Office of Distinguished Fellowships
Published by MIT News on February 18, 2020
MIT seniors Charlotte Minsky and Lyndie Mitchell Zollinger have won the prestigious Gates Cambridge Scholarship, which offers students an opportunity to pursue graduate study in the field of their choice at Cambridge University in England.
Minsky, from Greenfield, Massachusetts, is completing her bachelor’s degree in earth, atmospheric, and planetary sciences, as well as history. She had always thought her dual interest in science and the humanities were disparate until she joined the MIT and Slavery project, which illuminated for her the ways that science and technology can be tools for the structures of oppression. Minsky then realized that she could combine both science and history, and that the combined studies would allow her to struggle with the historical legacies of science. At Cambridge, she plans to read for an MPhil in history and philosophy of science before returning to the United States to earn a PhD in planetary science.
Regarding Minsky’s work on the MIT and Slavery project, Professor Anne McCants notes, “I was awed by the sophistication of the public presentation she gave of her research on the relationship between MIT and the economy of the post-Civil War reconstruction South, an event that was attended by all members of the MIT upper administration, as well as live-streamed for a global public audience. For someone so young, her clarity of thinking, personal confidence, and historical humility about the remaining questions were all quite extraordinary. I can honestly say that I had never seen anything like it before from a student, let alone one not even halfway through college.”
Minsky has proven herself equally adept at scientific research, and is currently working with Professor Ray Jayawardhana’s group at Cornell University on testing a new method to characterize exoplanet atmospheres. She previously studied with Professor Julien de Wit (assistant professor in earth, atmospheric, and planetary sciences) to investigate the propagation of biases in exoplanet atmosphere models, as well as with Professor Benjamin Weiss and Research Scientist Mary Knapp, searching for the theorized Planet 9 by using archival radio data. She plans to continue similar work during her doctoral research.
Minsky is the current vice president for the Undergraduate Association (UA), and former chief of staff to the UA. She is the former president and co-founder of the Prison Education Initiative, and regularly teaches astronomy to inmates, as well as educating the MIT community about mass incarceration. She also served as the president of Queer West, a LGBTQ+ community and advocacy organization at MIT.
Mitchell Zollinger, from Sandy, Utah, was raised with a passion for learning, teaching, building, and medicine. After conducting research at the University of Utah’s Chemistry Department, she decided to come to MIT to study engineering. Mitchell Zollinger will graduate from MIT with a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering, and then pursue a doctorate in engineering at the University of Cambridge. During an unfortunate accident when a giant hamster wheel fell on top of her in one of her mechanical engineering classes, she realized the importance of a mechanical perspective on medical challenges. At Cambridge, she will develop mechanical models of the progression of traumatic brain injuries. This will provide clinicians with a range of patient-specific predicted outcomes to assist them in choosing the best treatment options, and will improve patients’ lives by saving vital time and reducing the risk of further brain damage.
Mitchell Zollinger’s work at Cambridge will build upon her summer research at the University of Auckland, where she worked to develop implantable sensors for the brain. Previously, she worked with Steven Gillmer of MIT Lincoln Laboratory, investigating the complexity of motions and required forces to open doors for people in wheelchairs. Her end goal was to create robotic assistive devices for people in wheelchairs who struggle with things like this on a day-to-day basis. “The most important thing about Lyndie’s research,” says Gillmer, “is she is doing it for the well-being of others.” She was also selected as one of only seven juniors to be a Pappalardo Apprentice.
Mitchell Zollinger has always been committed to encouraging women in STEM, as she herself was encouraged in the field by a female neighbor who had a doctorate in science. AT MIT, she has served as a residential tutor for the Women’s Technology Program in the Department of Mechanical Engineering, where she worked with high school girls to introduce and encourage them to pursue STEM fields. Mitchell Zollinger plans to continue similar initiatives through her future career as an academic in engineering.
Mitchell Zollinger led the effort to create the Addir Interfaith Engagement Association to expand the group’s efforts beyond conversation about diversity to promoting greater mutual respect and understanding across the Institute. She has also been pivotal to the establishment of the Office of Religious, Spiritual, and Ethical Life’s student advisory board.
Minsky and Mitchell Zollinger were advised in their applications by Kim Benard of the Office of Distinguished Fellowships team in Career Advising and Professional Development, who remarks “Charlotte and Lyndie are superb examples of an MIT education, combining compassion with creativity to create a better world. We are proud that they will be representing the Institute at Cambridge, and we are equally proud of the other students who interviewed.”
Established by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in 2000, the Gates Cambridge Scholarship provides full funding for talented students from outside the United Kingdom to pursue postgraduate study in any subject at Cambridge University. The 2020 awards process was extremely competitive, with 28 ultimately chosen. Since the program’s inception in 2001, there have been 30 Gates Cambridge Scholars from MIT.