Churchill and Leadership
Churchill Scholars rise through the ranks of academia

“The Churchill experience absolutely helped prepare me for leadership roles in academia.”

What do the American Chemical Society, American Physical Society, American Institute of Chemical Engineering, Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, and UC-San Diego have in common? All have Churchill Scholars in key leadership roles.

Unlike every other prestigious UK scholarship, the Churchill does not select students for their leadership qualities. Yes, we can appreciate the irony, as this Scholarship is named after Sir Winston Churchill, one of the most important leaders in recent history. Just because leadership is not part of our selection process does not mean we lack an interest in leadership development. What makes us different is that we believe that leadership in science, math, and engineering comes, first and foremost, from excellence in those disciplines.

We select candidates with high academic and research achievements and give them the tools to become leaders, and we believe that Cambridge is uniquely positioned to do this. Judging by recent developments, this approach is paying dividends.

“The Churchill experience absolutely helped prepare me for leadership roles in academia,” says Elizabeth Simmons (Physics, 1985-86), who is Executive Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs at UC-San Diego. In this role, she is the second highest ranking executive officer and oversees all academic programs at a high-ranking major research university with nearly 40,000 students.

Every year, Churchill Scholars are surprised by the amount of academic freedom and independence they have at Cambridge. It turns out that this year can be pivotal in setting someone along the path to leadership. According to Simmons:

“Having the expectation that I would define my own Cambridge experience – finding an academic mentor for my MPhil, building a professional network within the Cavendish, identifying courses and extramural activities to pursue – pushed me to reflect on what was most important to me and how I wanted to spend this precious year. That same habit of reflection has been crucial in choosing where to invest my energy as a professor, dean, and EVC so as to have the greatest impact in areas I care about, like integrating education with research, humanities with sciences, and equity with academe.”

The same is true for another member of Simmons’s cohort. “The combination of the strong emphasis on independent study and the exposure to very different approaches for research and teaching prepared me to navigate the complex landscape of university administration at multiple institutions,” says Frank Doyle, Dean of the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. “There is no doubt in my mind that my Churchill Scholarship experience created a strong foundation for my subsequent academic studies as well as my professional career, in many ways more than the other nine years of my university training.”

In addition to Simmons and Doyle, Churchill Scholars have risen the ranks of learned and professional societies. Jonathan Bagger (Applied Math, 1977-78) is CEO of the American Physical Society, having previously been Director of the TRIUMF laboratory in Canada and vice-provost of Johns Hopkins University. His classmate, Deborah Grubbe (Chemical Engineering, 1977-78) is President of the American Society of Chemical Engineering. At the same time, she is Owner and President of Operations and Safety Solutions, LLC, and a recipient of the Exceptional Public Service Medal from NASA.

Thomas Connelly, Jr. (Chemical Engineering, 1974-75) is CEO of the American Chemical Society, having been Chief Innovation Officer for the DuPont Company.

In addition to the academic independence Scholars experience in their Churchill year, the Foundation now offers public engagement training and science policy seminars. Every Scholar will take their own path after Cambridge, and leadership opportunities come in many forms. Our hope is that when these opportunities do arrive, Churchill Scholars are prepared, not because we chose them for their leadership potential, but because we helped them find the skills they need to thrive.