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March 3, 2009

Two current students and alumna awarded Gates Cambridge Scholarships

A Stanford senior, a medical student and an alumna will head to the University of Cambridge in England this fall as Gates Scholars.

They are among the 37 Americans who were recently selected by the Gates Cambridge Scholarship program, which provides funding for one to four years of graduate study.

Gates Scholars—about 100 will be chosen around the world, including the Americans—are selected based on their intellectual abilities, leadership capacities and desire to use their knowledge and talent to provide service to their communities and improve the lives of others. Since the program was established by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in 2000, 17 students from Stanford have been named Gates Scholars.

This year's scholars from Stanford are Muhammad Bilal Mahmood, a senior majoring in biology; Chandler Robinson, a student at the School of Medicine; and Elizabeth "Eliza" Ridgeway, who graduated in 2005 with a bachelor's degree in English.

Committed to social change in Pakistan

Muhammad Bilal Mahmood, 21, was born and raised in Palo Alto and spent two years attending high school in Lahore, Pakistan. He plans to pursue a master of philosophy degree in bioscience enterprise at Cambridge.

"While attending high school in Pakistan I was passionately involved in traditional charitable activities," Mahmood wrote in his scholarship application. "Yet I slowly became wary of such efforts, realizing their ineffectiveness in a feudal society that restricts access to higher education and job opportunities. Still optimistic, I started to search for a sustainable means to establish social change in Pakistan."

Mahmood, who is minoring in economics, said his undergraduate studies in biology at Stanford led him to conclude that biotechnology could provide a path leading to social change in Pakistan.

"Recognizing it as a multidisciplinary entrepreneurial field, I saw how biotechnology has the power to sustainably bridge Pakistan's untapped medical and engineering sectors into a whole new vocational infrastructure," he wrote. "A biotech company could offer the highly educated, underemployed middle class more job options and higher living standards. It would also in turn allow wealth to permeate below the feudal-elite, and increase human capital."

Mahmood spent a year working as an intern in the Stanford Pediatric Surgery Lab. He is the co-founder of Gumball Capital, a nonprofit organization that has distributed more than $13,000 in microloans to the working poor living in more than three dozen developing nations, including Bolivia, Ghana, Nigeria, Peru and Pakistan.

Becoming a leader in health care reform

Chandler Robinson, 25, is from Columbus, Ohio, and will pursue a master of philosophy degree in bioscience enterprise at Cambridge.

Robinson, who earned a bachelor's degree in mathematics and chemistry at Northwestern University in 2006, performed three years of cancer research as an undergraduate. He was awarded a Fulbright Scholarship to study international health economics at the London School of Economics, where he earned a master's degree in 2007. In London, he also worked as an analyst at Bear Stearns, the investment bank.

Currently, Robinson is a second-year medical student at Stanford. He is a former manager of Pacific Free Clinic, a student-run clinic established in 2003 to provide free health care services to low-income adults in East San Jose. Last year, he organized and conducted the first "San Jose Community Health Fair on Hepatitis B."

In his scholarship application, Robinson wrote that he enjoys conceiving new ideas and bringing them to fruition.

"My long-term goal is to combine my interest in health care with my passion for pursuing entrepreneurial endeavors," he wrote. "My desire is to build a career dedicated to enhancing the efficiency and effectiveness of health care systems around the world. One crucial way in which I intend to achieve this is by playing a key role in the health care investment decision-making processes of governments and/or companies. Through smarter investment, and more efficient organizational structuring, I am confident we can deliver better care to our populations at lower overall health care system costs."

Investigating journalism's changing landscape

Elizabeth "Eliza" Ridgeway, 26, who grew up in Seattle and now lives in Palo Alto, will pursue a master of philosophy degree in modern society and global transformation.

A 2005 Stanford graduate, Ridgeway is currently working as a newspaper reporter and editor.

"As a fulltime journalist, I have seen how industry-wide economic instability is driving an increased emphasis on multimedia, online, user-produced content," she wrote in her scholarship application. "I seek to study how, and whether, groups traditionally marginalized in popular media have been enfranchised or mainstreamed by this shift in content and in representational power. For my thesis, I propose to study the dialogue and interdependency between conventional news sources and user-generated content, with a focus on multinational/transnational queer communities online. From a theoretical standpoint, I hope to probe the frustrations, dangers and pleasures of queer (in)visibility in changing technological spaces, with an eye for the practical consequences for queer identity and well-being."

At Stanford, Ridgeway completed an honors thesis, "A Princess' Primer: Literary Fairy Tales and the Rule of Manners," drawing on primary sources in French. The thesis focused on a specific group of women in France who collaboratively wrote and published fairy tales intended as social and political critiques of their culture.



Kathleen J. Sullivan, News Service: (650) 724-5708,


John Pearson, Bechtel International Center: (650) 725-0887,

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