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Scholar plans to research, teach

Jake Lacey/Arizona Daily Wildcat
Ajit Divakaruni, a senior majoring in biochemistry, mathematics, and molecular and cellular biology, received a Marshall Scholarship last week. The scholarship will take Divakaruni to Cambridge University for two years and will include tuition, books, room and board.
By Ariel Serafin
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Tuesday, November 29, 2005
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Triple major first UA Marshall

scholar since '97

For the first time since 1997, the UA has a recipient of the Marshall Scholarship, a prestigious national award that provides recipients with full funding for two or three years of graduate study in the United Kingdom.

Scholarship winner Ajit Divakaruni, a senior majoring in biochemistry, mathematics, and molecular and cellular biology, said he will use the funding to pursue a Ph.D. in biochemistry from Cambridge University.

Divakarini's scholarship is worth about $60,000 and will fund his tuition and living expenses during his time studying in the United Kingdom, said UA Director of Nationally Competitive Scholarships Karna Walter.

"I feel like I'm just a regular guy, but having an aptitude for math and science has taken me places beyond my wildest dreams," Divakaruni said."It's changed my life."

Although there is not a firm set of qualifications that all Marshall scholars possess, each of them is exemplary, Walter said.

"The bar is set really high," Walter said. "Every Marshall scholar has a slightly different profile."

A total of 40 Marshall scholars are chosen from eight regions across the country, Walter said.

Because Divakaruni attends the UA, he competed against 93 other nominees in the Los Angeles region. The group of nominees was narrowed down to 17 students - who were interviewed in Los Angeles - and four students were awarded the scholarship, Walter said.

Divakaruni attributed winning the scholarship to his well-written application and essay, components he said he revised "at least 10 times." The process of applying for the scholarship was worth the time and effort, Divakaruni said, but it was anything but easy.

"It was brutal," Divakaruni said. "It's really hard to condense four years of your life into 1,000 words."

To get where he is today, Divakaruni said he had to take a strenuous course load of about 20 units a semester, although he is taking 26 this semester, in order to triple major.

While three majors may seem like a lot to handle, Divakaruni said the time commitment and stress of classes wasn't too overwhelming because he genuinely enjoyed them.

"If you like what you do, then work is something that's fun," Divakaruni said.

In addition to academics, Divakaruni participated in an assortment of extra-curricular activities including taking a year off to work full time in labs at the University of Cambridge and Yale University. Divakaruni said some of the experiences that have been most rewarding to him are ones that others might fail to recognize. These experiences include working as a mathematics and science tutor for two years at Rincon High School and Southwest Alternate High School.

He also spent time teaching and creating curriculum development at a school for members of the Tohono O'odham tribe, which he said changed his perception on education greatly.

"It showed me the discrepancies that there are in terms of education in this country," Divakaruni said.

Divakaruni said he does not feel nervous about leaving for Cambridge in mid-September.

"It's some of the best news I've ever received in my life," Divakaruni said.

After his studies are completed, Divakaruni said he hopes to become a biochemistry professor one day because he realizes the opportunities his academic interests and successes have afforded him.

Two other UA students received the honor of being interviewed for the Marshall Scholarship this year, which Walter describes as an accomplishment in itself. Stephanie Freeman, a chemical engineering senior, was interviewed for the Marshall Scholarship, and Michelle Hertzfeld, a senior majoring in East Asian studies and international studies, was named first alternate, meaning that if anyone in the region turns down the scholarship, she will be next in line to receive it.

Others receiving scholarships include UA alumnus Paul Rhatigan, who is also a Flinn scholar. Rhatigan received the Gates-Cambridge Scholarship earlier this year.

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