Zhang earns sixth Cambridge grant in U. history
Amy Zhang, a School of Arts and Sciences senior, first met with Arthur Casciato, director of the Office of Distinguished Fellowships and Post-graduate Guidance, in his office during the fall of 2008 about applying for academic awards.
Zhang, the varsity tennis team's senior captain, returned to the same office this week as a recipient of the prestigious Gates Cambridge Scholarship.
"It feels amazing. I am still in shock because I had given up hope entirely that I could get it," she said. "This is definitely the top award that I've ever received. I still can't believe that I got this."
Zhang, a computer science major, is the sixth Gates Cambridge Scholar in University history, although she is the fifth in the past four years, Casciato said.
"The Gates Cambridge Scholarship is one of the most prestigious awards given to American college students looking to continue their post-grad studies abroad in England," he said "It is essentially equivalent to the Rhodes Scholarship. Rhodes Scholars study at Oxford, and the Gates Scholarship is for Cambridge."
The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation created the scholarship in 2000 as a result of a $210 million donation to Cambridge. Casciato said not many past University students have won it since it is difficult to come by.
Economics Professor Jeff Rubin first referred Zhang to the Office of Distinguished Fellowships during her sophomore year, Casciato said.
"I had heard about her being such a prolific tennis player, but I was shocked when I met her," he said. "I found her to be so placid and composed, always willing to listen and never getting upset. I think the world of Amy."
Casciato said it was Zhang's personality on and off the court that dazzles him every time.
"She gets it done on the court but is also a self-proclaimed geek," he said. "I've been doing this for 11 years and [have] seen a lot of winners. None have been as happy as this one."
Casciato helped her throughout the scholarship application process, which includes several essays and interviews. Along the way, he said he got to know Zhang and see many facets of her personality most people do not.
"She is a first-rate computer scientist, and she genuinely cares about making a difference for women in the field of computer science," he said. "But she also maintains a blog site and she is such a good writer. [She has some] really wonderful pieces of literature, poetry and artwork."
The Gates Cambridge Scholarship is not the first award Zhang has won. Her list of awards includes two All-Big East selections, two team MVPs, the 2010 Big East Scholar-Athlete of the Year Award and multiple top female athlete awards.
In addition to these awards, she also sports a GPA above 3.9.
Tennis teammate Jen Holzberg said she looks up to Zhang as a leader.
"Amy has been a great leader and role model for the whole team. I have watched her grow as a student, tennis player and person throughout the past three years and I'm very proud of her," said Holzberg, a Rutgers Business School junior.
Holzberg said she is impressed with how Zhang's hard work and is not surprised by her merits.
"She is smart and talented, but ultimately her defining quality is a great personality," she said. "She has done a great job throughout her college career and worked so hard on and off the court."
Zhang said she would continue that hard work overseas with her acceptance to Cambridge's Trinity College. She enrolled in a program of study to receive her Master of Philosophy in Advanced Computer Science.
"I'd like to get a Ph.D in computer science at some point. Further along in the future I can see myself conducting research, working in a technology firm or becoming a professor," she said.
The tennis team concludes their season with a home match on Tuesday against Connecticut in what could be a bittersweet Senior Day for Zhang.
Ben Bucca, tennis team coach, cannot help but reflect upon how she grew into one of the most decorated athletes in school history.
"I sometimes joke with Amy about whether she even had vocal chords her first year because she was so quiet and shy," Bucca said. "But she has grown over the years to be a great senior leader. It is one of her most significant accomplishments."
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