Students Awarded Competitive Cambridge and Truman Scholarships

By Kim Benard, Program Advisor, Distinguished Fellowships, Global Education Office

Two more MIT students have been distinguished this year with limited, nationally competitive awards. Orian Welling, Course 2, was named a Gates Cambridge Scholar and Tish Scolnik, Course 2, was named a Truman Scholar.

Orian WellingGates Cambridge Scholarships are awarded on the basis of a person’s intellectual ability, leadership capacity and desire to use their knowledge to contribute to society throughout the world by providing service to their communities and applying their talents and knowledge to improve the lives of others. This year, 752 students from the United States applied for a Gates Cambridge Scholarship and 37 awards were given. Orian Welling will use the scholarship to pursue a doctorate in mechanical engineering at Cambridge University in renewable energy.

It was Orian’s parents who first inspired him to envision a start-up dedicated to developing sustainable shipping and transportation technologies. Last year, he, along with five other teammates, won the MIT Ideas Competition Yunus Challenge Award for a portable solar cooker intended to withstand the high winds on the plateau of Western China, while remaining light enough to be portable. The dish and reflector are formed by mylar sewn into a yak-wool canvas.

While cycling across the world (quite literally) for the first time, Orian has witnessed the myriad ways in which alternative energy could be harnessed. Orian commits himself to travel by bike because it allows him to interact with local peoples in ways that other travelers never experience. A solo bike ride from Alaska to Argentina—a 15,000 mile journey that occupied an entire year taken off between transferring from University of Wisconsin and enrolling at MIT— inspired him to create a bike-powered laptop that could be made available to developing countries.

As one of the stated missions of the Truman Scholarship is “to find and recognize college juniors with exceptional leadership potential who are committed to careers in the nonprofit or advocacy sectors as a living memorial to President Truman,” Tish Scolnik is the perfect fit. As one of approximately sixty students chosen nationally, Tish will receive a $30,000 scholarship as well as an opportunity to attend the Truman Summer Institute.

When Tish Scolnik enrolled in SP.784 (Wheelchair Design) little did she know that she would find her calling. The course was designed and taught by Amos Winter who had witnessed first-hand the desperate need for appropriately designed wheelchairs in Africa. Tish discovered a way to combine her deep love of engineering with her dedication to service. Since then she has traveled to Africa three times to work on various aspects of wheelchair design for the local populations there, work which includes examining ways to design wheelchairs appropriate for the terrain of Africa while simultaneously easily folded for use on public transportation or for use in small businesses, and to build a training center for wheelchair-bound people. Tish plans to spend her life’s work on the issue of wheelchair accessibility, and will continue to work with and on behalf of M-lab (mobility lab).

Tish’s energy and enthusiasm for service are infectious. Tish was invited to speak at the Harpeth Hall Middle School to provide students with an inspiring point of view to show that service and engineering are compatible fields. Most of the girls had been skeptical about the ways that a career in engineering could allow them to also follow a path to service, but after Tish’s speech the girls’ interest increased to such an extent that Tish was invited back to speak to teachers about inspiring girls’ to explore engineering. This same talent for inspiring others helped her to win the GlobalGiving Campaign contest, resulting in $13,000 from donations and prize winnings to be used to build a wheelchair-training center in Tanzania.