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Two OSU seniors named Gates Cambridge Scholars

Friday, April 15, 2005

Ashleigh Hildebrand, a chemical engineering senior from Wichita, Kansas, and Joel A. Halcomb, a history and mathematics senior from Sand Springs, Oklahoma, are among only 38 students nationwide to receive the Gates Cambridge Scholarship, which is funded by the Gates Foundation.

“We are extremely proud of Ashleigh and Joel, and they are representing OSU very well,” said Dr. David J. Schmidly, OSU System CEO and OSU president. “This kind of thing happens when you have great faculty and student interaction.”

Schmidly and the students also praised Dr. Robert Graalman and his Office of Scholar Development and Recognition.

“I would attribute our success to all of the people at OSU, and Dr. Graalman is one of the most important people,” Hildebrand said. “We wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for his encouragement.

“In talking to the other students while interviewing, I discovered that we get so much more support from our school, from our faculty and administration than just about anybody else I talked to. And through this entire process, it’s been wonderful to have someone to go through this with.”

Halcomb thanked the faculty for helping them accomplish their goals.

“Ashleigh’s and Joel’s stories of determination and success over their undergraduate years are as impressive as any I’ve seen, and from their perspective alone, these awards are significant and gratifying,” Graalman said. “For OSU, recognition at this level means what we’ve known all along — that our faculty and programs are as good as any, anywhere, and all our alumni and students can be proud of the work that goes on here.” 

OSU and Texas Tech University, each with two recipients, were the only Big 12 Conference schools where students received this honor. The only other schools with multiple recipients were the Ivy League’s Harvard (5), Pennsylvania (4), Yale (4) and Princeton (2).

The Gates Cambridge Trust was created through an endowment of $210 million from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The trust's sole purpose is to award scholarships to enable the brightest of the world’s young leaders and scholars to undertake graduate work at the United Kingdom’s top university. The scholarship is a full-cost merit award, with its actual value depending on the level of tuition payable for individual courses, but it is on the order of $32,000 a year.

Hildebrand, 23, will receive her bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering with honors, minors in chemistry, philosophy, and an environmental option in May. Hildebrand plans to use the scholarship to study for three years for her Ph.D. in chemical engineering.

For the past three summers, she has completed internships at ConocoPhillips in Borger as a processing engineering intern in natural gas liquids, Halliburton Energy Services in Duncan, Oklahoma, as a chemistry research intern in production enhancement, and Cessna Aircraft Company in Wichita as a materials and process engineering intern in product engineering.

She was a Rhodes Scholar semifinalist in 2004 and has received graduate offers from the University of Cambridge in England, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the University of California-Berkeley.

She has received the 2003 Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship, a Wentz Research Project Scholarship, and a NASA Space Grant Fellowship. She is also an Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education Academic Scholar.

She plans to do research using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to look at how water pollutants interact with porous media and apply the findings to land remediation.

“To reduce greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere, they are talking about injecting carbon dioxide into depleted oil and gas reservoirs as a holding tank," she said. "We learned a long time ago that you can’t bury a barrel of toxic waste and expect it to stay there. Ideally, I can take this MRI technology and use it to look at how carbon dioxide would behave in the ground.”

Hildebrand learned she was selected while sitting on a plane in Dallas. She turned on her cell phone and received a call from Graalman. He called Joel to tell her he had received an email that he had been selected.

“I realized I might have an email, so I called my house and had my mother and sister log on for me," Hildebrand said. "They actually read it to me over the phone while I sat on a plane in Dallas. After I got off the phone, I called Graalman, and he fell flat on the floor. They already had a bunch of people over at his house celebrating for Joel.”

She hopes to teach and conduct research at a university eventually.

“Pride here at OSU is natural,” Hildebrand wrote in her application. “We are proud of our opportunities, our professors, and our graduates.”

She is the daughter of David and Bonnie Hildebrand of Wichita and graduated from Maize High School in 2000.

Halcomb, 25, will receive bachelor’s degrees in history and mathematics in May.

He began his college career at 21 as an electrical apprentice. In the spring of 2000, he stood on a half-built water-cooling tower on the OSU campus and watched students go to class.

“Perhaps I had never thought myself able to attend college, or perhaps I thought it was not my place,” he wrote on his Gates application. “Though far from unhappy, thoughts overwhelmed me concerning possibilities unrealized, opportunities not taken, and a future undefined. I decided to shape my future on a college campus rather than a construction site.”

Halcomb will probably spend four years at Cambridge, one year for the master’s program and three years for the Ph.D. program.

“I think the most pivotal transition in my career at OSU has been taking Dr. James Cooper’s ‘Survey of American History’ my first semester,” Halcomb said. “I was captivated by history and his teaching style. I developed a great relationship with him, and he’s been my mentor and friend ever since. He sent me over to talk to Bob Graalman, and that’s the other pivotal change. The network of students and faculty that he has surrounding his office gave me the ability to branch out past my major and become a broad student.”

His plans include becoming a professor.

“I’ve always enjoyed both the research aspect of academics and the teaching,” he said.

He was selected as one of 15 history undergraduates nationally to participate in the Gilder Lehrman History Scholars Program at Columbia University last summer, where he co-edited a publication on Alexander Hamilton and the Whiskey Rebellion designed to introduce high school students to primary historical sources. He has also been awarded two Wentz Research Scholar projects, and a Bailey Memorial Trust study abroad at the University of York. In 2002, he studied literature at Oxford under OSU Rhodes Scholar Blaine Greteman. He also was a finalist in the Marshall Scholarship competition last fall.

For the past two years, he has been a tutor at the Mathematics Learning Resource Center on the OSU campus.

He is the son of Virgil and Priscilla Halcomb of Tulsa and graduated from Charles Page High School in Sand Springs in 1997.

In establishing the Gates Cambridge Trust, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation hoped to create a network of future leaders from around the world who will bring new vision and commitment to effecting change and addressing global problems. The foundation is dedicated to improving people’s lives by sharing advances in health and learning with the worldwide community. It looks for strategic opportunities to extend the benefits of modern technologies worldwide, primarily where poverty is an obstacle to participating in these benefits.

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