A Sayville woman has become the first student from Stony Brook University to win a prestigious scholarship funded by Bill and Melinda Gates that will allow her to study at the University of Cambridge in Britain for a year.
Neha Kinariwalla, 21, one of 40 recipients nationally of the Gates Cambridge Scholarship, will use it to study sociology and further pursue her efforts to try to destigmatize epilepsy and other misunderstood diseases around the world.
"I was completely in shock. I did not expect it at all," said Kinariwalla, who is completing her undergraduate studies in May and plans to continue on to medical school at Stony Brook after the year at Cambridge. "It's such an honor."
Stony Brook University President Samuel L. Stanley called the award "extraordinarily prestigious."
"This is kind of groundbreaking for us," Stanley said. "Neha is blazing a trail of significant achievement. She has already accomplished so much in her young career in academia."
The Gates Cambridge Scholarships were established in 2000 with a donation of $210 million from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to the University of Cambridge.
The scholarships allow recipients to pursue a full-time postgraduate degree in any subject available at the University of Cambridge and aim "to build a global network of future leaders committed to improving the lives of others," the group says.
Thousands of people apply each year. Only 40 from the United States and 50 from outside the nation are selected.
Kinariwalla, beginning in October, will study for a master of philosophy degree in Modern Society and Transformations. She said she will use the year to help further the work of a nonprofit she founded, The Humanology Project, which fights against the stigma of such diseases as epilepsy.
In India, her parents' homeland, she said, a woman with epilepsy might not be able to find a man who will marry her because many people "think you are not a full human being" and treatment often is not accessible.
Kinariwalla had distinguished herself academically before this scholarship award. She was accepted into Stony Brook's medical school straight out of Sayville High School as part of a special program that guarantees six to 10 outstanding incoming freshmen each year eventual admission to the medical school.
As a high school student, she took part in summer medical missions in Nicaragua and Ecuador to help American medical personnel provide surgery to poor people. She has spent time in a Stony Brook conservation research institute in Madagascar, and helped girls in a slum in India while volunteering for a nonprofit run out of a former residence of Mohandas Gandhi.
"I feel so blessed with everything I have been given," Kinariwalla said, "and I want to give back."