Two recent Pomona College graduates, Fiker Tadesse Bekele ‘16 and Conner Samuel Kummerlowe ‘16, received prestigious Downing Scholarships to study at the University of Cambridge for 2016-17.

Bekele, a molecular biology major from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, will pursue a master of philosophy in pathology to study Schistosomiasis, caused by parasitic worms and the second deadliest disease in Ethiopia after malaria. She will also be involved in investigating the regulation of the immunoglobulin response to helminthes (parasitic worms) and environmental allergens by hookworm. While at Pomona, Bekele studied multiple disease-related systems with Chemistry Professor Malkiat Johal and studied the effect of aluminum ions, neurotoxins, on lipid membranes, but she says the health problems she's studied until now have been ones that generally affect Western populations.  

“I’m looking forward to this opportunity at Cambridge because I’m going to be involved in science that’s going to benefit me and my community for the first time in my science career,” says Bekele, who plans to become a doctor and work in marginalized African communities.  

Kummerlowe, from Woodinville, Washington, is a chemistry major and mathematics minor who has worked on projects ranging from developing better nano-materials for solar cells to characterizing the properties of carcinogens. He became hooked on science during his first year at Pomona.

“My chemistry classes opened my eyes to the world of quantum mechanics, my biology classes displayed the complexities of the human genome, and my math classes taught me the beauty of abstract thought and reasoning,” says Kummerlowe.

Kummerlowe says he wanted to major in all of those disciplines, but he had to choose one. He sees going to Cambridge as an opportunity to further explore his scientific curiosity and build on his Pomona education; he will earn a master of philosophy in computational biology, which is an interdisciplinary field. After graduate school he plans on conducting computational biology research.

The Downing Scholarship award covers tuition, fees, living expenses and round-trip travel, as well as a stipend for books, local travel and personal expenses. The program is a special arrangement between Pomona and the University of Cambridge’s Downing College.