Two Bass Connections Students Receive Marshall Scholarships to Pursue Studies in the UK

December 5, 2017

Lu and Vagwala

Two Bass Connections team members are among the 43 recipients of the prestigious Marshall Scholarship this year.

Seniors Meghana Vagwala of South Grafton, Massachusetts, and John Lu of Whippany, New Jersey were chosen from among 929 applicants throughout the country.

Up to 40 Marshall Scholarships are awarded each year to high-achieving American students to pursue post-graduate studies at any university in the UK in any field. The award covers all university fees, cost-of-living expenses and many other costs.

Meghana Vagwala

Vagwala is the recipient of a four-year, merit-based Angier B. Duke Scholarship. With a self-designed Program II major at the intersection of neuroscience, ethics and anthropology, Vagwala’s research interests led her to pursue grant-funded research on the moral and social dynamics of cognitive enhancement with the Oxford Neuroscience, Ethics, and Society Team. That resulted in a first-author publication in the journal Neuroethics and a top-paper conference prize.

In addition, she is a member of the Nepal Global Mental Health Lab, where she spent three months conducting an ethnographic study of mental health issues in Nepal, which serves as the basis for her senior thesis. This lab is part of the Bass Connections project team Global Mental Health Program. She also worked as a research assistant for three years in Dr. Kafui Dzirasa’s Laboratory for Psychiatry Neuroengineering.

Vagwala has spent hundreds of hours assisting victim-survivors of domestic violence at the Compass Center for Women and Families in Chapel Hill. She is president and co-founder of the Compass Center Duke Ambassadors, which partners Duke students with leaders from the Compass Center to engage in hotline advocacy and gender-violence prevention trainings.

Vagwala has volunteered with Best Buddies in Durham, with children at the Duke Hospital and with those in hospice care at the Durham VA Hospital.

As a Marshall Scholar, Vagwala plans for post-graduate studies in medical anthropology at the University of Edinburgh and in global mental health at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. She is particularly interested in exploring cultural norms related to brain health in South India.

Upon her return to the U.S., she plans to attend medical school to prepare for a career in both clinical care and global health research. Vagwala hopes to consider neurological and psychiatric issues in a broader cultural context.

At Duke, I’ve been able to interweave my feminist ethos, love of stories, and curiosity about the workings of the human brain. I am honored and incredibly grateful for the opportunity to dig deeper into these passions as a Marshall Scholar.

John Lu

Lu is a 2017 Barry M. Goldwater Scholar, a Duke Faculty Scholar award winner and a member of the Phi Beta Kappa Honor Society. He is double-majoring in chemistry and mathematics with a minor in biology, while participating in a number of undergraduate research experiences.

Lu has received grants to study the structure and function of viral proteins that regulate host transcription factors in the lab of Dr. Micah Luftig in Duke’s School of Medicine. During a semester abroad at the University of Oxford, Lu joined the lab of David Stuart, where he used cryo-electron microscopy to examine multiple virus structures.

He also spent two summers in global health interventions and policy research—one addressing schistosomiasis in Tanzania and the other studying immunization policy in Ghana, as part of the Bass Connections project team Interculturally Competent Analysis of the Uptake of Routine Vaccination. His research has resulted in several publications in preparation.

Through Lu’s research and travel experiences, he learned first-hand about neglected tropical diseases, developing a deep interest in outreach and education about this group of communicable diseases that affect more than 1 billion people in the developing world.

He created and taught a student-led “house course” for Duke students on neglected tropical diseases, founded an undergraduate global health journal, and was chosen as one of eight student board members to advise the Sabin Vaccine Institute’s END7 campaign on its efforts to increase world-wide student engagement.

As a Marshall Scholar, Lu will work on a one-year master of science degree in health policy, planning and financing at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, followed by a year of research toward a master’s in philosophy in biochemistry at Cambridge. After this training in the UK, he intends to complete an M.D./Ph.D. and then embark on a career to develop vaccines that can eradicate neglected tropical diseases.

I am humbled and honored to have been granted the opportunity to further my studies in the UK. I’m particularly excited to more deeply explore the basic and social science facets of neglected tropical diseases. What makes these diseases special is that they don’t necessarily kill people, but over the long term they kill people's hopes and dreams.

Adapted from an article by Keith Lawrence, originally posted on Duke Today

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Photo: John Lu and Meghana Vagwala (Duke Today)