Two Duke Students, One Graduate Named Marshall Scholars

The scholarships allow American students to pursue post-graduate studies at any university in the UK

New Marshall Scholars: John Lu, Meghana Vagwala and Antonio Lopez.
New Marshall Scholars: John Lu, Meghana Vagwala and Antonio Lopez.

Two Duke University students and one Duke graduate are among the 43 recipients of the prestigious Marshall Scholarship.

Seniors Meghana Vagwala of South Grafton, Massachusetts, and John Lu of Whippany, New Jersey, and 2016 Duke graduate Antonio Lopez of East Palo Alto, California, were chosen from among 929 applicants throughout the country. They are the 25th, 26th and 27th Marshall recipients from Duke.

Up to 40 Marshall Scholarship are awarded each year to high-achieving American students to pursue post-graduate studies at any university in the UK in any field. The award covers all university fees, cost-of-living expenses and many other costs.

“I am delighted that two distinguished Duke students and one alumnus have received this prestigious recognition,” said Duke President Vincent E. Price. “In their time on campus, Meghana, John and Antonio have each demonstrated tremendous academic potential and a dedication to service that reflects Duke’s core values. I wish them the very best as they embark on their studies in the United Kingdom.”

Vagwala is the recipient of a four-year, merit-based Angier B. Duke Scholarship

With a self-designed Program II major at the intersection of neuroscience, ethics and anthropology, Vagwala’s research interests led her to pursue grant-funded research on the moral and social dynamics of cognitive enhancement with the Oxford Neuroscience, Ethics, and Society Team. That resulted in a first-author publication in the journal Neuroethics and a top-paper conference prize.

In addition, she is a member of the Nepal Global Mental Health Lab, where she spent three months conducting an ethnographic study of mental health issues in Nepal, which serves as the basis for her senior thesis. She also worked as a research assistant for three years in Dr. Kafui Dzirasa’s Laboratory for Psychiatry Neuroengineering.

Vagwala has spent hundreds of hours assisting victim-survivors of domestic violence at the Compass Center for Women and Families in Chapel Hill. She is president and co-founder of the Compass Center Duke Ambassadors, which partners Duke students with leaders from the Compass Center to engage in hotline advocacy and gender-violence prevention trainings.

Vagwala has volunteered with Best Buddies in Durham, with children at the Duke Hospital and with those in hospice care at the Durham VA Hospital.

As a Marshall Scholar, Vagwala plans for post-graduate studies in medical anthropology at the University of Edinburgh and in global mental health at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. She is particularly interested in exploring cultural norms related to brain health in South India.

Upon her return to the U.S., she plans to attend medical school to prepare for a career in both clinical care and global health research. Vagwala hopes to consider neurological and psychiatric issues in a broader cultural context.

“At Duke, I’ve been able to interweave my feminist ethos, love of stories, and curiosity about the workings of the human brain,” Vagwala said. “I am honored and incredibly grateful for the opportunity to dig deeper into these passions as a Marshall Scholar.”

Lu is a 2017 Barry M. Goldwater Scholar, a Duke Faculty Scholar award winner and a member of the Phi Beta Kappa Honor Society. 

He is double-majoring in chemistry and mathematics with a minor in biology, while participating in a number of undergraduate research experiences.

Lu has received grants to study the structure and function of viral proteins that regulate host transcription factors in the lab of Dr. Micah Luftig in Duke’s School of Medicine. During a semester abroad at the University of Oxford, Lu joined the lab of David Stuart, where he used cryo-electron microscopy to examine multiple virus structures.

He also spent two summers in global health interventions and policy research -- one addressing schistosomiasis in Tanzania and the other immunization policy in Ghana. His research has resulted in several publications in preparation.

Through Lu’s research and travel experiences, he learned first-hand about neglected tropical diseases, developing a deep interest in outreach and education about this group of communicable diseases that affect more than 1 billion people in the developing world.

He created and taught a student-led “house course” for Duke students on neglected tropical diseases, founded an undergraduate global health journal, and was chosen as one of eight student board members to advise the Sabin Vaccine Institute’s END7 campaign on its efforts to increase world-wide student engagement.

As a Marshall Scholar, Lu will work on a one-year master of science degree in health policy, planning and financing at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, followed by a year of research toward a master’s in philosophy in biochemistry at Cambridge. After this training in the UK, he intends to complete an M.D./Ph.D. and then embark on a career to develop vaccines that can eradicate neglected tropical diseases.

“I am humbled and honored to have been granted the opportunity to further my studies in the UK,” Lu said. “I’m particularly excited to more deeply explore the basic and social science facets of neglected tropical diseases. What makes these diseases special is that they don’t necessarily kill people, but over the long term they kill people's hopes and dreams.”

Lopez graduated from Duke in 2016 with degrees in global cultural studies and African and African-American studies and is currently enrolled in a master’s program in fine arts at Rutgers University.

Lopez was 14 when he faced one of his greatest life challenges -- transitioning from an underfunded, Title I school to the Menlo School, one of the nation’s most rigorous preparatory academies. With gaps in his learning and few resources available to help him catch up, Lopez forced himself to ask basic questions, even though he was embarrassed to do so.

Eventually, this son of Mexican immigrants realized his life journey was a source of strength. His hard-working parents sacrificed for him, and he seized the opportunity, entering Menlo as one of its lowest performing students and finishing near the top of his class.

At Duke, Lopez remained cognizant of cultural and societal inequities. Among his many activities, Lopez was president of the Rho Chapter of La Unidad Latina (LUL), Lambda Upsilon Lambda Fraternity, co-taught a house course focusing on social justice, and was a co-trainer for the campus Center for Race Relations.

The accomplishment he’s most proud of at Duke? Helping create Duke’s first Latinx Cultural Center.

As a Marshall Scholar, Lopez said he will seek to forge connections with Muslim-affiliated institutions in the UK in order to ground academic text with the ongoing, on-the-ground practices of British Muslims.

After completing the Marshall Scholarship, he hopes to attend a joint-degree J.D./Ph.D. program and, eventually, to begin working on behalf of immigration clinics in the San Francisco area.

"While I am honored beyond words to represent my community with this scholarship, it cannot end with me,” Lopez said. “I want leaders like David Jiménez, Daisy Almonte, Ana Ramírez, Axel Herrera, Gustavo Andrade and so, so many more to know you are the greatest gifts our community has.”

Marshall Scholarships were established in 1953 by the British government to honor the ideals of the Marshall Plan and the special US/UK relationship.

A complete list of this year's recipients is online at http://www.marshallscholarship.org/scholars/winners_announced.