Student Stories

4th December 2015 in Alumni, People, Student News, Women at Churchill

We interviewed a selection of students who have received financial support from student bursaries or scholarships to let them tell their story and inform alumni and friends of the College about the benefit of student financial support for Churchill students.

Nate Hardisty

Reading History

Nate Hardisty

Nate Hardisty, 21 is from Bramley, Leeds (from a comprehensive school in special measures) and he is a final year undergraduate reading history. His special interest is the third-year presidency of LB Johnson. He received financial assistance from the Partington Fund (Richard Partington, Senior Tutor) and Travel Grant Fund to enable him to spend the summer vacation in 2015 travelling in the United States, visiting the LBJ library in Austin, Texas to study presidential papers and those of influential people of the time such as General Westmorland. Nate also examined primary resource material in Washington and he fitted in a side-trip to Los Angeles to make informal screenwriting pitches to Sony, Columbia and other motion picture studios.

He intends to study for an MPhil after graduation and then work as a screenwriter, a novelist or journalist, depending on successful fruition of his various ideas. His undergraduate dissertation is entitled Lyndon Johnson’s decision to not seek re-election in 1968. His MPhil is likely to be on LBJ again and on his period of the Vietnam War. Nate is partially-supported at Churchill College by a £3,500 per annum Cambridge Bursary and by a £2,500 per annum Winston Churchill Memorial Trust Bursary. Without this support, he would have found attending Churchill College financially much more difficult because of family circumstances. He describes being at Cambridge University as 'the greatest experience of my life and a great confidence-booster'.

In his first summer vacation at the university Nate taught children in Nepal under the Cambridge Volunteers in Nepal scheme. He is also Social Secretary of the College Badminton Club and, having organised the JCR pantomime for three years has been president of the JCR from the summer until the end of November 2015. 

Hannah Stern

Researching the photophysical properties of organic molecules

Hannah Stern

Hannah Stern, 26 from Wellington in New Zealand is two and a half years into a PhD programme in the Department of Physics. A chemistry graduate of Otago University, she is researching the photophysical properties of organic molecules, specifically the use of small molecules as organic semiconductors which have the potential to complement inorganic semiconductors such as silicon. It is a niche area, harvesting energy from the sun using organic solar cells, and most promisingly at present using exciton multiplication mechanisms to boost inorganic cells.

A keen mountaineer in her spare time, Hannah also runs, swims and cycles. She is also the co-founder of a group to encourage the presence of women in physics, Cavendish Inspiring Women. Leader of a team which won a £3,000 Shell Churchill Research award, she wrote a proposal for the competition which was based on developing hybrid organic/inorganic solar cells.

She is wholly sponsored at Cambridge by a Winton Scholarship, which she describes as life-changing and without which she would have found it impossible to undertake a PhD programme outside her native New Zealand. The Winton Foundation of Physics of Sustainability funds her university fees and provides her with £1,100 per month in living expenses.

“being in Cambridge is a very enriching experience, largely because of the people you get to meet and work alongside and the options It provides her for the future."

When asked about what she likes about Churchill College, Hannah said:

“The graduate student community and the extra curricular events, such as the Conference on Everything and Paradigm Shift interview series for example. I feel Churchill College makes an extra special effort to make students feel welcome and gives them plenty of opportunities to become involved in the College and the MCR community...Churchill College provided me with my first 'English home'. From the day I arrived this made it easier to get started living in Cambridge and to focus on my studies. Even now when I feel well-integrated in Cambridge, Churchill College continues to provide support and is a place to feel at home. Churchill has helped with my studies directly via small grants to attend conferences.

I believe the student community is exceptionally friendly with a unique mix of international students who have a focus on mathematics and science. The culture of the college has been guided by it's history- there is a modern, fresh attitude and inclination towards the sciences, which I like.”

Tobias Nyumba

Researching the impacts of human-elephant conflicts on human wellbeing in Trans Mara, Kenya

Tobias Nyumba

Tobias Nyumba, 36 from Kisumu in Kenya is two years into a PhD programme in the School of Physical Sciences, Department of Geography, researching into Wildlife Conservation and Management. The current research focuses on understanding the impacts of human-elephant conflicts on human wellbeing in Trans Mara, Kenya. This builds on a masters degree that he undertook at Downing in 2007–2008, to explore how local communities cope with human elephant conflict in Kenya.

