Former Missouri Honors Researcher Wins Gates Cambridge Scholarship

Editor’s Note: The story below is from the University of Missouri news service.
Shakked Halperin

At the age of 18, Shakked Halperin spent a year volunteering with Ethiopian children teaching high school math, English, percussion and art. Through that experience he developed a focus on improving the lives of others. Next fall, he will take that focus to the University of Cambridge after being named a recipient of the prestigious Gates Cambridge Scholarship.

Halperin, who graduated from the University of Missouri in December with a degree in biological engineering, is one of 40 recipients of the Gates Cambridge Scholarship. He will pursue a Masters of Philosophy in Biological Sciences.It was during his time volunteering with the Ethiopian children that Halperin realized he wanted to make a difference. He began a pursuit for safe global water supplies while working on the reconstruction of a failing wastewater treatment system in Honduras. There, he led a group of engineering students through the assessment, design and implementation of the reconstruction of the failed treatment plant.

He has already planned a project with a professor in Cambridge’s department of pathology that will expose him to all aspects of developing an application of synthetic biology, including theoretical idea conception, wet lab work, field testing, regulatory compliance and implementation.

“The project is in perfect alignment with my pursuit to secure global water supplies,” Halperin says. “I hope to create a sensor using synthetic biology that can mitigate arsenic poisoning by identifying safe drinking water supplies in developing countries.”

His undergraduate research work at MU included a supervised independent study program and participating in the Honors Undergraduate Research Program.

“Researching biological engineering as an undergraduate gave me an appreciation for the mechanisms that sustained living systems for billions of years at a level of complexity unparalleled by human innovation,” Halperin says.

He spent the summer of 2012 at the University of California-Berkeley where he conducted research through a National Science Foundation Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) and last summer he participated in a research project through an REU at Tsinghua University in Beijing, China.

“Every so often, we are fortunate to meet exceptional students who perform beyond our expectations and Shakked is one such student,” says Shelia Grant, a professor of biological engineering who was Halperin’s faculty mentor at MU. “As an undergraduate student, Shakked independently performed graduate-level research. He was not hesitant about trying new experiments or learning new techniques.”

Halperin applied for the Gates Cambridge Scholarship because of its unique focus on building a community of future leaders committed to improving lives of others.

“The opportunity of this scholarship lies in the gathering of so many other passionate young leaders and so the responsibility that it brings is to use that opportunity to its full potential – that means forming bonds, discussions and collaborations with others in the community,” he says.

The Gates Cambridge Scholarship is one of the world’s most celebrated honors for post-baccalaureate study. The highly-competitive scholarships are full-cost awards given to applicants outside the United Kingdom to pursue a full-time postgraduate degree in any subject available at the University of Cambridge.

This marks the second-consecutive year that a Mizzou alumnus has been awarded the Gates Cambridge Scholarship. Lindsey Murray, BS’ 03, began her studies at Cambridge in the fall after earning the scholarship last year.


Public Universities Have 27 New Members in the National Academy of Engineering

The National Academy of Engineering has announced the election of 67 new members, and public university engineering professors and researchers account for 27 of the new members; another 28 come from private industry, one from the U.S. Air Force, and 11 from private universities.

Michigan, UC Berkeley, UCLA, UT Austin, and UW Madison all had multiple inductees.

In addition, there are 11 associate members from foreign universities and private industry.

“Election to membership is one of the highest professional honors accorded an engineer,” according to the NAE.  “Members have distinguished themselves in business and academic management, in technical positions, as university faculty, and as leaders in government and private engineering organizations. ”

The NAE operates under the same congressional act of incorporation that established the National Academy of Sciences, signed in 1863 by President Lincoln.

Below are the new members, with those from public universities in bold:

Abbott, Nicholas University of Wisconsin-Madison

Allcock, R. Harry Pennsylvania State University

Allebach, P. Jan Purdue University

Arvizu, E. Daniel National Renewable Energy Laboratory

Atkins, E. Daniel University of Michigan

Baker, Karl James Carnegie Mellon University

Balser, Martin Northrop Grumman Information Systems

Banks, Katherine Margaret Texas A&M University-College Station

Barrett, H. Harrison University of Arizona

Bernstein, Howard Seventh Sense Biosystems, Inc.

Bethell, J. Peter Arch Coal, Inc.

