Evelyn Jagoda, CC ’14, will head to the University of Cambridge in the U.K. this fall as the only Columbia student to win the Gates Cambridge Scholarship this year.
There, she will pursue a masters in Biological Anthropological Sciences, focusing on the genetic links between modern humans and Denisovans, a recently discovered hominid closely related to Neanderthals.
“I’m interested in studying human evolution, but from a specifically genetic perspective,” Jagoda, who is majoring in Evolutionary Biology of the Human Species, said.
The Gates Cambridge scholarship gives 40 American and 55 international students full-ride scholarships to study at the University of Cambridge each year. It was established in 2000 by a $210 million donation from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to the University of Cambridge.
“The point of the scholarship is to fund people that are motivated and excellent in research but also have a commitment to bettering society,” Jagoda said. ”It’s just really exciting to be part of that group, and I’m so thankful to them for including me in it.”
Instead of attending classes, Jagoda will spend the next year working closely with a research mentor to find connections between modern humans and the Denisovans that their ancestors interbred with in order to better understand modern diseases. Past research has revealed that certain human autoimmune disorders may have been caused by genes from Denisovans.
“It’s looking at diseases that affect us in the modern era, and looking way, way back for answers,” Jagoda said.
During her time at Columbia, she has worked in labs and archeological sites from Arizona to Germany—an indication of her commitment and passion to her field of study.
“I’m always just really impressed with how passionate and clear-minded she is about her interests and her goals, and how eloquently she can talk about the things she’s interested in,” Misha Solomon, CC ’14 and fellow EBHS major, said. “She is one of the most genuine people that I know at Columbia, or at all.”
While she said she enjoyed her time at Columbia, Jagoda said that there isn’t a particularly strong push for independent research.
“Columbia is an amazing academic community, but I haven’t personally found here the super-motivated drive for independent research for like I’m doing,” she said.
Nevertheless, Jagoda said her years in Morningside Heights were extremely influential both academically and socially. Jagoda was on the executive board of the Columbia University Democrats for two years.
“Not only did it give me the motivation to do this [my research] on a societal basis, it also gave me a lot of the leadership tools,” she said. “That was a community that I can’t be more thankful for.”
Current CU Dems President Sejal Singh, CC ’15, said that Jagoda left a positive impact on the club.
“This [scholarship] was no surprise—she’s fantastic,” Singh said. “Everyone expected her to do amazing things and I look forward to watching what she does in the future.”
Jagoda was also on the board of the Columbia University Marching Band, which she said was formative in a different way.
“Band reminds me that it’s important to help people in specific direct ways, but something that also helps people is providing a fun, spirited community,” Jagoda said.
Difficult as it may be to leave these things and people behind, Jagoda said she is ready to cross the pond.
“Honestly it’s a little overwhelming. The generosity of the Gates Foundation to have this scholarship is amazing. It’s very empowering,” she said.