Princeton University senior Mary DeVellis and Class of 2018 graduate Myesha Jemison have been awarded Gates Cambridge Scholarships. The awards give outstanding students from outside the United Kingdom the opportunity to pursue postgraduate study at the University of Cambridge. The program was established in 2000 by a donation from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to Cambridge to build a global network of future leaders committed to improving the lives of others.
The Princeton recipients are among 24 U.S. winners of the scholarship. Around 80 scholarships are typically awarded each year, with international winners selected in the spring.
Jemison is from Virginia Beach, Virginia, and Atlanta, Georgia. She plans to pursue a Ph.D. in education at Cambridge, investigating bias in educational technology applications by working with out-of-school youth to design interventions to combat educational inequality. She recently earned a master’s degree in computing in education from Columbia University.
“As a Gates Cambridge scholar, I want my impact in education access to continue from an applied research lens,” Jemison wrote in her scholarship application. “I aim to combine my education equity experience with structured research to understand how mobile devices impact education access, and to ultimately support youth education and empowerment through research, policy and technology.”
Jemison graduated from Princeton in 2018 with a degree in Spanish and Portuguese and certificates in African studies, African American studies, environmental studies and Latin American studies. She currently serves as a young alumni trustee on Princeton’s Board of Trustees.
“Ms. Jemison is an indefatigable defender of what is just and right as well as someone with innovative ideas about how to solve some of the globe’s most challenging problems,” said Wendy Belcher, professor of comparative literature and African American studies.
Jemison said she will draw on her own experience to address issues of educational inequality while studying at Cambridge.
“My degrees weren’t the first to teach me that inequity in education opportunities and outcomes is widespread, yet poorly addressed,” Jemison said. “Writing my college and scholarship essays on my smartphone and having my mother bus me to the best free advanced academic programs available outside my neighborhood taught me that.”
She added: “At Cambridge, I will use mixed methods research to unfold stories about education biases and inaccessibility in Rwanda, Mozambique and Ghana. I aim to understand how out-of-school youth are using mobile devices to supplement their education, with the ultimate goal of producing research that informs policy around educational equity.”
At Princeton, Jemison participated in a range of leadership and service activities, many that focused on the experiences of first-generation and low-income college students.
“In high school, I remember carrying a binder of scholarship applications around to complete on the bus, between classes, and at any moment I could, in hopes of making my parents’ dreams of a college education for me a reality,” she wrote. “Now I give back to reduce the financial barriers and lack of mentorship students like myself encounter.”
She founded the Jemison Scholarship Fund, raising funds for high school students from Virginia Beach and the Hampton Roads area to attend select colleges. She is co-director of strategic initiatives for EdMobilizer and the 1vyG student conferences, which aim to create pathways to broaden college access and success for undocumented, first-generation and/or low-income college students. She also co-piloted the “No Apologies” Initiative to eliminate application fees for first-generation and low-income college applicants.
Jemison was president of the Undergraduate Student Government, the first Black woman at the University to have that role. She also was a Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellow and a fellow of the Princeton Scholars Institute Fellowship Program (SIFP). She received Princeton’s Class of 1901 Medal, which recognizes the senior who, in the judgment of the student’s classmates, has done the most for Princeton.
In addition, Jemison was a Forbes College residential adviser, community engagement co-chair for the Black Student Union, senior member of the Black Leadership Coalition, co-chair and volunteer at Community House, president of Princeton Caribbean Connection, member of the Princeton Hidden Minority Council, diversity fellow with the Fields Center for Equality and Cultural Understanding, and served on the Council of the Princeton University Community Committee on Naming.
She also has studied internationally in Cuba, Brazil, and Mozambique as a Mellon Mays undergraduate researcher, as well as in Tanzania through the Princeton in Dar Es Salaam summer program. Through the International Internship Program, Jemison was a research intern at the University of Wits Rural Public Health and Health Transitions Unit in South Africa, where she worked on Harvard University’s Health and Aging in Africa study.
She currently works as a product development manager and operations leader in the supply-chain and logistics industry while building “Scholourship,” an ecosystem for Black and Indigenous scholars.
DeVellis, of Boston, is concentrating in anthropology and earning certificates in African studies, gender and sexuality studies, and global health and health policy.
She will use the Gates Cambridge Scholarship to pursue a master’s degree in health, medicine and society in order to understand the social factors of health and wellbeing in different cultural contexts. Her research will focus on access to sexual health education for people with disabilities, both in the Cambridge community and internationally.
“My experiences studying medical anthropology, global health, African studies and gender studies at Princeton expanded my understanding of social inequality and its impact on sexual health around the world,” DeVellis wrote in her scholarship application.
DeVellis hopes to become a women’s health specialist and plans to attend medical school after earning a master’s at Cambridge.
“Doctors must practice empathy, humility, cultural competency and collaboration to better serve their patients, no matter their life experiences,” she wrote. “Through my studies at Cambridge and research on disparities in sexual health resources, I hope to develop the skills to be an effective advocate and physician.”
Elizabeth Armstrong, associate professor of sociology and public affairs, called DeVellis a “brilliant young woman whose prodigious intellect is well-matched by her capacious heart and her determined spirit.”
“She brings joy and fosters community wherever she goes,” Armstrong continued. “Mary is bright in every sense of that word. She is smart, she is enthusiastic, she is radiant, she is luminous.”
At Princeton, she was co-president of Princeton Students for Reproductive Justice, an intern for the Women*s Center, and a member and former treasurer of Princeton Students for Gender Equality. She also worked at Planned Parenthood in Trenton, New Jersey.
DeVellis also has held internships at Ibis Reproductive Health in Johannesburg, South Africa, and at Oxford University Clinical Research Unit in Hanoi, Vietnam, where she worked on projects related to antimicrobial resistance, community health interventions, and the nexus of quantitative and qualitative research methods as a way to solve problems in public health.
“I am dedicated to improving the climate for sexual health. My proudest accomplishments are initiatives that bolster awareness and access to sexual health resources on campus,” she wrote, noting her work leading projects that provide free menstrual products and convenient emergency contraception on campus. “The damaging conception of sexual health as shameful motivates me to create a more compassionate world. The narrative around sexual health must change.”
DeVellis has been involved in several organizations on campus. She served as an Outdoor Action leader and leader trainer, a member of the Best Buddies Club, and a member and former events chair for the College Democrats. She is a member of Butler College and a recipient of the George B. Wood Legacy Sophomore Prize, one of the highest academic honors.