Four Yale students and alumni have been awarded the Gates Cambridge Scholarship to pursue a graduate degree at the University of Cambridge.

The four Yalies selected this year — Seth Kolker ’15, Jane Darby Menton ’15, Malina Simard-Halm ’18 and Robert Henderson ’18 — are among 35 scholarship recipients from the U.S. In April, the program will offer 55 more scholarships to students from other countries.

Scholarships are awarded to outstanding applicants from countries outside the United Kingdom, and the scholars are selected based on their intellectual ability, leadership potential and commitment to improving the lives of others, among other criteria. The scholarship covers the full cost of tuition and provides the recipients with an additional £13,300 for personal expenses and a round trip airplane ticket.

“This is an incredible fellowship for Yale students because service is a huge component in their selection criteria,” said Rebekah Westphal, director of the Yale Office of Fellowship Programs. “While there’s no endorsement process, we support Gates applicants with practice interviews and advice on personal statements. This year’s awardees are an outstanding, inspiring group.”

Kolker graduated summa cum laude from Yale with a degree in Ethics, Politics and Economics. He has spent the last three years teaching math at Central Falls High School, a low-income public school in Rhode Island. At the school, he co-founded a ninth grade academy and a course called “How to Change the World,” in which students from low-income backgrounds organize field trips and events to engage with the work that local activists, politicians, lawyers and professionals are doing to change the world, as well as plan and fundraise for a week-long trip to Washington D.C. at the end of the school year. Before becoming an educator, Kolker worked for a social enterprise in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, a waste pickers’ union in Delhi and a think tank in Washington.

He will pursue an M.Phil. in education from Cambridge after completing his year as a Schwarzman scholar in Beijing. After completing his degrees, he hopes to use his academic experiences to implement the “How to Change the World” program across the country.

“Working with kids in Rhode Island for three years has been inspiring, and it’s left me frustrated,” Kolker said. “We’re not doing enough to get young people from low-income communities ready to be happy, productive, active participants in society. The Gates will help me take a step back to compare educational systems and ideas of citizenship from around the world, and to do so alongside a really interesting cohort.”

Menton graduated magna cum laude from Yale with degrees in history and global affairs. During her time at Yale, she was a staff reporter and managing editor at the News and spent eight weeks studying in Cambridge after her sophomore year as a recipient of the John Thouron prize. After college, she worked as a production assistant at CNN’s Anderson Cooper 360 and is currently an assistant editor of the Foreign Affairs Magazine. She spent two years in Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar and received an M.Phil. in Modern Middle Eastern Studies.

At Cambridge, she will pursue a Ph.D. in Politics and International Studies and she hopes to return to journalism after completing her degree. Menton said that one of the reasons she applied for the Gates scholarship was because of its emphasis on “applying research to make a positive impact.”

“A community centered around those values is just the best kind of environment,” Menton said. “I know that I’ll learn so much from the other people on the scholarship and that they’ll inspire me and keep me true to the purpose behind the research.”

Simard-Halm studies Ethics, Politics and Economics at Yale. During her time at college, she has focused “on the ethics and politics of the criminal justice system with a particular emphasis on sentencing and alternatives to incarceration,” according to her biography on the Gates Cambridge website. Outside the classroom, Simard-Halm has worked with federal public defenders, the New Haven Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion program, Yale Students for Private Prison Divestment and the Legal Action Center, an advocacy group for people with criminal records and substance abuse disorders. As one of the first children born to two gay men through assisted reproduction, Simard-Halm has also devoted her time to advocating for LGBTQ families and currently serves as a member of the Board of Directors of the National Non-Profit COLAGE — Children of Lesbians and Gays Everywhere.

Simard-Halm will pursue an M.Phil. in criminology from Cambridge. She also received the Truman Scholarship last year, and intends to pursue either a Ph.D. or a J.D. after completing her studies at Cambridge.

“The scholarship is an unprecedented opportunity to learn alongside peers and scholars dedicated to effective social change,” she said. “And the Cambridge Institute for Criminology offers an incredible program for what I hope to study. I feel incredibly fortunate and very stunned.”

Henderson, an Eli Whitney Student who served in the U.S. Air Force from 2007 to 2015, studies psychology at Yale. He has conducted research on moral development at the Yale Mind and Development Lab, and studied social cognition at Stanford University’s Social Learning Lab. He serves as a tutor for underprivileged children and mentors veterans interested in education.

At Cambridge, he will pursue a Ph.D. in psychology, where he aims “to investigate the psychological underpinnings of morality and prosocial behavior,” according to his biography on the Gates Cambridge website. After receiving his degree, he said he hopes to develop his own research center “and share useful and interesting findings with the public.”

“[Being selected] feels dreamlike,” he said. “I feel very fortunate to have this opportunity and gratitude toward everyone who has helped me on my unusual path.”

The Gates Cambridge scholarship was established in 2000.

Anastasiia Posnova |