Bimberg, Dieter Technical University of Berlin

Board, P. Mark Hecla Mining Company

Boroyevich, Dushan VA Polytechnic Institute and State University

Boston, Terry PJM Interconnection, LLC

Boulos, F. Paul Innovyze

Boyd, P. Stephen Stanford University

Braun, D. Robert Georgia Institute of Technology

Briskman, D. Robert Sirius XM Radio

Carbonell, G. Ruben North Carolina State University

Chan, F. Tony The Hong Kong University of Science and Technology

Ciminelli, Sampaio Teixeira Virginia Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais

Cramb, William Alan Illinois Institute of Technology

Daganzo, F. Carlos University of California, Berkeley

Davari, Bijan IBM Thomas J. Watson Research Center

Dietrich, L. Brenda IBM Thomas J. Watson Research Center

Eden, Gary James University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Edgar, Flynn Thomas The University of Texas

Elghobashi, E. Said University of California, Irvine

Ershaghi, Iraj University of Southern California

Fagin, Ronald IBM Almaden Research Center

Fenves, Gregory The University of Texas

Ferrara, Whittaker Katherine University of California, Davis

Fleck, Andrew Norman University of Cambridge

Flytzani-Stephanopoulos, Maria Tufts University

Gany, Alon Technion-Israel Institute of Technology

Halas, J. Naomi Rice University

Harel, David Weizmann Institute of Science

Hedrick, Lupton James IBM Almaden Research Center

Hedrick, Karl J. University of California, Berkeley

Hopp, J. Wallace University of Michigan

Joshi, Janardan Chanrashekhar University of California, Los Angeles

Jouppi, P. Norman Google, Inc.

Joyce, L. David General Electric Aviation

Kish, A. Frederick Infinera Corportation

Knatz, Geraldine Port of Los Angeles, California

Krieger, B. Roger General Motors Research and Development Center

Luby, George Michael Qualcomm Incorporated

Mehlhorn, Kurt Max Planck Institute for Informatics

Michel, Keith R. Webb Institute of Naval Architecture

Mistretta, A. Charles University of Wisconsin-Madison

Moehle, P. Jack University of California, Berkeley

Mohan, Ned University of Minnesota

Mullen, G. Michael MGM Consulting

Novosel, Damir Quanta Technology, LLC

Patt, N. Yale The University of Texas

Pawlikowski, Marie Ellen U.S. Air Force

Pentland, Alex Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Pharr, M. George The University of Tennessee

Philip, E. Craig Ingram Barge Company

Poulos, George Harry Coffey Geotechnics Pty Ltd

Ramsey, Michael John University of North Carolina

Rexford, Jennifer Princeton University

Riley, J. James University of Washington

Romankiw, T. Lubomyr IBM Thomas J. Watson Research Center

Samarasekera, Vasanti Indira University of Alberta

Schapire, Elias Robert Princeton University

Schutz, E. Bob The University of Texas

Shoham, Moshe Technion-Israel Institute of Technology

Soled, L. Stuart ExxonMobil Research and Engineering Company

Spencer, Bruce David wTe Corporation

Stafford, Patten Thomas Stafford, Burke, and Hecker

Stedinger, Russell Jery Cornell University

Tzeghai, E. Ghebre Procter and Gamble Company

Waitz, A. Ian Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Willson, N. Alan University of California, Los Angeles

Zhang, Xingdong Sichuan University

Zones, I. Stacey Chevron Energy Technology Company

UT Austin Plan II Honors Senior Wins Outstanding Student Award

Editor’s note: The following article about Alex Arambula, a senior in UT Austin’s Plan II Honors Program, is by Joshua Cook, division of student affairs, UT Austin.   Arambula was named one of two outstanding students at the university by the UT parents’ association.

Alex Arambula is completing her final year in biomedical engineering and Plan II with a pre-med concentration. Always interested in a medical profession, she became intrigued by research after attending a high school engineering summer camp at UT Austin.

“When I graduated high school, my classmates basically said I should go out and cure cancer,” she said in a video shown at the awards ceremony. “Coming into UT I was really excited about that.” She joined Professor George Georgiou’s lab at UT Austin and has worked with a therapeutic enzyme that can treat some forms of methionine-dependent cancers.

Another of her passions is guiding others. “I was a FIG mentor for three years and I have been a senior preceptor for the PLUS (Peer-Led Undergraduate Studying) Program,” she added. “Mentors have been a really important part of my life, so any way that I can give back to others that way is something that I love to do.”

Arambula, who maintains a 4.0 grade point average, also worked with a local hospice and Camp Kesem, a camp for children whose parents are affected by cancer. She says those experiences have been pivotal in her life and she ultimately hopes to integrate technical and humanistic medicine in the field of clinical research. “I think combining my passion for research with my passion for relationships as a physician is somewhere that I would like to see myself,” she said.

Arambula’s also a Normandy Scholar and involved in the Plan II Pre-Medical Society, LeaderShape-Texas, Tau Beta Pi and the Engineering Chamber Orchestra where she plays piano.


