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Two more Stanford alumnae awarded 2012 Gates Cambridge Scholarships

The scholarships enable exemplary students from outside the United Kingdom to pursue graduate studies in any subject at the University of Cambridge.

Stanford alumnae Nehel Khalid Khanani, who is teaching in Karachi, Pakistan, and Lucinda Lai, who is gathering material for a book on the mental health of refugees on the Thailand-Burma border, were recently named 2012 Gates Cambridge Scholars.

They will join a cohort that includes alumna Sarah Mummah, who was awarded a 2012 Gates Cambridge Scholarship in February. (Mummah was one of 40 Americans chosen during the first round, in which U.S. citizens are chosen.)

The Gates Cambridge Scholarships enable exemplary students from outside the United Kingdom to pursue graduate studies in any subject at the University of Cambridge.

Khanani and Lai are among the 50 people from 23 countries who were awarded scholarships in April during the international selection round. They were chosen on the basis of their intellectual ability, leadership capacity, academic fit with Cambridge and their commitment to improving the lives of others.

The group includes scholars from Canada, Australia, Germany, the United States, India, Romania, Ireland, Kenya, Ghana and China.

Nehel Khalid Khanani

Nehel Khalid Khanani

Khanani, 25, who grew up in Karachi, Pakistan, earned a bachelor's degree in history and international relations at Stanford in 2009. After graduating, she worked on a pneumonia incidence research project at Indus Hospital, a free hospital in Karachi that serves people living in a large slum, for Interactive Research and Development.

In July, she will complete a master's degree in international relations at the University of Karachi.

Currently, Khanani is teaching Pakistan studies at L'ecole for Advanced Studies in Karachi. L'ecole is a small private coeducational institute founded in 1998 that offers a range of educational programs, ranging from Montessori programs for 2-year-old children to the rigorous Advanced Level General Certificate of Education (commonly referred to as an A-level) that qualifies students for university study.

"My choice of profession stems from my belief that democracy and education are intrinsically tied," Khanani wrote in an email from Pakistan. "I have seen this repeatedly in my international relations and history classes, and I have seen it repeatedly in the failed impositions of democracy from a top-down approach in Pakistan."

Khanani, who began teaching at L'ecole in 2010, currently teaches Pakistan studies to 9th- and 10th-grade students.

"I chose to teach Pakistan studies because I strongly believe empowered citizenship requires both awareness and a strong aptitude for critical analysis," she wrote. "To achieve prosperity we need a youth that questions its non-realization. In my classes, I push my students to inquire and explore, to envision alternate futures as potential leaders."

During the 2010-11 academic year, she taught a writing-intensive course to 12th- and 13th-grade students preparing for A-level exams. The course focused on writing about contemporary issues, including global warming, art, music and culture, social issues, peace and global security.

She said some of those students struggled with basic sentence formation, despite earlier English language studies. Others were proficient in English.

"Preparing them for the A-level exam was a formidable task indeed, enriching but also frustrating," she wrote. "That was my first foray into teaching in Pakistan, and I realized that the marked differences in student capabilities in my class reflected quality differentials in education across income levels here."

It was an experience that led her to question the persistence of inequalities in Pakistan's educational system.

"I moreover realized that the mere attainment of schooling would not produce social mobility or economic progress if such inequalities persisted," she wrote. "I knew then that I wanted to apply to Cambridge for a master's degree in education – a program whose breadth, depth and intellectual rigor would prepare me for a successful career in education policy."

Lucinda Lai

Lucinda Lai

Lai, 22, who grew up in San Jose, Calif., graduated with honors in human biology from Stanford in 2011. Her honors thesis explored barriers to organ donation in Thailand.

Upon graduation, Lai was awarded the Stanford International Public Service Fellowship, which is supported by a partnership between the Haas Center for Public Service and the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies. Under the fellowship, students work on a public service project in the country of their choice for a year.

Lai chose a placement with the nonprofit organization Burma Border Projects located in Mae Sot, a border town in Thailand sheltering more than 100,000 refugees of the civil war in Burma.

The group is dedicated to the mental health of Burmese refugees. Burma Border Projects is part of the Mae Tao Clinic, which serves an average of 400 to 500 patients a day, with a staff of about 700 people who provide comprehensive health service and child protection services.

In Thailand, Lai has been assisting her mentors – an accomplished psychiatrist and the director of social services at a torture treatment center in New York City – to write an academic book about global mental health on the Thailand-Burma border. She is seeking out local experts on various mental health topics to write chapters of the book and conducting interviews with key informants for examples illustrating what those mental health issues mean in real life.

"My mentors are board members of the Burma Border Projects, but they have full-time jobs in America, so I am the on-the-ground point person for the book project," she wrote in an email from Thailand.

In a profile on the Gates Cambridge Scholar website, Lai wrote that psychological suffering is the most enduring consequence of atrocity and disaster.

"The psychological consequences can profoundly impact a person's ability to live a meaningful, productive life and alter an entire society's capacity to recover, rebuild and reestablish peace," she wrote.

"To study social anthropology as a Gates Cambridge Scholar will push me to move beyond the American paradigm of mental health to see how false assumptions about the universality of human nature influence a community's perception of medicine and public health interventions. I dream of becoming a globally minded doctor."

The Gates Cambridge Scholarship program, established in 2000, was funded by a $210 million donation by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. More than 1,000 Gates Scholars from nearly 100 countries have received scholarships since 2001.