Berkeley senior wins prestigious Churchill scholarship

Graduating senior Colin Meyer joined an exclusive club of UC Berkeley undergraduates this month when the 21-year-old landed a prestigious Churchill Scholarship to study at England’s University of Cambridge.

The civil and environmental engineering major is one of 14 American undergraduates of “exceptional academic talent and outstanding achievement” selected as Churchill scholars for the 2012-2013 academic year.

“I’m extremely proud to come from a public university and to win such a prestigious scholarship as the Churchill,” says Meyer, who was also a finalist for this year’s Rhodes Scholarship. “In a way, I feel like it’s a recognition that Berkeley is a great institution where great things happen.”

The Santa Cruz native is Berkeley’s first Churchill scholar since 1991, and one of only six Berkeley students to receive the coveted award since the scholarship program began in 1963.

“So much these days in academia and research depends on attracting funding support, so looking to the future and thinking about what I might be able to contribute to the field, this scholarship gives me some confidence that my ideas and research efforts are worthy of investment,” Meyer says.

Bestowed annually by the Winston Churchill Foundation of the United States, the award recognizes American undergraduate students who have demonstrated a “capacity to contribute to the advancement of knowledge in the sciences, engineering or mathematics by pursuing original, creative work at an advanced level.”

Worth up to $50,000, the scholarship covers tuition, fees, travel and living expenses at Cambridge for graduate programs up to one year in duration. Scholars are also eligible for special research grants from the Churchill Foundation. Meyer will pursue a master’s degree in mathematics at Cambridge, where he plans to continue his studies in environmental fluid dynamics.

“We’re at the beginning of a green revolution and I’m most interested in using some of the new mathematical techniques we’re developing to better understand how pollutants mix in the environment, how they move, where they go, how far they travel,” Meyer says. “Being able to study at the department of applied mathematics and theoretical physics in Cambridge, which is the origin of much of what we know in the field of fluid dynamics, is an awesome opportunity for me.”

The graduating senior developed his interest in fluid dynamics as a sophomore under the tutelage of Evan Variano, assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering, who later helped him land a research internship at Montreal’s McGill University. Meyer also credits the Scholarship Connection Office, which serves as campus clearinghouse for information on scholarships open to Berkeley students, for his success in navigating the complex process of identifying and applying for scholarships.

Throughout his time at Berkeley, Meyer made time to indulge his love of music, playing guitar with a local church group, which he accompanied on a recent house-building mission to Thailand. He also developed into an accomplished oarsman as a member of the lightweight rowing team.

“What attracted me to Cal in the first place was its reputation as an epicenter for learning across many areas,” Meyer says. “My experience as a whole has been incredible, I’ve taken amazing classes and worked on great research projects, learned from wonderful mentors, had access to awesome resources, enjoyed new groups and activities and explored new things.”

Once his Cambridge adventure comes to an end, Meyer hopes to purse a doctoral degree — he has already been accepted to MIT and Cornell — followed by a postdoctoral fellowship and ultimately a professorship at a leading research university.

And who knows, Berkeley’s newest Churchill scholar may one day find his way back home to the bear’s lair.

“Teaching at Cal would be nice, because I know the department, there’s some great research going on here,” Meyer says. “It’s an amazing place, where you can cultivate your passions, build out your interests or go in a completely different direction, and whatever you choose, you’ll find encouragement.”