Alexandra Arambula and Vice President of Student Affairs, Gage Paine at the awards dinner.

Half of Churchill Scholars 2014-2015 Are from Public Universities

Below is a list of Churchill Scholars for 2014-2015, each the recipient of a one-year grant worth approximately $60,000 to study at the University of Cambridge.  Three of the new scholars have also won Goldwater awards as undergraduates, and at least four are present or former honors program students.

Public university winners are from Georgia Tech, Rutgers, Arizona, UMass Amherst, UNC Chapel Hill, Pitt, and Wisconsin.

Georgia Tech alumna Alisha Kasam is also a Fulbright Scholar.  David Kolchmeyer of Rutgers earned a Goldwater Scholarship as a junior and worked at the Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland.

An honors college senior at the University of Arizona, Daniel Fried was also a 2013 Goldwater Scholar.  He is a triple major in computer science, math, and information science technology.  Morgan Opie, an honors senior in the Commonwealth Honors College at UMass Amherst, will pursue a master’s in math through Part III of the Mathematical Tripos, the oldest and most famous mathematical exam in the world.

Surojit Biswas, a student in the Honors Carolina program at UNC Chapel Hill and a Beckman Scholar, won a Goldwater award in 2012.  A triple major at Pitt and a student in the honors college, David Palm is currently working toward a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering as well as bachelor’s degrees in chemistry and the history and philosophy of science. Joshua Shutter of UW Madison is a physical chemist who spent 10 weeks working at the NASA Jet Propulsion Lab in Pasadena, CA.

Christopher Finch

Amherst College

Plant Sciences

Alisha Kasam

Georgia Institute of Technology


Levent Alpoge

Harvard University

Pure Mathematics

Malinda McPherson

Johns Hopkins University


Gabriella Heller

Pomona College


Katherine Pogrebniak

Princeton University

Computational Biology

David Kolchmeyer

Rutgers University

Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics

Daniel Fried

University of Arizona

Computer Laboratory

Morgan Opie

University of Massachusetts/Amherst

Pure Mathematics

Surojit Biswas

University of North Carolina/Chapel Hill

Sainsbury Laboratory

Sarah Foster

University of Pennsylvania

Physiology, Development & Neuroscience

David Palm

University of Pittsburgh


Joshua Shutter

University of Wisconsin/Madison


Jared Hallett

Williams College

Pure Mathematics

What’s the Point of an Honors College? Creativity, Idealism, Genuine Excellence

Editor’s Note:  The following article by Nancy M. West, Director, University of Missouri Honors College, originally appeared in the January 27, 2014, edition of the Chronicle of Higher Education.

At a baseball game two summers ago, as other parents cheered on their kids, I argued about the value of an honors college with the father of my son’s teammate, whom I’ll call Tyler.

Tyler’s dad is the kind of parent who blares constant “advice” to the coach and points out the mistakes of every child on the team but his own. Between innings, he asked what I did for a living. When I told him I had just been appointed to direct the Honors College at the University of Missouri, he sneered. “My ex-wife wants our oldest son to enroll in that, but I’m opposed. He plans to be a doctor. He needs good grades. He shouldn’t be taking harder classes.”

Then he looked me straight in the eye and asked, “What’s the point of an honors college, anyway?” It was hot, and I wanted to smack him. So I gave him a snooty answer about how I thought “any parent would want his child to challenge himself.” Needless to say, he didn’t respond well.

That exchange turned out to be the first of many conversations I’ve had about the value of an honors college. Like Tyler’s dad, though more politely, prospective students express concern that the challenge of an honors curriculum will jeopardize their GPAs, and therefore their chances of finding a job or getting into graduate school. So do their parents. Some people on campus bristle at the “elitism” of honors colleges, uncomfortable with the notion of singling out students for special attention and benefits.

Both of these viewpoints are understandable. More distressing has been my realization that the honors college often needs to be defended to administrators, from department chairs upward. Honors education has never been a cost-effective enterprise, given its demands for quality instruction, small classes, enhanced opportunities, and personalized service to students. As more and more colleges gravitate toward larger classes and online delivery, honors now seems like a luxury they can no longer afford.

We need then to think about honors colleges in a way that deals with current anxieties and economic pressures. And we need to state their value so that it can resonate with many people, even Tyler’s dad.

So what is the point of an honors college? There are two ways to answer that question. The first is in terms of students. Most high-ability students need individual attention. Honors colleges provide that. More important, they promote the value of striving for the best one can do. In an academic culture tainted by grade inflation, honors colleges celebrate true accomplishment, instilling in students the pride that comes with being thoroughly in earnest about their education.

