Four Yale students and an alumnus claimed five of the 42 Gates Scholarships offered to American students this year.

Chiraag Bains ’03, Zachary Clopton ’03, Aaron Gruber ’03, Elizabeth O’Connor ’03 and Andrea Pizziconi ’01 will all study at the University of Cambridge next year. The scholarship, which is approximately $32,000 per year, gives students the choice of pursuing a master’s degree in one year or working towards a doctorate, which usually takes about four years.

With a $210 million endowment, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation created the scholarship three years ago. Harvard and Princeton Universities each had five Gates Scholars this year.

Unlike the Rhodes and Marshall Scholarships, where candidates must first go through a Yale selection process, each Gates candidate applies directly to Cambridge and the Gates scholarship foundation. Mark Bauer, assistant director of the International Education and Fellowship Programs at Yale, said there is no secret to winning a Gates fellowship.

“These are academic awards, first and foremost,” Bauer said. “Students need to find what they really love to do academically and do really well — in that process, they should find ways of getting to know their faculty really well so that there are people here who get to know their scholarship.”

Bains, a double major in history and ethnicity, race and migration, will study criminology at Cambridge next year. Bains said his involvement with SLAM, the Student Legal Action Movement, played a large part in developing his desire to reform the U.S. criminal justice system.

“SLAM is a group that is concerned with problems in the criminal justice system,” Bains said. “We work with existing groups in New Haven, and focus on issues like unfair bail, forced plea bargaining, and relationships between Yale police and citizens of New Haven that don’t go to Yale.”

Clopton, a double major in history and political science, will be studying international relations at Cambridge next year. Clopton said he thinks he was chosen as a Gates Scholar because of his participation in activities that relate to international relations.

“The biggest thing is getting involved with a lot of different things that relate to international relations, like Model [United Nations], where I specialized in the International Court of Justice, and Yale’s Grand Strategy Program,” Clopton said.

Gruber, who is majoring in economics and molecular biophysics and biochemistry, will study bioscience enterprise at Cambridge.

“The most important thing is just figuring out what you want to do,” Gruber said. “Once you figure out what you want to do, it’s not very hard figuring out the rest.”

O’Connor, an ethics, politics and economics major, will be studying philosophy at Cambridge with a concentration in distributive justice. She said this fits in with her long–term goal of becoming a lawyer.

“I eventually want to deal with expanding federal anti-discrimination legislation that deals with homeless people,” O’Connor said.

Unlike the other Yale recipients, Pizziconi has been out of college for nearly two years, working as a development associate at University Properties. Upon graduation, Pizziconi said she decided the best path for her was to remain in New Haven.

“A lot of people had the sense that you had to get out, and it was hard for me to think that [leaving New Haven] was the best thing for my career,” Pizziconi said.

At Cambridge, Pizziconi will study at the Department of Land Economy, focusing on ways of incorporating small schools into urban mixed-use development projects.

“It’s never too late to think about a fellowship,” Pizziconi said.