What’s in a name? When the name is Sir Winston Churchill, there’s an expectation of strength, intelligence, confidence and excellence. This fall, recent Baylor graduate Emily Schultz has her name linked to that of the late British prime minister as she begins graduate work at Cambridge University thanks to a prestigious Churchill Scholarship.
Schultz, who graduated from Baylor in the spring of 2021 with a biology degree, is the University’s first Churchill Scholar, and was among the 17 students selected from across the country for the 2021-22 scholarship administered by the Winston Churchill Foundation of the United States in New York. The scholarship was established in 1963 at the request of Churchill himself as part of the founding of Churchill College, Cambridge. It continues his vision of a strong American-British partnership committed to advancing science and technology on both sides of the Atlantic.
At Baylor, Schultz studied the pathological impacts of viruses such as Zika, Chikungunya and Dengue in the research lab of Dr. Kelli L. Barr, assistant professor of tropical disease and global health biology. One of her projects looked at cross-reactive antibodies and how they cross the placenta in pregnant women. Her other project explored how these viruses cause neurological changes.
“The professor I am working under at Cambridge does research with Zika, so in a sense I’ll be connected to what I’ve been doing the past three years,” Schultz said.
The Road to Cambridge
Schultz’s journey from Waco to Cambridge was challenging for both herself and Baylor.
For Baylor, it required becoming one of the scholarship’s participating institutions. Dr. Andrew Hogue, associate dean and director of the Office of Engaged Learning in the College of Arts & Sciences, said Baylor inquired about that possibility 15 years ago, but was declined the opportunity. More recently, Hogue relied on Baylor’s advancements in undergraduate research and scholarly achievement to submit another inquiry –– hopefully successful this time –– at the Churchill Foundation’s invitation.
“Going to Cambridge is truly a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and it will propel me and better situate me for the future career I want.”
“I wasn’t part of our Churchill submission 15 years ago,” Hogue said, “but when I looked at the list of participating universities, I thought that they were premier institutions, and it seemed like Baylor ought to be a part of it. We were glad to submit our application and have them agree with that.”
Once approved by the Churchill Foundation, Baylor was permitted to submit two scholarship candidates every year. The University chose two undergraduate seniors to apply in 2021, then worked with both of them on their applications and submitted them on behalf of the students.
Schultz said she had not heard about the Churchill Scholarship before being approached by Hogue and Dr. Daniel Benyousky, director of major fellowships and awards for the Office of Engaged Learning.
“They knew I was wanting to do something after graduating,” she said. “I had talked with them about doing a Fulbright Scholarship, and I had been a Goldwater Scholarship winner the previous year, so they were like, ‘Here’s another option — you can also do a Churchill.’”
Schultz said it was a learning process for everyone because neither she nor the University had a past Churchill application — let alone a successful one — to rely on as a point of reference.
“I think I went through maybe five drafts of my application with them, tweaking things and trying to put forth the best one possible,” she said. “They were very helpful in making sure my application looked great, read nicely and touched on all the key points.”
Schultz received the great and surprising news in January 2021 that she had been chosen for the Churchill Scholarship — surprising because it’s very rare when an institution has one of its students win a Churchill during the first year of the school’s eligibility.
A Golden Problem
But Schultz’s unexpected win also left her with an exceptional — but difficult — choice. She had also received a Rotary Global Grant, and was still a semifinalist for a Fulbright Scholarship that would pay for her to pursue a master’s degree in global health at Maastricht University in the Netherlands. Since the Fulbright winners would not be announced until March 2021 at the earliest, Schultz had to decide — do I accept the Churchill and let the Fulbright go, or decline the Churchill and take a chance on eventually getting a Fulbright?
Schultz said she felt the weight of that decision on her personal future, and she understood the magnitude of what it meant for Baylor to have its first Churchill Scholar — especially in its first year of eligibility. She sought out advice, but ultimately the decision was hers alone.
“We had probably three or four different conversations with Emily just to try to help her work all these different angles of ‘which do I choose?’” Hogue said. “We were here to support her no matter what she chose, but, you know, secretly we wanted her to choose the Churchill. It doesn’t come along every day, and she knew that.”
After wrestling with her options and talking to her mentors and family, Schultz chose the Churchill Scholarship.
“Going to Cambridge is truly a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and it will propel me and better situate me for the future career I want,” she said.
Schultz began her work at Cambridge in October 2021 and will stay there a full year. Hogue said that after Cambridge, Schultz will probably have her choice of doctoral opportunities in the United Kingdom or the United States. Meanwhile, Schultz already has a strategy.
“My plan, after Cambridge, is to complete my PhD in infectious disease and immunology or microbiology and immunology,” she said. “I want to stay involved in global health and emerging infectious disease research, which could mean working at the National Institutes of Health or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or at some governmental agency that’s involved with this.”
Hogue said it is noteworthy that a Baylor student was selected in the University’s first year of eligibility.
“Our two nominees were both highly qualified and we knew they both had a real shot,” he said, “but to get that affirmation when they’re bidding against students from Harvard and MIT and CalTech and Stanford — these kind of lead institutions — it shows us that Baylor’s brightest students are every bit as capable as the brightest students anywhere. We know that internally, but to get that external validation is always a real treat.”
Hogue said it also speaks well of the quality of the collaborative and inclusive academic process at Baylor.
“A student can’t win one of these top scholarships on their own,” he said. “Emily had superb mentorship from faculty in the sciences here, and that opened the door for her to be able to publish her research and make presentations during her time at Baylor. Those are the kinds of things that really jump off the page when you’re applying for something like this.”