In between, Tobias worked as a project manager with the Space for Giants Trust in Kenya to explore ways to minimise human elephant conflict and enhance elephant conservation in Kenya.  Tobias is wholly sponsored at Cambridge by the Churchill/Sidney Sussex Southern African Cambridge Scholarship — funded by current students, without which assistance he would have found it impossible to come to the UK to continue his education. For him the scholarship was, a life-changing and most critical factor. He hopes to secure post-doctoral work in Cambridge to continue his work in the field of elephant conservation or, alternatively, to return to Kenya to implement effective practical policies in this direction.

Outside his research project Tobias is a member of the Cambridge University Volleyball Club — The Blues Men, and also a member of the African Society of Cambridge University which organises academic and social events, to enhance sharing of information and experiences across a wide variety of issues, most of which are research interests of the members and their friends.

When asked what he likes most about Churchill College, Tobias said:

“The seamless mix of graduate and undergraduate students from diverse cultural and social backgrounds offers an invaluable opportunity to learn and appreciate other people's  way of life. In addition, the academic background of Churchill College students is so diverse one ends up learning about other disciplines inadvertently during seminars, conferences and presentations. The College staff both academic and support staff are always willing to go out of their way to provide support to students through regular training that do not necessarily have to be within academic discipline or confines such as presentation skills, effective reading and writing skills, leadership skills among others. These would ordinarily be paid for and indeed at very high fees elsewhere.

The collegiate system has provided an opportunity to gain an almost personalised attention from the college staff. The social, academic and cultural environment is so close to me, I feel like everything is designed to meet my personal needs. The fact that I only need to walk across to the TAS office to make an inquiry and the rest is sorted is a system that has enhanced my adaptation in Cambridge as a community and built a feeling of comfort and belonging to the Churchill College and its ideals.”

Churchill College is located out of the city centre hence reduced instance of disturbances from the bustles and hustles of the city. The College has an array of facilities such as the gym, library, kitchen, computer rooms that are strategically located for ease of access from my residence. “

Cao Liwei

Researching C-H activation, reaction and prediction with a focus on start-up materials and new processes

Cao Liwei

Cao Liwei, 22 from Beijing graduated from Tsinghua University where she studied Chemical Engineering and Economics. Cao has just started an MPhil course in the Department of Chemical Engineering: her research topic, which she will further develop with a follow-on PhD, is on C-H activation, reaction and prediction with a focus on start-up materials and new processes. She is sponsored by the Wing Yip Foundation, who are paying her tuition and ancillary fees. Without this support Cao would have found it impossible to come to either Cambridge University or Churchill College.

Cambridge attracted her for the wonderfully esoteric reason that as a child she learned English from CUP books — along of course with the quality of education and research facilities and supervision available .She certainly was not short of alternatives, having received seven offers from world leading institutions. Cao highlights new passway development in order to address energy saving and pollution reduction issues as a major focus of her research interest. She intends after her PhD project to return to China to put into practise, hopefully in a government body, her ideas and expertise in pollution control. Cao hopes to 'remain an idealist and fulfil the dreams she had as a child'.

Her living expenses are paid for partly by her family which she intends to supplement with monies earned during chemical engineering internships during summer vacations. A member of the Churchill Arts Society, as a classical pianist Cao hopes to join the Cambridge University Music Court 'when time permits'.

Daniel Stanley

Reading Chemical Engineering

Daniel Stanley, 19 is from Oldham and is in his second undergraduate year. He read Natural Sciences in his first year, then switched to his real interest, chemical engineering. Daniel studied at a state high school in his native town, and is partly-supported at the university by a £2,000 per annum Winston Churchill Memorial Trust Bursary. Although the absence of this assistance would not have deterred him from coming, its provision 'makes a big difference and relieves financial pressure that would otherwise build up'.

