Two members of Harvard’s Class of 2021— and one member of the Class of 2019 — were named winners of the 2021 Marshall Scholarship on Monday.
Humza I. Jilani ’21, Jorge A. Ledesma ’19, and Evelyn Wong ’21 are among the 46 American students selected for the scholarship, which covers the cost of any graduate-level education at any British institution. The news comes a year after no Harvard affiliates were selected for the prestigious program.
This year’s scholarship class is the first to be majority-minority, with 52 percent of the scholars coming from minority backgrounds, according to a press release.
Jilani, a Social Studies concentrator in Winthrop House, said he learned he had won the scholarship in his off-campus apartment while surrounded by his roommates.
“I was just sitting in my room incidentally kind of moping because I didn’t know if I had done particularly well in the interview,” Jilani said. “It was pretty surreal, just sitting in my room, and then I kind of came outside and did a little happy dance with my roommates.”
Jilani said he plans to use the scholarship to pursue a Master of Philosophy in Politics at Oxford University, where he will study the internet’s effect on democracies.
“What I’m really hoping to focus on is the ways that the internet and social media today are a divisive force, both in the U.S. and abroad,” Jilani said. “Can we create narratives that are a bit more inclusive online that we can use to actually be a force to fulfill the real promise of a vibrant and inclusive democracy, as opposed to using the internet as a tool for authoritarians?”
Wong, a Quincy House resident pursuing a joint concentration in Neuroscience and Romance Languages and Literature, plans to earn a Doctor of Philosophy in Neuroscience at University College London and work at the intersection of science and refugee health.
“I owe all of this to the countless professors and friends and mentors and parents who have helped me grow along the way — whether it was buying basketball shoes so I could play on a team or offering a couch to crash on,” Wong said. “I’m really grateful and humbled to have this opportunity, but at the end of the day, I really want to be that someone for someone else.”
Wong, one of six first-generation college students awarded the Marshall Scholarship, said she was drawn to UCL — and the Marshall — because of UCL neuroscientist Michael Hausser’s research. Wong plans to work with Hausser over the course of her studies.
“I like his philosophy of research, which is that the question that you ask about science shouldn’t be limited to the technologies that are available to you,” Wong said. “He’s this leading pioneer in neural technology, and I wanted to work with him to create tools for better understanding behavior because there’s a lot that we don’t know about the brain.”
Ledesma, who graduated with a concentration in Social Studies from Currier House, said he has spent his time after graduation working in the Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office. His work has focused on the intersection of disability and accessibility — issues he said have been exacerbated both by the COVID-19 pandemic and racial tensions.
At Oxford, Ledesma plans to pursue two Master of Science degrees: one in Comparative Social Policy and one in Evidence-Based Social Intervention and Policy Evaluation. He said he was drawn to studying in the United Kingdom after he recognized similarities in social policy — particularly around people of color — between America and Britain.
“What I want to do is[…] really build that toolkit of alternatives and policy solutions that are globally informed, accessible, and can be implemented here in the U.S. and in Suffolk County and Boston specifically,” Ledesma said.
As a Marshall Scholar, Ledesma said he hopes to immerse himself in the culture of the United Kingdom and understand diverse points of view.
“I’ve had very particular experiences growing up as an immigrant in the U.S., and I want to see how other people live: to just be able to break bread and enjoy my time," he said.
—Staff writer Andy Z. Wang can be reached at email@example.com.