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U. of I. senior wins Gates Cambridge Scholarship

2/13/2014 | David Schug, National and International Scholarships | 217-244-0254;

[ Email | Share ] CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — A senior at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign is among the recipients of this year’s prestigious Gates Cambridge Scholarship.

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Michelle Kelley, of Schaumburg, Ill., is one of 40 students to receive a prestigious Gates Cambridge Scholarship. | Photo courtesy of Michelle Kelley

Michelle Kelley, of Schaumburg, Ill., was selected from a pool of 800 applicants as one of 40 U.S. students to receive the merit-based scholarship funded by an endowment from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. She is the only student in the Big Ten to receive the honor, and one of only 13 students from public institutions. Kelley is the ninth U. of I. student to be awarded a Gates Cambridge Scholarship since the program began in 2001.

Gates Cambridge Scholars are selected based on a student’s intellectual ability, leadership capacity and desire to contribute to society by providing service to their communities and applying their talents and knowledge to improve the lives of others. The scholarship covers the full cost of studies at the University of Cambridge in England, including travel and living expenses, and is valued at about $50,000.

A student in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, Kelley majors in physics with a minor in mathematics. She has been promoting the hard sciences through outreach events at elementary schools, as well as through the Midwest Conference for Undergraduate Women in Physics. In her career, Kelley envisions promoting scientific careers to young children, especially girls, as well as to the public. She also strives to make her research understandable and relevant to multiple audiences. 

Kelley took advantage of myriad research opportunities throughout her undergraduate career, utilizing Research Experience for Undergraduates funding to conduct summer work at both UCLA and the University of Washington. She also has served as a research assistant for the past year with Illinois physics professor George Gollin.

Kelley is also the vice president and assistant coach of the Illinois intercollegiate women’s club water polo team.

At Cambridge, Kelley will study for a master’s degree in scientific computing. She plans to use this knowledge as a researcher and in her public scientific outreach efforts. Kelley is interested in solving physical problems through computational means to create testable theoretical models and accurate simulations. Further, she has found that computer simulations provide an accessible platform for nonphysics experts to learn science.

After earning her Cambridge degree, Kelley plans to enter a physics Ph.D. program before beginning her career as professional research physicist at a university.

The U. of I. is looking to nominate students of exceptional academic achievement and scholarly promise for whom advanced study at Cambridge would be particularly appropriate for 2015-16 Gates Cambridge Scholarships. Interested students should contact the National and International Scholarships Program at

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