After University Daniel intends to seek immediate employment in the renewable energy field of chemical engineering and he is seeking several internships with quality employers for his two future summer vacations here. Outside study, Daniel is Captain of the Churchill College cricket team and is in the training squad for the University second team.

Ali Jones

Researching urban-central political activists in post 1989 Germany

Ali Jones

Ali Jones, 30, is in her second year of a PhD project that commenced in January 2014 on German Political Philosophy in the Department of Modern Languages. Her thesis title is Excess Spaces: Autonomie and Spatial Sovereignty, about groups of urban-central political activists in post 1989 Germany. Ali graduated in 2007 with a BA Honours in Intellectual History from the University of Alberta in Edmonton, and went on to manage a bioinformatics and medical genetics laboratory at the University of Alberta medical school for five years. While working full time, she achieved a master’s degree with honours in History from the University and also studied philosophy to masters level.

Rather than Ali choosing Churchill it was Churchill that chose Ali. Let down at a late stage by Trinity Hall in terms of funding for a PhD programme, having given up her job in Canada to come to Cambridge, and having turned down a funded PhD programme at the University of Chicago, Ali was reprieved at the eleventh hour by Churchill, which offered her a place and a funding package to secure her PhD acceptance. One third of her full funding is provided by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC), one third by a Gulbenkian Studentship and the final third by both the government of Finland's CIMO Fellowship as well as the Hanseatic Scholarship of the German Alfred Toepfer Stiftung. Ali hopes to fulfil her lifetime dream to be a University professor with her subject to continue to be German Political Philosophy and Intellectual History. In her own words, 'being in Cambridge has given me a world of opportunities that I never would have had. It gives me a voice of authority, especially when working on modern German radical politics.'

Although she is away from Churchill travelling on project-related business or lecturing for six months every year, Ali has been the MCR bar secretary, is involved with the Møller Centre's Leadership program, and has initiated a University wide reading circle on political philosophy, while acting as PI on a major, international multi-year research project funded by the German Academic Exchange Service, and serving as project assistant on another.

Michelle Brown

Researching how partners and families can be encouraged to play a role in desistance

Michelle Brown

Michelle Brown, 42, is a native of Cambridge and has just commenced study for MPhil at the Institute of Criminology. Her £12,000 fees for the year are funded through the Newton College  Master Studentship Scheme, which is a combined project between Churchill College and the Sir Isaac Newton Trust. In addition, Michelle is in receipt of a £3,000 Churchill bursary towards her living costs for the year.

A single parent with two children, Michelle left school at 16 and worked as a part-time school secretary for a number of Cambridge schools before deciding remarkably to re-enter education with the intention of  gaining a PhD, her ultimate if initially impossible-seeming goal. Add dyslexia to the mix and the necessary determination to achieve this strikes any observer. In addition,  Michelle's tutor nominated her for the Ede and  Ravenscroft 2014 prize which is awarded to a student for academic excellence in the face of adversity, which she went on to win. This was following her year two grades when at the time she was diagnosed with cancer and undergoing treatment for this. It was at this time Michelle was advised to apply for an MPhil. After studying for further secondary qualifications, Michelle went on to gain a BA in Criminology at Anglia Ruskin University and subsequently received, by email, the offer of a place to study at Churchill for her MPhil. Michelle's project is to investigate how partners and families can be encouraged to play a role in desistance and what are the challenges they face.

Although finding the money to continue to raise her children for the year of her MPhil is a struggle and a perpetual worry, Michelle simply would not have been able to continue her education past BA Level without the financial support she has received. The tuition costs alone would have been prohibitive. For the future, Michelle's dream is to become a lecturer and she hopes to fulfil this dream if she is able to secure funding for a doctorate.

Michelle was asked about Churchill:

“What I like most about Churchill College is the warm friendly atmosphere, it is a beautiful building with extensive grounds. The restaurant is also amazing, and serves the most delicious variety of food….The main difference I have found is that I feel like my academic standing has risen dramatically, which has done wonders for my self-esteem!

What I have found unique about Churchill College is that from the moment I step into the building every member of staff makes me feel special and supported all the time. I am not sure this is the case with all colleges. The staff cannot do enough for you, I do not live on site but it very much feels like my second home. I feel proud to be a part of Churchill College.”

