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Recent grad earns Gates Cambridge Scholarship

Feb. 9, 2006

KALAMAZOO--A recent Western Michigan University graduate is one of 100 students worldwide to win a 2006-07 Gates Cambridge Scholarship, one of the world's most prestigious awards in higher education.

Tristan Brown of Franklin, Mich., is one of just 40 U.S. students and the first from WMU to be selected for the honor. The U.S. recipients include students from such schools as Harvard, Princeton and Yale universities; the U.S. Naval and Military academies; the Massachusetts Institute of Technology; and the University of California.

Brown, who completed an environmental studies major and a broad-based student planned major, earned his bachelor's degree in April 2005 and finished a two-year fellowship at the WMU's Gibbs House for Environmental Research and Education this past August.

He was a member of the University's Lee Honors College as an undergraduate and next fall will start graduate school at Cambridge, where he plans to pursue a master of philosophy degree in environmental policy with a concentration in law and economics.

"I think it's safe to say that the Gates Cambridge Scholarship is the Cambridge counterpart to the Rhodes Scholarships at Oxford," notes Dr. John Martell, assistant dean emeritus of the Lee Honors College and the person who wrote Brown's recommendation for the award.

"I worked with Tristan for three years and found him to be an intellectually outstanding young man of great energy and integrity," Martell says. "This is one of the highest honors a student can receive, and all of us at the Lee Honors College are immensely proud of him."

Dr. Lynne Heasley, a WMU assistant professor of history and environmental studies and Brown's honors thesis advisor, says being selected for the scholarship to study at Cambridge speaks volumes about Brown's accomplishments and the opportunities available at WMU for talented students, given that the vast majority of finalists were from Ivy League or "flagship" universities.

"Tristan made the most of his environmental studies major. He took on an incredibly challenging interdisciplinary course load and applied it to a variety of outside research projects, including one funded by the National Science Foundation," Heasley says.

"With his upcoming graduate work in environmental economics, Tristan has a real opportunity to participate in worldwide efforts to solve environmental problems by bringing together the business community, activists, policy makers and citizens."

The Gates Cambridge Scholarship is an international scholarship program that was established in 2000 by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation of Seattle, Wash., through a $210 million donation to the University of Cambridge.

"We're thrilled that Tristan was singled out for this scholarship," WMU Provost Linda M. Delene says. "Winning one of these awards is a tribute to his talent and drive as well as to the Lee Honors College and WMU's academic programs."

Gates Cambridge Scholarships are awarded only to students who gain admission to Cambridge through that university's regular procedures. They cover the full cost of study at Cambridge for the recipient and include a maintenance allowance as well as a discretionary allowance for study-related activities.

The scholarship is awarded based on the applicants' intellectual ability, leadership capacity and desire to use their knowledge to contribute to society throughout the world by providing service to their communities and applying their talents and knowledge to improve the lives of others.

Applicants may come from any country of the world except the United Kingdom and may apply to study any subject currently available at Cambridge. Successful applicants are expected to have a strong aptitude for research and to make a significant contribution to the discipline they are studying at Cambridge.

Brown says as an undergraduate, he was initially unsure what to major in--like a lot of students--but studying about social and environmental problems that face society helped him determine his area of focus.

"It wasn't until I studied abroad in Southeast Asia that I realized that the world is facing many challenges, and it is up to us to make things better," he says, adding that after his sophomore year, he unsuccessfully applied for numerous internships and scholarships but still kept applying.

"I harbor a passion for helping make our world better and for making the most of my circumstances," he explains, "and I keep the idea that a 'failure' or 'mistake' is only so when you aren't actively trying to learn from such experiences. I didn't expect to win a Gates Scholarship, but I knew the experience would be valuable if I went through the process and blazed a trail for future applicants from WMU. It's always been important to challenge myself and encourage others to challenge themselves."

And challenge is something Brown knows a lot about. While at WMU, he earned some of the University's and the nation's highest academic honors as well as conducted several research projects and participated in numerous political and volunteer activities.

In 2005, Brown was named to USA Today's All-USA College Academic Team, the members of which represent the nation's most outstanding students. He also represented the Environmental Studies Program as a WMU Presidential Scholar, the University's highest academic honor for an undergraduate.

The preceding year, Brown was selected to receive the Morris K. Udall Undergraduate Scholarship for environmental studies and became WMU's first Lloyd Meeds Policy Fellow, an honor that included a paid internship in Washington, D.C., at the top national law firm of Preston Gates Ellis & Rouvelas Meeds LLP.

Brown accumulated an impressive research record for a WMU undergraduate. He engaged in five funded projects, on topics ranging from toxic pollutants absorbed by underwater bacteria to the environment of the Kuala Lumpur region of Malaysia. He has presented his work at national and regional conferences. Acting on his interest in promoting cultural understanding, he developed his research in Malaysia into a documentary film called "Jaunt to Malaysia," which has been selected for airing on a national cable network.

During his WMU career, Brown worked as both an assistant and an intern in WMU's Microbial Aqueous Geochemistry Biogeochemistry and Thermodynamics Laboratory, with the internship funded by the National Science Foundation. He has received three College of Arts and Sciences Research Awards, two Lee Honors College Siebert Undergraduate Research and Travel Grants, two Lee Honors College Undergraduate Research and Creative Activities Awards, and an outstanding service award from the Environmental Studies Program.

Brown also served as an intern for state Sen. Raymond E. Basham and was involved in community service activities. His volunteer work included serving as a mentor for high-risk students and as a worker in several local, state and national political campaigns.

He also was active on campus, serving as president of Students for a Sustainable Earth, a member of the board of directors of the Kalamazoo Swords into Plowshares Peace Center, and a member of such groups as the Economics Student Association, Western Student Association, Progressive Student Alliance and Physics Club.

Media contact: Jeanne Baron, (269) 387-8400, jeanne.baron@wmich.edu

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