As to GPA concerns: My experience has been that honors students often do better in their honors courses than in their non-honors courses. The reasons for this success are partly the quality of the instruction, partly the mentoring students receive from professors, but mainly the firepower that comes from putting smart, motivated students together. In the words of Rachel Harper, who coordinates our honors humanities series, “Surrounded by other high-achieving and curious students—both in their classes and in their living arrangements—honors students feel pressure in the best of ways to do well.”

Honors is thus the “natural home of pure meritocracy,” as my colleague David Setzer argues. Universities need such a home more than ever. While colleges become more like companies, and “excellence” increasingly refers to financial success, surely we can justify the value of an honors college by guaranteeing that it remains one space on the campus where deep thought flourishes, and where “excellence” still possesses meaning.

The other way to answer the question of an honors college’s value is in terms of its benefit to a university. For one, honors colleges enhance the prestige of their universities by enrolling high-achieving students who provide a leavening influence on the campus and then go on to achieve great things.

They also have the potential to serve as a “third place” for their universities. In 1989, the sociologist Ray Oldenburg coined the term “third place” to refer to environments, separate from work and home, which people visit frequently and voluntarily. Examples include coffeehouses, cafes, salons, and the Internet.

Although they vary wildly in look and feel, third places share certain fundamental traits. They act as social levelers, discounting class status as a marker of social significance. Their mood is playful; their atmosphere is warm and friendly. They promote group creativity and lively conversation. Most important, they serve as anchors of a community, fostering broad and less scripted interactions than those we have at home or our regular workplaces.

“These shared areas have played an outsized role in the history of new ideas,” observes Oldenburg. And yet compared with other countries, America does not place much importance on third places. And what’s true of our country is also true of our universities. Faculty and staff rarely venture beyond the buildings that house their departments. University officials sequester themselves in spacious offices located within buildings populated exclusively by administrative offices. And students—too many of them these days—go from their classrooms to their part-time jobs to their apartments.

Universities need third places in order for new kinds of research and thinking to propagate. Honors colleges, meanwhile, need a new identity in order to successfully assert their value in the future.

Thinking about honors colleges as third places gives us a new and non-elitist way of asserting their value to a university. It reinforces how they can serve as spaces of creativity; conversation; intellectualism; collegiality. It also reinforces their potential as homes of interdisciplinarity. Like all third places, honors colleges are neutral ground, separate from departments and yet in the business of serving them all; as such, they provide an ideal space for the kind of “in between” collaboration required by interdisciplinary work. Honors colleges are where team-teaching—that activity we all say we should do more of but can’t because of departmental restrictions—really can happen.

This spring, thanks to the cooperation of the art history and English departments, I’m team-teaching an honors course called “Thinking About Color” with two other professors. The course is wildly interdisciplinary, focusing on subjects like Technicolor and the history of mauve. Our planning meetings for the course have been electrifying, intellectually and pedagogically. And in each meeting, ideas for collaborative research bubble up. I can’t remember ever feeling this creative, or collegial, about my teaching.

The answers I’ve articulated here all arrive at the same conclusion, which is that the “point of an honors college” is its idealism. Honors represents higher education at its best and most aspirational. If I could replay that dreadful conversation with Tyler’s dad from two years ago, that is what I’d tell him.

I’d also point out that my son, Silas, hit a double that day.

Dear Congress: Don’t Plunder the Current Pell Grant Surplus

Editor’s note: The following post is by Kate Tromble and Mandy Zatynski, writing for The Equity Line.

The Congressional Budget Office’s (CBO) 2014 estimates tell us one important thing about the Pell Grant program: It is sustainable — and it can stay that way if Congress manages its money well.

The 2014 budget estimate, released this week, forecasts surpluses for the Pell Grant program this year and next year — $7.7 billion and $3.6 billion, respectively. But that’ll only last so long: By 2016, Pell Grants will see a funding gap of a little less than $1 billion, according to estimates. (That’s a lot less than last year’s projections, which projected an almost-$6 billion funding gap.)

The new numbers mean, first and foremost, that the naysayers can stop screaming that we need to cut, reimagine, or reconfigure the Pell Grant program. The program isn’t costing as much as anticipated, the economy is getting better, and Congress is managing its higher education spending — at least as far as Pell Grants go — wisely.

But the new projections also mean Congress must continue to choose wisely. Rather than using the Pell surplus to fund other initiatives, as it likes to do, Congress needs to save for the future. By storing those billions away, Congress can avoid that funding gap and continue giving thousands of hard-working, low-income students the financial support they need to afford college.