Valentine’s Day is not always one to remember, but it was this year for two Yalies — Fernando Rojas ’19 and alumnus Dhruv Nandamudi ’18 — who were among the 34 Americans who found out on that they received the Gates Cambridge Scholarship for study at Cambridge University.

The scholarship — which was established through a $210 million donation by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in 2000 — fully funds postgraduate study and research on any subject at Cambridge. This year’s U.S. cohort of scholarship winners is made up of 16 students who will undertake a three-year Ph.D. program, and 18 for a one-year Master’s program. In the coming months, 60 other scholars will be named from around the world.

“Like their predecessors, they are an extraordinarily impressive and diverse group who have already achieved much in terms of their academic studies and leadership abilities and have already shown their commitment to improving the lives of others in a multitude of ways,” said Professor Barry Everitt — provost of the Gates Cambridge Trust — in a press release on Feb. 14. “We are sure that the entire class of 2019 will flourish in the vibrant, international community at Cambridge as Gates Cambridge Scholars and that they will make a substantial impact in their fields and to the wider global community.”

The Yale winners plan to study vastly different fields — Rojas will work toward a Master of Philosophy in Latin American studies, while Nandamudi will study biological science, pursuing a doctoral degree.

Rojas, who is a history major, told the News that he was “grateful and excited” to win the prestigious award. He added that he felt enthusiastic about growing and learning at an institution other than Yale.

“I need to hone my interests and skills as a scholar,” he said. “The year at Cambridge will give me the chance to think through some academic and creative projects I have been wanting to start. My research at Cambridge will give me the exciting chance to write about Mexico’s cultural responses to the Cold War and decolonization movements around the world.”

He credited his teachers for their “care and wise advice,” and his family for their “indispensable support.”

Nandamudi, who directed the Yale Wellness Project and majored in Psychology at Yale, said that winning the award was the “culmination of a rigorous, exhaustive process.”

“I’m particularly excited to be a part of the Medical Research Council’s Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit at Cambridge — it’s a small department, but one that provides the scientific resources of a much larger one,” he said. “Over the last several decades, it’s been the source of pivotal neuroscientific research and has contributed significantly to modern strides in mental health science. My desire to study at Cambridge was influenced as much by the university’s vast history, unique internationalism and intellectual milieu, as it was by the prospect of being able to work with the brilliant minds at the MRC.”

While at Cambridge, Nandamudi will focus on the interplay between psychological stress and memory control. The goal of his research is to better understand the way stress “moderates an individual’s ability to exercise motivated forgetting as a means of regulating emotional states,” he said.

Director of Yale’s Fellowship Office Rebekah Westphal said that she was “so delighted” for Rojas and Nandamudi and that the award was “a wonderful recognition of their focus on improving the lives of others, which is the core of the Gates Cambridge Fellowship.”

The Gates’ donation remains the largest single donation to a university in the United Kingdom.

Skakel McCooey | skakel.mccooey@yale.edu