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Student finds limitless opportunity at ASU, wins top graduate scholarship

April 26, 2010

When Ben Strauber chose to attend ASU five years ago as a Flinn Scholar, he was drawn by the chance to do research with top flight scientists as an undergraduate, and by the Barrett Honors College.

But after a jaw-dropping college record of scientific work and service, of world travel and language study, Strauber faced a dilemma this spring. Should he accept an offer of full funding for a doctoral program at Stanford, or journey to England and a fully-funded master’s degree at Cambridge University?

Luckily he didn’t have to choose. When Strauber was named one of only 29 Gates Cambridge Scholars in the United States this spring, Stanford deferred his admission.

Following his ASU graduation May 13 in biochemistry and linguistics, he will earn a master’s degree while studying the brain basis of language and reading at Cambridge. He will then enter a Stanford doctoral program in neuroscience, where he plans to study processes underlying learning and language acquisition.

The Gates Scholarship program, funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, chooses academically outstanding students from outside the United Kingdom who are focused on social leadership and responsibility. The intent is to create an international network of scholars—another 50 are chosen from other countries—who will have a transformative effect on society.

Strauber is likely to do just that. During his time at ASU he appears to have sought out every possible opportunity for coursework, research and travel, excelling at every turn. He also shared his talents, helping found a program in which ASU students serve as pen pals for children at a local elementary school.

Language, and the capacity for language acquisition to change people’s lives, has been a passion of Strauber’s since high school, when he began tutoring English language learners. Since then he has learned Spanish, Hindi and Punjabi, often in unique circumstances.

After a year of Hindi classes at ASU, he studied Hindi at a language school at the base of the Himalayas in northern India one summer. He honed his proficiency as a visiting student at the Indian Institute of Technology in Kanpur, also volunteering to teach English at a school for children from local villages.

The next year Strauber pursued a neuroscience research internship at the National Institute of Genetics in Japan, where he learned basic Japanese. He also picked up elementary Hungarian during a summer study trip to Eastern Europe.

Alongside his language study, Strauber has cultivated a strong interest in the workings of the brain. He has trained as a scientist in Professor Carsten Duch’s developmental neuroscience laboratory in the School of Life Sciences, and at the Biodesign Institute at ASU and at Barrow Neurological Institute in Phoenix.

Now, he wants to direct his interests toward making a difference in education. At Cambridge he will conduct research at the Centre for Neuroscience in Education, studying the neural basis of language and literacy.

He wants to examine what happens in the brain as someone tries to learn a new language or learns to read, and use that knowledge to improve the learning process. He hopes that discoveries in this field will eventually be used to inform educational policy and practice.

He says his opportunities during college have been almost limitless.

“I’ve been given the freedom to carve out my own experience at ASU,” he says. “I’ve come to develop a much broader sense of what’s possible. I realize now that it’s not always necessary to follow a pre-set path--if something you want to do hasn’t been done, that alone is no reason not to do it."