Mariel Williams Named Gates Cambridge Scholar

Fulbright senior third U of A student to receive scholarship

Tuesday, February 26, 2013
Peter Ungar and Mariel Williams

Peter Ungar and Mariel Williams

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – Mariel Williams, a senior Honors College student at the University of Arkansas, has been named a 2013 Gates Cambridge Scholar. She is one of 39 students in the United States to receive the prestigious scholarship, which covers the cost of tuition, board and travel to pursue graduate studies at Cambridge University in the United Kingdom.

Williams is an anthropology and Spanish double major, with a minor in psychology, in the J. William Fulbright College of Arts and Sciences. She is from Fort Smith and is the daughter of Steve Williams and Nancy Perkinson.

This year, nearly 1,000 college undergraduates and recent graduates applied for the Gates Cambridge Scholarship; Williams was one of 90 selected for a final interview.

“The interview was really enjoyable,” Williams said. “The committee said from the start that this was going to be a conversation, and it was. I felt honored to be part of the amazing group of finalists, and now to be selected as a Scholar — well, I’m still a bit stunned.”

Williams is conducting research at the University of Arkansas under the direction of Peter Ungar, Distinguished Professor and chair of the anthropology department.

“Mariel Williams deserves tremendous kudos for this accomplishment as does her research mentor Peter Ungar,” Chancellor G. David Gearhart said. “The support our faculty members provide students is unstinting, and it leads to special opportunities like this one for Mariel. Talented students like Mariel Williams make me confident that we will reach our goal of becoming a top 50 public research institution.”

Williams’ research focuses on the microscopic abrasions found on the teeth of Brazilian Capuchin monkeys. She is using this as a model to compare to other primate dental microwear patterns in an effort to learn more about the eating habits of ancestral primates and the vegetation that was available to them.

“I am passionate about primate teeth,” said Williams. “A simple molar from any living or fossilized monkey or ape can speak volumes about the creature itself as well as the evolutionary history of its species.”

“Mariel is outstanding in her chosen area of research and she has a remarkably lithe mind,” said Ungar. “I cannot think of a better fit for the Gates Cambridge Scholarship. She will not only benefit from the program, she will contribute to it.”

Williams has studied abroad three times. In summer 2011, she researched the communication of wild howling monkeys in Costa Rica and Nicaragua before traveling to Madrid, Spain, to study language, grammar and syntax. She participated in a U of A study in Tanzania in summer 2012, learning the country’s ecology and history.

Williams plans to pursue a master of philosophy in human evolutionary studies at the University of Cambridge. Her ultimate goal is to be a university professor of biological anthropology and conduct research in paleoanthropology pertaining to dietary studies. She has already received admission and fellowship offers to various graduate programs, but she will defer enrolling in a U.S. program for a year while at Cambridge.

The Gates Cambridge Scholarship was established in 2001 with a $210 million endowment gift from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The trustees award scholarships on the basis of an applicant’s intellectual ability, capacity for leadership and the desire to use knowledge to contribute to the well-being of society.

The University of Arkansas has had two previous Gates Cambridge Scholars: in 2006 David Deitz and Lance Owen were among 40 selected from across the country. This year, the university also had a Rhodes Scholarship finalist and a Marshall Scholarship finalist among its many nationally recognized students.

University of Arkansas students interested in applying for prestigious awards should contact the Office of Nationally Competitive Awards at awards@uark.edu and 479-575-3771.

Contacts:

Suzanne McCray, vice provost for enrollment
Director, Office of Nationally Competitive Awards
479-575-4883, smccray@uark.edu

Steve Voorhies, manager of media relations
University Relations
479-575-3583, voorhies@uark.edu

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