A trio of Indian American students were among the 43 individuals named as 2018 Marshall Scholarship recipients, the Marshall Aid Commemoration Commission announced in a Dec. 4 news release.
Among the recipients are Pradnya Narkhede of the University of Chicago, Shruthi Rajasekar of Princeton University, and Meghana Vagwala of Duke University.
The 43 students from across the U.S. will be taking up degree courses at leading British universities in a wide variety of disciplines beginning in September 2018. Narkhede and Vagwala will each study at the University of Edinburgh while Rajasekar will be studying at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama.
“I’m proud to congratulate the recipients of this year’s Marshall Scholarship, who represent the brightest young minds and leaders the U.S. has to offer,” Sir Kim Darroch, British ambassador to the United States, said in a statement. “For over six decades, the Marshall Scholarship has played an important part in maintaining the strong bonds of friendship between our two countries. This further expansion of scholarships continues to demonstrate our commitment to our special relationship with the U.S. and promoting strong academic ties,” he said.
Added scholarship program chair Christopher Fisher, “I look forward to welcoming another outstanding class of Marshall Scholars to the U.K. next year. Marshall Scholars are wonderful students, and their presence in British universities is a mutually enriching experience which creates great promise for our common future.”
Narkhede, a fourth-year student at the University of Chicago, will use her Marshall Scholarship to combine two one-year degrees: the first at the University of Edinburgh in science and technology in society, and the second at Imperial College London in plant chemical biology, according to a university news release.
“This award provides me with an unrivaled opportunity to probe the relationship between science and sustainable development,” Narkhede, who is particularly interested in the role of agriculture, said in the report.
“Equipped with the tools I hope to gain from my studies in the U.K., I aim to become a globally engaged scientist, contributing innovative discoveries that shape intelligent policy and improve people’s lives worldwide,” she added.
Born and raised in rural India, Narkhede grew up visiting her family’s sugar cane farm—an experience that “beckoned an early fascination with the natural world,” she said in the report.
Years later that led to work that directly affects the lives of Indian farmers: Since May, Narkhede has served as a senior consultant at the Indian National Commission on Farmers, where she analyzes and designs initiatives to improve both environmental sustainability and agricultural productivity for smallholder growers, it said.
In 2015, she founded and now directs Sustainable Soils, an initiative to serve remote Indian agricultural villages by providing soil testing for smallholder farmers and advice on crop rotation and fertilizer recommendations, while also engaging in the pilot installation of small-scale biogas and water-delivery systems, the university said.
The award-winning program has garnered a $50,000 United Nations Development Program sponsorship, it added.
Previously, Narkhede worked as a virtual research intern at the U.S. Department of Defense and was a 2016 Institute of Biophysical Dynamics Scholar with UChicago’s Department of Chemistry and Howard Hughes Medical Institute. She plans to graduate in June with honors in chemistry and biological chemistry, the university added.
Rajasekar, a senior at Princeton and resident of Plymouth, Minn., is a music major studying composition and voice who is pursuing certificates in musical performance and cognitive science. She will go to London to work toward a Master of Arts in the new opera making and writing program at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama during her first year abroad, according to a Princeton news release.
During the second year, she will pursue a Master of Music in ethnomusicology at the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London, the university added. She plans to use the degrees to help her meet her long-term goal of writing an opera set in India, it said.
“I was truly stunned to receive the news,” she told the university in the news release. “I’m still overwhelmed and deeply grateful. I very briefly called my family before returning to class. I definitely didn’t want to interrupt the rehearsal, so I quietly shared the news with one of my beloved mentors, Gabriel Crouch, and Stephanie Tubiolo, the new associate director of choirs. After class, I told some dear friends and mentors.”
Rajasekar grew up steeped in the idiom of Southern Indian music, according to the report. She has shared her cultural heritage broadly with the university community while studying to become equally adept in classical Western music as a performer and composer.
In fall 2016, Rajasekar studied for a semester at the Royal College of London, which has a partnership with the university that offers Princeton students the opportunity to spend the fall semester of their junior year at the prestigious conservatory, it said.
During her sophomore year, Rajasekar founded Princeton Swara, which promotes Indian classical music through education and live performances. Concerts have drawn world-renowned visiting musicians including bansuri artist Ronu Majumdar and mridangam player Thanjavur Murgaboopathi, the university noted.
Rajasekar is a member of the Princeton University Glee Club and the Princeton Undergraduate Composers Collective, and served as an officer for both. Last year the Princeton University Sinfonia played an orchestral piece she wrote, titled “Polite Society.” Another work, “Audava Thillana,” was commissioned by the Princeton Piano Ensemble.
Vagwala, of South Grafton, Mass., is a Duke senior who designed her degree in neuroscience, ethics and anthropology. An Angier B. Duke Scholar at Duke, she plans to study medical anthropology at the University of Edinburgh and global mental health at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, according to a university report.
“At Duke, I’ve been able to interweave my feminist ethos, love of stories, and curiosity about the workings of the human brain,” Vagwala said in the report. “I am honored and incredibly grateful for the opportunity to dig deeper into these passions as a Marshall Scholar.”
With a self-designed Program II major at the intersection of neuroscience, ethics and anthropology, Vagwala’s research interests led her to pursue grant-funded research on the moral and social dynamics of cognitive enhancement with the Oxford Neuroscience, Ethics and Society Team, a Duke report said.
That resulted in a first-author publication in the journal Neuroethics and a top-paper conference prize, it added.
In addition, she is a member of the Nepal Global Mental Health Lab, where she spent three months conducting an ethnographic study of mental health issues in Nepal, which serves as the basis for her senior thesis, the university report said.
Vagwala, who has spent hundreds of hours assisting victim-survivors of domestic violence at the Compass Center for Women and Families in Chapel Hill, is president and co-founder of the Compass Center Duke Ambassadors, which partners Duke students with leaders from the Compass Center to engage in hotline advocacy and gender-violence prevention trainings.
She has volunteered with Best Buddies in Durham, with children at the Duke Hospital and with those in hospice care at the Durham VA Hospital, according to the university.
As a Marshall Scholar, Vagwala plans for post-graduate studies in medical anthropology at the University of Edinburgh and in global mental health at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. She is particularly interested in exploring cultural norms related to brain health in South India.
Upon her return to the U.S., she plans to attend medical school to prepare for a career in both clinical care and global health research, the university said.
The announcement marks an expansion for the second straight year of the number of post-graduate students joining the scholarship program and a 34 percent increase in scholarships offered since 2015, and the largest class since 2007, according to the news release.
The program is principally funded by the British government but also benefits from a number of partnership arrangements, in which regard significant and growing support from leading British academic institutions is much appreciated.
The expanded 2018 class also includes the first Marshall Scholarship funded by the Marshall Scholarship Endowment Fund. Created by the Association of Marshall Scholars, the official alumni organization of the Marshall Scholarship, the fund will support one two-year scholarship every other year in perpetuity beginning this year, it said.
Created in 1953, the scholarship began as a gesture of gratitude to the U.S. for the assistance the U.K. received after World War II under the Marshall Plan, the program that aided in Europe's economic recovery between 1948 and 1951.