Evan O’Dorney

Reading Part III Mathematics

Evan O’Dorney

Evan O’Dorney, 22 is from Danville in the San Francisco Bay area. He is studying Part III of the Mathematical Tripos, with a particular interest in number theory, before going on in 2016 to study for a PhD at Princeton University – 'a number theory powerhouse’. He is making use of his time at Churchill to take courses in a variety of additional fields and sees his time here 'as my last year to explore stuff before going onto a PhD'.

He chose this year at Cambridge, as an alternative to embarking straight away (he graduated in mathematics from Harvard) on his doctoral Study. Evan learned about Part III from several students at Harvard who were going to go there, as well as from teachers (a professor and a postdoc) who had attended in the past. In addition, the attraction of Cambridge for Evan is the prestige of the University and the variety of experiences ('multidimensional') on offer: high-caliber maths talks, innumerable concerts and music events to attend and choirs to sing in, students from all over the world, and an introduction to the culture of a foreign country.

He is supported by the Churchill Scholarship with an approximate value of £30,000. Had this not been awarded he would not have been able to come here and study, but would have transferred directly from Harvard to Princeton. Homeschooled (by his mother), Evan spent his summer vacations at assorted locations across the US training mathematical Olympiad students and also participating in several REU’s (Research Experience for Undergraduates).

To relax he grapples with complex number theoretical problems, and he also sings Gregorian chant at Saturday mass, as well as more modern music at Sunday mass at various Catholic churches. For future, Evan intends to remain in academia, probably specialising in number theory. 

When asked about Churchill College and Cambridge, Evan said:

”In contrast to most US universities, which have a basically unitary organisation, Cambridge has 31 colleges with a striking variety of histories, religious ties, communal hobbies, and degrees of openness to outsiders. This adds another dimension to the cultural experience that naturally comes from studying abroad. I did not expect to find perks in studying in a newer, uglier (or so it is said) College, but I appreciate the informality that comes from lack of attachment to gowns and other arcane traditions. I can freely invite my Part III friends for a bite to eat. There are plenty of rooms for me to study or simply think quietly. I can always come back and find my fellow Churchill Scholars and other friends in the dining hall.”

Alisha Kasam

Researching the next generation of nuclear plant technology

Alisha Kasam

Alisha Kasam, 25, is from Atlanta in Georgia and studying for a PhD in Engineering – specifically the dynamic efficiency of energy and the economic viability of resource sustainability and waste minimisation in the next generation of nuclear plant technology. This follows an MPhil at Churchill which Alisha gained in 2015, entitled Thermodynamic and Economic Evaluation of the Nuclear Air Brayton Combined Cycle. Alisha was educated at the Georgia Institute of Technology, where she gained a BSC in Mechanical Engineering. Following that she spent a year as a Fulbright Scholar at BMW’s research and development facility at Munich. 

Alisha is fully sponsored at Cambridge by a Cambridge Trust scholarship and a Churchill Pochobradsky Scholarship combined into one, with an annual value of £17,000 for tuition as related fees and £13,500 for living expenses.  Had Alisha not received this funding, she would have undertaken a Ph.D. at Stanford University.  She was able to undertake her MPhil on a Churchill Scholarship and came because of that and also because 'one energy technologies course sounded very interesting and interest in nuclear engineering was not even on my radar a year or so ago'. 

Running provides Alisha with relaxation, as does organising events within the Churchill MCR community  committee. She loves the 'Cambridge  lifestyle' and the small city feel of the town and 'fell in love with Churchill and Cambridge'.

When asked about Churchill College Alisha said:

“My favourite aspect of Churchill College is the closeness of the student communities here. Being outside the city centre encourages participation and friendliness within the College, like we are a big family. The Collegiate system makes it very easy to make friends, especially outside one’s own department, which is important for sanity and well-roundedness! I find Churchill College’s modernity and relaxed culture quite unique in Cambridge, where many College tend to cherish traditions that are perhaps not always the most student-friendly or practical. I feel that the students, staff, and organisation of Churchill College reflect our friendly, open-minded values.”

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