Duke Senior Jessica Van Meir Named Gates-Cambridge Scholar

She plans to pursue a master’s of philosophy in development studies

Duke senior Jessica Van Meir is among 36 U.S. recipients selected from roughly 800 applications for a Gates-Cambridge Scholarship, which covers a student’s tuition and living expenses while completing a graduate degree at the University of Cambridge.

The Gates-Cambridge Scholarship program began in 2000 with a grant of $210 million from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The scholarships enable students from around the world to pursue a full-time postgraduate degree in the subject of their choosing. Scholars are chosen on the basis of their intellect, leadership potential, commitment to improving the lives of others and the academic fit with scholarship at Cambridge.

Beginning this fall at Cambridge, Van Meir plans to pursue a master’s of philosophy in development studies.

“During my time at Cambridge, I plan to further study how states and citizens negotiate space in cities and explore methods for combatting poverty in Latin America and sub-Saharan Africa. I am honored to have been selected to become a member of the Gates-Cambridge community,” said Van Meir.

“My experiences interviewing Argentine and Ecuadorian sex workers, interning with an Ecuadorian transgender rights organization, and working for a social enterprise that provides menstrual pads to Kenyan girls have all revealed how poverty limits people’s life choices,” said Van Meir, from Atlanta, Georgia. “Development is about expanding those choices.”

Set to graduate from Duke in May 2017, Van Meir will receive a bachelor’s degree in public policy with minors in psychology and gender, sexuality and feminist studies. During her time at Duke, Van Meir wrote her thesis on sex work in Ecuador and Argentina, interned at Project Transgender in Quito, Ecuador, and conducted a DukeEngage independent project with ZanaAfrica in Nairobi, Kenya.

After working to improve Duke’s sexual misconduct policy through the class “Telling Stories for Social Change: Confronting Sexual and Domestic Violence at Duke and in Durham,” Van Meir co-founded the club We Are Here Duke to combat gender violence. This year, she founded a coalition called Duke Students Against Gender Violence to facilitate collaboration between undergraduate and graduate student groups working on the issue.

In addition, Van Meir served as a research assistant since her freshman year studying U.S. influences on global human trafficking policy with Judith Kelley, Kevin D. Gorter professor of public policy.

"I have come to know Jessica as a lightning-smart thinker who is always curious and full of initiative and stamina. She is among the best students I have worked with," Kelley said.

Van Meir’s long-term goals include a career in diplomacy with the U.S. State Department to advance human rights internationally.

A complete list of this year's recipients is online at https://www.gatescambridge.org/our-scholars.