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Two seniors win prestigious Gates Scholarships to Cambridge

Melissa Mitchell, News Editor
(217) 333-5491;


CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — Two University of Illinois seniors are among this year’s recipients of the prestigious Gates Cambridge Trust Scholarship.

The merit-based scholarships, which are funded by an endowment from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation of Seattle, were awarded to Harish Agarwal of Alsip, and Jennifer Ifft of Fairbury. The awards cover the full cost of studies at Cambridge University, Cambridge, England, as well as some travel and living expenses, for a period of one to four years.

Administered by the Gates Cambridge Trust, the scholarship program is open to students from every country except the United Kingdom. Awards are given to students who demonstrate outstanding academic merit and leadership, and are committed to serving their communities.

According to information on the trust’s Web site, scholarship winners, over time, are expected to "form an integral part and dynamic part of the university’s influential international alumni network, bringing vision and commitment to improving the lives of citizens throughout the world." Further, "Gates Cambridge Scholars will be expected to be leaders in addressing global problems relating to learning, technology, health and social equity, which are among the prime purposes of the benefactors of the trust."

"Essentially, these scholarships are the Cambridge University equivalent of the Rhodes scholarships," said Julia Goldberg, director of the UI’s Scholarships for International Study program. "The Gates Foundation is doing for Cambridge what Rhodes did for Oxford. They are extremely lucrative scholarships and are highly competitive."

Following graduation from the UI in May, Agarwal, a dual major in computer engineering and engineering physics, plans to pursue a one-year program at Cambridge that leads to a master of philosophy degree. While studying microelectronic engineering and semiconductor physics, Agarwal plans to undertake investigations into solid state quantum computation.

A member of Eta Kappa Nu, the national electrical and computer engineering honor society, and Tau Beta Pi, the national engineering honor society, Agarwal has been on the UI’s Dean’s List since fall 1998. Since summer 2000, he has been an undergraduate research assistant in the UI’s Center for Theoretical Astrophysics, working closely with research advisers Fred Lamb and Stuart Shapiro. Agarwal also served as an intern in the network development group at the National Center for Supercomputing Applications.

While not pursuing work related to his academic interests, Agarwal has been a volunteer usher at the Krannert Center for the Performing Arts and acted in a program of one-act plays written, directed and produced by students. He also enjoys writing children’s stories and is the co-founder of Kung Fu Monkey, a student organization that produces a Web magazine for creative writing. In 1998, Agarwal was a coordinator for the UI’s Hunger and Homeless community service project.

Ifft, who plans to graduate from the UI in May with a bachelor’s degree in international, resource and consumer economics, with a policy, international trade and development option, will pursue a one-year course of study at Cambridge leading to a master of philosophy degree. There, she plans to study land economy and complete her dissertation on a topic related to the economics of agricultural development and related policies.

At the UI, Ifft – who has been on the Dean’s List each semester – served as vice chair for alumni relations of the student advancement committee of the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences, and has been vice president internal of the Agricultural and Consumer Economics Club. She participated in a one-semester study abroad program in South Africa, and worked with agricultural and consumer economics professor Gerald Nelson as a research assistant, examining the environmental impacts of "Round-up Ready Soybeans" versus conventional soybeans. In 2001, she spent the summer working as a research intern at the Centre for Civil Society, New Delhi, India, where she studied crop insurance programs and biotechnology regulation involving Bt cotton.

Ifft’s other activities at the UI have included serving on the Panhellenic Council’s judicial board and working as a tutor for the Division of Intercollegiate Athletics. She also was a volunteer for the Champaign County Juvenile Detention Center and Brookens Probation Office, through the UI’s Volunteer Illini Projects; served as social chair of the Sachem Leadership Society; and was a Homecoming Court finalist.