Penn State student selected as Gates Cambridge Scholar

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Penn State senior Christopher Rae has been selected to receive a prestigious Gates Cambridge Scholarship, a highly sought-after program that allows students from around the world to pursue graduate work at the University of Cambridge.

Rae, from Lock Haven, Pennsylvania, is one of 40 U.S. students chosen from a pool of 755 applicants to receive the scholarship, which places a unique emphasis on social leadership as well as outstanding academic ability.

“The Gates Cambridge is one of the most competitive and prestigious scholarships available anywhere,” said Ruth Mendum, director of the University Fellowships Office at Penn State. “Chris will not only be able to complete his doctoral studies at Cambridge, he will become part of the network of similarly gifted Gates winners who will collectively improve the human condition in the generations to come.”

“The Gates Cambridge scholarship is about developing a global community and understanding the problems you want to tackle through different perspectives."

— Chris Rae,
Penn State senior and Gates Cambridge scholarship recipient

Rae is one of 13 U.S. scholars who will pursue doctoral degrees while 27 others will pursue master’s degrees. The U.S. scholars will join 55 scholarship recipients from other parts of the world.

“The Gates Cambridge scholarship is about developing a global community and understanding the problems you want to tackle through different perspectives,” Rae said. “I hope to apply what I learn to understanding how bacteria develop antibiotic resistance. That’s the big problem I’m interested in someday helping to solve.”

Rae is a biochemistry major in the Eberly College of Science and a Gateway Schreyer Honors College student. “I was not actually accepted into the Honors College right out of high school, but at the end of my sophomore year I applied again and that time it worked out,” he said. Rae has worked for two years in the lab of professor Ken Keiler conducting experiments to identify new antibiotics to treat methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA.

Rae met Keiler as a student in one of his introductory to microbiology labs and was invited to work in Keiler’s lab. Since then, Rae has produced work that helped secure a five-year grant from the National Institutes of Health, and last summer he was one of a handful of U.S students to receive an American Society for Microbiology (ASM) undergraduate research fellowship, which gives students funding to do research at their home institution.

“Chris was one of the best in the class at not only being able to design the experiments, but also to explain them,” said Keiler, associate professor of biochemistry and molecular biology. “Chris set up a system that can screen for compounds that work really well against MRSA, and he’s the only person in the world who has done this particular experiment.”

Rae said his goal after graduation was to find a program that would allow him to travel to a different country to continue his research and studies. When he heard about the Gates Cambridge Scholarship opportunity, he knew he had to apply.

“Being here at Penn State, I don’t think I could have had a better experience as an undergraduate, except I’ve always wanted to study abroad,” Rae said. He had an in-person interview for admission to Cambridge at the university earlier this year and recently went on a second interview in Washington, D.C., to receive the scholarship. “The second time I was ever on an airplane was when I went to Cambridge. I’m from a small town in Pennsylvania, and that’s pretty much where I’ve been my whole life, so I want to get out and see other parts of the world.”

“I hope to apply what I learn to understanding how bacteria develop antibiotic resistance. That’s the big problem I’m interested in someday helping to solve.”

— Chris Rae

At Cambridge, Rae will study structural biology at the Medical Research Council’s Laboratory of Molecular Biology in the United Kingdom with Venki Ramakrishnan, a researcher at the LMB who won the 2009 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his study of the structure and function of the ribosome.

“As a Nobel Prize winner, Ramakrishnan runs a lab that is one of the most prestigious in the world,” Keiler said. “Chris joins our group of Penn State students who are going to great places, and we’re really proud of him.”

Rae is among many students who have received opportunities to continue their studies after graduating from Penn State. In November, Ryan Henrici, also a senior studying biochemistry and molecular biology, received the Marshal Scholarship to study malaria at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.

“The reward for Christopher’s academic dedication certainly will not end with this accomplishment and recognition with his selection as a Gates Cambridge scholarship recipient. We are so proud of him as he continues to pursue knowledge and use his education and experiences in a global context to improve the lives of others,” Schreyer Honors College Dean Christian Brady said. “Congratulations are also in order to the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology as both Christopher and Ryan, studying in this discipline, have been chosen as winners of prestigious international scholarships this year.”

The postgraduate scholarship program was established through a $210 million donation to the University of Cambridge from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in 2001, which remains the largest single donation to a United Kingdom university. At any one time, the Gates Cambridge Trust aims to support 225 Scholars at the University of Cambridge — one of the most ancient and prestigious universities in the world.

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Last Updated February 13, 2015