Amina Ahmad ’22, Justin Curl ’22, and Katie Dykstra ’22, as well as alumni Edric Huang ’18 and Nick Keeley ’16, have been awarded the Schwarzman Scholarship, which will fund their graduate study at Tsinghua University in Beijing in 2022.
These five Princetonians are a part of a Schwarzman cohort of 151 scholars from 33 different countries and 106 universities. The scholarship program, founded by Blackstone investment firm co-founder Stephen Schwarzman, allows recipients to pursue a one-year master’s degree in Global Affairs.
The program, now in its sixth year, was inspired by the Rhodes Scholarship and is “designed to meet the challenges of the 21st century and beyond.” As part of the highly selective program, scholars will live in Beijing for a year while studying at Tsinghua University, which is “ranked first in Asia as an indispensable base for China’s political, business, and technological leadership.” The immersive scholarship program aims to “[cultivate] the next generation of leaders.”
Amina Ahmad, a senior in the School of Public and International Affairs from Lahore, Pakistan, cited her Pakistani background as one of her major reasons for applying to the program.
Ahmad explained in an interview with the ‘Prince’ that the Pakistani media “present[s] this homogenous, overwhelmingly positive narrative about what China means to Pakistan, but then if you really look into it and dig deeper into the research, you find out [for example] that there’s a lot of minority communities who are negatively being affected by projects like CPEC, which is the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor.” She sees the scholarship as a unique opportunity to “observe things from the other side of the border.”
She also noted that taking POL 351: The Politics of Development with Professor Atul Kohli was especially influential in her decision to apply to the Schwarzman Scholars program.
“China has developed at this historically unprecedented rate, and they’ve lifted millions out of poverty, and I think, you know, it’s an interesting model. I’m not sure if it can be applied exactly to Pakistan, but it’s an interesting thing — to study the things they have done right, that maybe we have done wrong, and the lessons we can draw from China,” she said.
Ahmad explained that her experience being a residential college adviser (RCA) at First College allowed her to see firsthand the value of immersive experiences.
“As an RCA, I really enjoyed building community, and I can't wait to go and actually be a part of [the Schwarzman] community,” she said.
Ahmad hopes to return to Pakistan in the future and work in development policy, possibly focusing on health. She is writing about Pakistani health policy for her thesis, which is focused on “the impact of violent conflict on maternal healthcare utilization in Pakistan,” according to the press release. Ahmad cites her thesis adviser, Alyssa Sharkey, as playing a large role in guiding and influencing her during her time at Princeton and beyond.
Justin Curl of Santa Monica, Calif., is a senior in the computer science department. Curl explained that during his time at Princeton, he had a gradual realization of his interest in the intersection between technology and policy through the classes he took and the professors he worked with.
Curl explained that China was of particular interest to him due to the fact that its large population and unique privacy laws make it an interesting case study for studying the country’s “alternative approach to technology.” Curl also cited his desire to become fully fluent in Chinese and his conversations with Karthik Ramesh ’21, who is a member of the Schwarzman Scholars class of 2022, as reasons for his interest in the program.
Curl also found his experiences working at the startup Blend and his time at McKinsey as a summer analyst to be critical in inspiring him to study the intersection of technology and policy.
“There's a lot of gaps in terms of how people are approaching technology, [which made me think that] maybe I should be involved in the regulatory side of it, rather than just simply building because you're so focused on survival and output,” he said.
During his time in Beijing, Curl is interested in working for a tech startup in China to learn more about the Chinese Communist Party’s relationship with technology and how tech companies go about “negotiating the very delicate relationship with the government.”
Another aspect of the Schwarzman Scholars program that Curl is especially looking forward to is meeting the other scholars.
“I think that is one of my favorite aspects of Princeton is there's just, like, such a high density of truly incredible people, where you're walking around, you bump into someone, and odds are, they're a really cool person and there's so much depth there! So just having a new environment where you're doing the same thing is like being a freshman all over again, which I think will be fun!” he said.
In addition to his professors, advisers, and mentors at Princeton and throughout his life, Curl cites his parents as being the most influential people in his life and “the reason [he] even had the confidence to apply to [this program] and even Princeton.”
