Isabella Morse ’21 Receives Gates Cambridge Scholarship

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The Office of National Fellowships and Scholarships (ONFS) at Colgate University is pleased to announce that Isabella Morse ’21 has been named a recipient of the Gates Cambridge Scholarship.

Since its founding in 2000, the Gates program has awarded more than 1,700 scholars with full funding to pursue a full-time postgraduate degree in any subject at the University of Cambridge. Morse is one of only 25 American students to receive the Gates Cambridge Scholarship this year, and she is the first Gates Cambridge Scholar from Colgate.

The Gates Cambridge Scholarship is earned both by a strong application and by years of dedication to undergraduate research and leadership. According to the Gates Cambridge Trust, “in addition to outstanding academic achievement, the program places an emphasis on social leadership in its selection process. The program’s aim is to create a global network of future leaders committed to improving the lives of others.”

At Colgate, Morse graduated summa cum laude with high honors in psychological science and received the Phil R. Miller Prize for demonstrating unusual capacity for work in psychology. As an Alumni Memorial Scholar, Morse was also awarded funding for numerous individual research projects, and she was named a Charles A. Dana Scholar for academic excellence and demonstrated leadership in her junior and senior years.

While excelling academically and intellectually, Morse stood out as a leader in the greater Hamilton community. From a young age, Morse knew she wanted to work with children, especially those of underserved communities. In her free time, she served as a teaching assistant for the Chenango Nursery School, working alongside classroom teachers to facilitate active learning and enable social and cognitive skill development in children. As a student leader for the Max A. Shacknai Center for Outreach, Volunteerism, and Education, Morse directed and facilitated weekly tutoring trips to the Somali-Bantu Association of Central NY, training Colgate students on culturally considerate teaching strategies.

These interests, coupled with a profound understanding and appreciation for psychology, inspired Morse’s research projects at Colgate and beyond. “I’ve always been passionate about working with kids who have faced difficulties that do — or do not — result in presentation of mental health symptoms,” says Morse.

While at Colgate, Morse jumped at the chance to conduct research with Professor Lauren Philbrook in the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences. As a research assistant, she worked with Philbrook to conceptualize, organize, and implement a study focused on how children make associations between socioeconomic status and race.

Morse’s research experiences continued when she used her Alumni Memorial Scholar funding to conduct research in England following graduation in May 2021. With Professor Rebecca Metzler, she looked at the impacts of the pandemic on rural populations living in areas with tourist attractions. Through this experience, she met Professor Robbie Duschinsky of the University of Cambridge, who will be her PhD adviser in the fall of 2022.

The path to applying and receiving the Gates Cambridge Scholarship was not always straightforward for Morse. In her senior year, she was longlisted for a lab position at Cambridge. The same day she received the news, Duschinsky reached out to her, expressing interest in working with her as she pursued her PhD.

Morse prepared to apply for her PhD at Cambridge, but the issue of funding remained, so Duschinsky and ONFS Associate Dean of Fellowship Advising Stephen Wright encouraged her to apply for the Gates Cambridge Scholarship.

Duschinsky and Philbrook were instrumental throughout the application process, reviewing research proposals and essays. According to Morse, “It was really through their encouragement that I decided to apply.”

Now, Morse is working as a research assistant for the Center for Autism Research at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, and she will begin her doctoral study at the University of Cambridge with Duschinsky this fall. She plans to study the effectiveness of interventions for internalizing mental health disorders along the parameters of race and socioeconomic status.

The Gates Cambridge Scholarship will open many doors for Morse’s future in the field of psychological and brain sciences. She gives the following advice to current Colgate students who want to conduct research but may not know where to start:

“Even if you aren’t exactly sure what you want to do, just start somewhere. I’m not doing exactly the research I pursued while I was at Colgate — I’m doing things that are related, taking the path that combines my passions and interests. So, don’t think that you have to have every research experience be exactly what you want to do for the rest of your life. Any research is helpful and informative, as are non-research opportunities that are related to your interests.”

Find out more about faculty-student research at Colgate and ONFS guidance on fellowships and scholarships.