underprivileged school children. 

She also conducted research on Pakistani violence under Prof. Paul Staniland and is a current Metcalf intern with the UChicago Promise Program. She has been an intern with the anti-poverty organizations Heartland Alliance and the Human Development Foundation. At UChicago, she is director of the Halal Dining Team and a member of the OMSA Allocation Board. 

At Cambridge, Mela will pursue an MPhil in School Leadership and Improvement, after which she will complete an MEd in Learning and Teaching at Harvard University. With this training, she has lined up a position at a secondary school in Pakistan, where she hopes to work on improving the curriculum and teaching standards.

“The Gates-Cambridge Scholarship is a lifelong gift, and I hope that I will be able to collaborate with this community wherever I go,” Mela said.

The Gates Cambridge Scholarship program was established in 2000 by a $210 million donation from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to the University of Cambridge— the largest single donation to a United Kingdom university. The program aims to build a global network of future leaders committed to improving the lives of others.

Scholars are selected on the basis of intellectual ability, leadership potential and a demonstrated commitment to improving the lives of others. While at Cambridge, scholars pursue the full range of subjects available at the university and are spread through its departments and colleges.

Since the origins of the program, 16 UChicago fourth-year students have received the Gates Cambridge Scholarship, most recently Michael Baumer, AB’12, in the 2012 competition. In this year’s U.S. student competition, Michelle Quay, AB’11, also received a Gates Cambridge scholarship.