Katie Dykstra, a senior from Ponte Vedra, Fla. who is also concentrating in computer science, is interested in the intersection of artificial intelligence and public policy. In her application, Dykstra said that she hopes her time at Tsinghua will better prepare her to “influence decision-makers within technological policy and renew the foundation for how the global approaches the future of AI and tech policy,” according to the University’s press release.
Dykstra did not respond to a request for comment by the time of publication.
Edric Huang graduated summa cum laude from Princeton with a degree in anthropology in 2018. Since then, he has worked as program director at a refugee services agency called Emma’s Torch, a community engagement fellow at North Brooklyn Neighbors, a translator and interpreter for asylum seekers with Respond Crisis Translation, and as a global climate justice advocate for SustainUS.
Huang explained that he applied to the Schwarzman Scholars program “kind of on a whim,” but also because he has always been interested in cross-cultural experiences.
“My experiences at Princeton really allowed me to do that in robust and really inspiring ways, in the sense that I was able to go to Morocco my first summer and do a language study abroad program there in Arabic,” he said. “Also, I got Princeton funding to do my thesis research in France, where I was working with Sudanese asylum seekers in the humanitarian setting over there. So, I think that Princeton definitely encouraged opportunities for me to be able to go abroad and think about things from a more global perspective.”
Huang considers China to be a unique case study “in a sense that no one really discusses China in the context of refugee studies or migration, because it's known to be just very anti-immigration … but it has such a rich history when it comes to migration in Southeast and East Asia.” He is interested in studying global issues like migration “through an ethnographic lens.”
“I have to be really honest, the other reason why I'm really interested in being immersed in China is because I think internet culture in China is really fascinating. [As] an opportunity to be used as a tool for advocacy or thinking more about subcultures, [it’s] fascinating. Anything to be up close with that and be able to engage in that context could be cool,” he added.
Keeley, who graduated from Princeton in 2016 with a degree in East Asian Studies, was the student company commander of the Princeton Army ROTC program who later served as a platoon leader, company executive officer, and assistant battalion operations officer in the U.S. Army. After his time in the military, Keeley enrolled in a dual master’s degree program at the University of Virginia, expecting to earn degrees in data science and business administration this May.
Keeley cites his participation in Exercise Kowari, a joint military training program with China and the United States that takes place in Australia, as key to opening his eyes to the unique relationship and collaboration between China and the United States. He also mentions Princeton’s language program, particularly Princeton in Beijing, as major factors that inspired his interest in East Asia, as well as some of the reasons he chose to attend Princeton.
“China and the United States are leading the charge in terms of the cutting edge of machine learning, as well as artificial intelligence. So it kind of hit me — I was like, wow, this is really the intersection of two things I'm passionate about, and I should really re-engage with some of the topics that I was covering in undergrad, and when I read about the Schwarzman Scholars Program, I realized that opportunity had manifested itself,” he said.
Keeley also cites Princeton’s encouragement of interdisciplinary studies to be integral to his professional career and his current endeavors, as well as his application to the Schwarzman Scholars program. Keeley decided to take a couple of statistics, machine learning, and neuroscience courses early on at Princeton, which led him to his current set of interests.
“I would encourage anybody that's considering taking stuff outside of their wheelhouse to do that, because it's shaped my future in a really profound way. I found statistics and computer science as a passion that I kind of had as a side hobby. And I didn't realize at the time — I didn't even know what data science was — until I graduated,” he said.
Keeley credits his thesis adviser Paize Keulemans, Professor of East Asian Studies Emeritus Chih-p'ing Chou, and Professor of Military Science LTC Kevin McKiernan as being especially influential in his life and his journey. He is looking forward to the cultural immersion experience, as well as meeting other scholars and influential people through the prestigious program.
“It's an amazing networking opportunity to meet people like prominent business figures, political figures from around the world, as well as a cohort of incredible students and leaders in their particular business sectors around the world,” he said.
Bhoomika Chowdhary is a senior writer who often covers University affairs/policy and research. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. She is also a senior copy editor for the ‘Prince’.