Madeleine Booth ’15 has been named a Gates Cambridge Scholar, sending her to Cambridge University in the fall to pursue a master’s degree in theoretical and applied linguistics.
Akin to the Rhodes Scholarship in selectivity and standing, the Gates Cambridge chose 35 U.S. scholars from more than 800 applications and will select another 55 international scholars next month. Twenty-two of the U.S. scholars will seek one-year master’s degrees, the other 13 Ph.D. degrees.
Booth is only the second Swarthmore alum to earn Gates Cambridge honors, following David Zipper ’00 in the first year the scholarship was offered in 2001. She was attracted to its emphasis on not just academic excellence but social leadership.
“This [scholarship] reflects the concept of research as a mode of service, which is important to me,” says Booth, who studied linguistics and biology at Swarthmore. “It places an emphasis on how we will use the opportunities afforded by the grant to serve the wider community.”
Booth knew the Gates-Cambridge competition to be fierce but felt that Department of Linguistics faculty and the Office Fellowships and Prizes staff at Swarthmore gave her the tools to compete. When she interviewed in front of academics from the U.S. and U.K. at the Gates Foundation headquarters in Seattle, she was told to expect a response in four days.
“So from that Saturday to Wednesday, I jumped at every email,” she says.
Born in Montréal, Québec, and raised in Nashville, Tenn., Booth has long been fascinated by language and its role in identity. She was drawn to endangered languages while at Swarthmore, chronicling the endangered Papua New Guinean language of Yokoim for her senior thesis.
At Cambridge, Booth will focus on endangered language research as well as the study of word structure, or morphology.
“I hope to learn how to document and conserve these languages,” she says, “and also broaden my theoretical linguistics background.”
Booth expects to return from Cambridge with the foundation for a career as an academic linguist and field researcher — along with some fresh perspectives.
“It’s just a wonderful opportunity, not only to study at Cambridge to become part of the group of Gates scholars,” she says. “They come from a wide variety of backgrounds and interests, and I look forward to learning from and working with them.”