Two MIT students — Tanya Goldhaber and Vinayak Muralidhar — have won Marshall Scholarships, allowing them to study for up to two years at a British university.
The seniors are among 62 students from MIT who have received the prestigious scholarships since the British government established the program in 1953 as a national gesture of thanks to the United States for aid received under the post-World War II Marshall Plan.
“The success of these students in the Marshall competition demonstrates that MIT’s insistence on strength in analytical skills, breadth of exposure to both technical and non-technical endeavor and deep commitment to human service are highly regarded by the selection panels, which seek academically gifted future leaders who can understand complex world problems and provide innovative solutions to them,” said Linn Hobbs, chair of the Presidential Committee on Distinguished Fellowships and professor of materials science and engineering and nuclear science and engineering.
A mechanical engineering major with minors in music and brain and cognitive sciences, Goldhaber, 21, of Boulder, Colo., will pursue a doctorate degree in inclusive design at the Engineering Design Centre at the University of Cambridge.
As a sophomore, Goldhaber took classes in psychology and cognitive science and became fascinated with “why people behave the way they do,” an area she believes most engineers tend to overlook.
This past summer, Goldhaber interned for British Telecom, where she examined usability issues for a modified electronic program guide and social television interface. “It was the most fascinating work I’d ever done,” she said.
In addition to British Telecom, she has worked for BioServe Space Technologies at the University of Colorado at Boulder, where she was part of a team helping to manage payloads aboard the International Space Station. During the summer of 2008, she worked for Medtronic Inc. in Minneapolis, helping to design medical technologies for the chronically ill.
Goldhaber’s research experience includes work for Nancy Kanwisher, the Walter A. Rosenblith Professor of Cognitive Neuroscience. In Kanwisher’s lab at the McGovern Institute for Brain Research, Goldhaber is examining the neural and cognitive mechanisms underlying human visual perception and cognition.
In 2007, Goldhaber worked for the tissue engineering research lab of Ali Khademhosseini, an assistant professor in medicine and health sciences and technology at Harvard-MIT's Division of Health Sciences and Technology and the Harvard Medical School. Part of her research involved designing and testing gels meant to mimic cartilage in the human body.
Goldhaber is a founding member of the Gordon Engineering Leadership Program at MIT, as well as an accomplished violinist and four-time winner of an Emerson Scholarship for private study.
While she doesn’t know her exact plans for after graduate school, Goldhaber wants to use design principles to improve the quality of life for people worldwide. She sees herself working in education or possibly in third world countries, giving a variety of people broader access to healthcare.
“Tanya combines a top-class mind with a terrific, positive personality,” said Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering Sanjay Sarma. “She really is one of those sparks that light up the department.”
The second Marshall Scholarship winner is Vinayak Muralidhar, 20, of Chandler, Ariz. A mathematics and biology major, he wants to be a research physician and will pursue a master’s degree in evidence-based healthcare at Oxford University before attending medical school.
“As a future physician, it’s important to be involved in health policy,” Muralidhar said. “It’s a humbling honor and I’m very excited for the opportunity to go to the U.K. and study something different from what I studied as an undergraduate.”
He was inspired to apply for the Marshall Scholarship after interning this past summer for the U.S. Senate Committee on Finance, where he worked with investigative health counsels on issues concerning conflict of interest in medicine, FDA regulations and healthcare reform.
Since 2007, Muralidhar has participated in Institute Professor Robert Langer’s research laboratory in the Department of Chemical Engineering, where he has studied the use of substances that are selected to be specifically endocytosed by cancer cells and ignored by non-cancerous cells.
He has also worked for the Harvard Medical School-Partners Healthcare Center for Genetics and Genomics, analyzing networks and pathways in the model organism E. coli to predict the importance of genes and proteins to a cell’s vitality.
In addition to his Senate internship, Muralidhar’s public service efforts include assisting the staff at the Shree Bidada Sarvodaya Trust Medical Camp in India in January 2008, where he traveled to schools in local villages to give students check-ups.
Muralidhar has held a number of leadership posts at MIT. In 2008, he helped found the MIT High School Research Program to connect high school students to labs at MIT where they can work on their own research projects under the supervision of mentors. He is also president of the MIT MedLinks Program, a peer health advocacy program supported by the Center for Health Promotion & Wellness at MIT Medical, and has been focused on expanding campus outreach.
After medical school, Muralidhar hopes to examine the efficacy of healthcare and work with the government as a health advisor.
“Vinayak is a passionate young man, whose quiet fortitude and skill in analysis convinced both me and the Presidential Committee on Distinguished Fellowships that he will become both an inspirational doctor and effective advocate for healthcare policy,” said Kimberly Benard, program advisor for Distinguished Fellowships.
Up to 40 American students are selected each year as Marshall Scholars to study at graduate level at a British institution in any field of study. Notable Marshall Scholars include U.S. Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer, inventor Ray Dolby and Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist Thomas Friedman.
Goldhaber and Muralidhar join several MIT seniors who have won prestigious international scholarships in recent weeks. Last month, three students — Ugwechi Amadi, Caroline Huang and Steven Mo — won Rhodes Scholarships to study next year at Oxford University.