Gates scholarship opens doors to study abroad for two new grads


Photo by Candace diCarlo

A pair of recent Penn grads have just snagged two brand-new study-abroad fellowships.

This fall, Bart Szewczyk (W’01), of Guttenberg, N.J., and Amanda Codd (C’01), of Morrisville, Pa., will join the inaugural class of Gates Scholars — 40 to 50 Americans in all, plus several hundred from around the world — studying at the University of Cambridge in England with a full scholarship from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

The Gates Cambridge Scholarship is poised to join the ranks of the most prestigious study-abroad fellowships, right alongside peers like the Marshall and the Rhodes. Penn seniors landed both those fellowships this year, too.

We spoke with the two Gates winners about their journeys and goals.

Bart Szewczyk: “Poland is a very cool country.”

Bart Szewczyk’s eyes light up when he hears someone pronounce his consonant-rich Polish last name correctly on the first try: SEV-chik.

“Are you of any Slavic background?” he asks with great interest. “What part of the region?”

Welcome to the world of Bart Szewczyk, where a mix of Polish patriotism and business-school pragmatism is helping chart a course of global education and action.

Szewczyk’s decision to study international relations at Cambridge may seem odd. After all, he was a finance and legal studies major who only took one international relations course during his three tightly-packed years of college — one year at New York University, then two years as a transfer to Wharton.

A closer look reveals the logic of his choice. Szewczyk was born in Warsaw and moved to the United States with his family in 1990. During subsequent visits to his homeland, he witnessed the different faces of progress there.

“It seems like this is finally Poland’s chance to do pretty well,” he said, noting that in the last century alone, two world wars and Soviet control kept the country from achieving its full potential. “Now we’re free from all of that and we’re independent and people are excited about that.”

But the whole country doesn’t share this optimism about the future, he said. Some regions are experiencing increased unemployment and hopelessness.

This June, Szewczyk will dive headlong into these conflicts when he interns in Warsaw at the Committee for European Integration, the agency in charge of bringing Poland’s economy into line with the European Union’s entrance requirements. He hopes to figure out how to reform the economy without leaving anybody behind.

He also wants to make sure that despite modernization, Poland retains the cultural uniqueness he loves.

“Poland is a very cool country,” he said. “The people are very friendly. The food is great. We have very good cakes and cold cuts, and they are disease-free, unlike many of the cold cuts you may find in other parts of Europe. You should try to visit as often as you can in your life.”

Amanda Codd: “I’ve been wanting to get out and see what the world is like.”

When Amanda Codd came to Penn as a freshman, she missed her high school friends so much that she considered transferring to Penn State so she could be with them.

Fortunately for Penn, she found her niche here and stayed. Four years later, she’s not only ready to take a much larger step away from home — she’s anxiously awaiting it.

“The fact that I’ve never left the U.S. is something that recently has really been getting to me,” she said. “I’ve been wanting to get out and see what the world is like.”

At Cambridge, Codd will get her wish. She’ll also study why axons in the central nervous system don’t regenerate after injury to the brain and spinal cord, even though axons in the peripheral nervous systems repair themselves.

Her classes at Penn as a biological basis of behavior major never touched on this particular conundrum. But when she was scanning the list of Cambridge faculty research areas, this question caught her attention.

Codd is no stranger to research. For her honors thesis, she studied brain activity in zebra finches. This summer, Cadd will work with her advisor, Biology Professor Marc Schmidt, as a lab technician in the Penn biology department. After completing a one-year master’s in brain repair at Cambridge, she intends to get her Ph.D. either at there or in the States.

Cadd credits Art Casciato — whom she knew from her days in Harrison College House and his days as house dean there — with clueing her in to the Gates opportunity. Casciato is the director of the Center for Undergraduate Research and Fellowships, which advises students as they apply for fellowships.

“I wanted a different way to spend my year before I start to get my Ph.D.,” she said. “This just seems like it would be a really fascinating place to spend a year of my life.”

Originally published on May 31, 2001