Flinn Scholar alum Blake Thomson will study at the University of Cambridge beginning this fall after being named a Gates Cambridge Scholar, a prestigious honor bestowed upon fewer than 100 students in the world each year.
Thomson graduated from Arizona State University in 2013 with a bachelor’s degree in global health and minor in English Literature. He attended Brophy College Preparatory in Phoenix and was a member of the Flinn Scholar Class of 2009.
Thomson, one of 40 students this year from the United States to be named a Gates Cambridge Scholar, will attend the University of Cambridge in England for one academic year. He will earn an MPhil in epidemiology, the study of the distribution and determinants of diseases, health conditions, or events among populations and how it can control health problems.
Thomson is the sixth Flinn Scholar to earn the coveted fellowship, and the fourth in the past six years, following Ben Stauber (2010), Nicole Person-Rennell (2011), and Ke Wu (2012).
Thomson says he has dreamed of living and studying in England for a long time and is excited about the opportunity to learn in an international environment.
“What I’m most excited about in becoming a Gates Cambridge Scholar is the community—both the brilliant people I’ll meet through the scholarship, but also the other public-health and epidemiology students I’ll meet at Cambridge,” Thomson says. “Meeting people from all over the world studying different aspects of health will be a great opportunity to expand that network.
“I see this year as an opportunity to finally incorporate all I’ve learned over the past several years and focus on transitioning towards becoming a rigorous independent researcher,” he says.
The Gates Cambridge Scholarship program was created in 2000 by a $210 million donation from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to the University of Cambridge. Scholars are chosen based on their outstanding intellectual ability, leadership potential and commitment to improving the lives of others. The full-cost scholarships allow Scholars to pursue a full-time postgraduate degree in any subject available at the university. There are currently more than 1,300 Gates Cambridge scholars and alumni from about 100 countries.
Thomson’s study of global health is rooted in medicine and statistics, but he says his passion for the field stems from his interest in the social sciences and humanities.
While global health was his major, Thomson took classes at ASU across a variety of disciplines, including Spanish, French, anthropology and sociology and reads 19th and early 20th century literature in his free time.
“What draws me to global health is the human aspect, the belief that every human being has the right to health, from which follows the opportunities of education, fulfilling work and hopefully a bright future,” Thomson says.
Thomson is co-founder and on the board of directors of Vive Peru, a nonprofit organization dedicated to fostering understanding of Latin American and Peruvian culture, providing much-needed aid, and implementing health, education, social-work and engineering programs in the South American country.
Thomson, who worked in Peru as a health intern and returned as a coordinator, was responsible for recruiting college students to participate. Thomson started by working with ASU and University of Arizona students, and later expanded to include more than 400 students from more than 40 universities nationwide.
“That experience has been instrumental in my understanding of how to pursue a desire to improve conditions in communities abroad while respecting local populations and ensuring that they provide critical direction to those efforts,” Thomson says.
Since September 2013, Thomson has worked as a Post-Bachelor Fellow at the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington in Seattle.
Thomson’s three primary projects in this role have been related to non-communicable diseases. The first is the study of global prevalence of tobacco smoking and cigarette consumption; the second is a study of the global prevalence of overweight and obesity in children and adults; and the third is part of a 5-year prospective-impact evaluation of community-based interventions for non-communicable diseases.
“This (third) project has really trained me to look at a health issue from a lot of different angles, as well as how to incorporate local contextual knowledge to better identify barriers to optimal care,” Thomson says.
His future plans include attending the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City and staying committed to global health.
“My only certainty is that I want to continue to research issues in global health that affect marginalized populations, whether that is in one country or across the globe, one disease or a range of issues. Aside from that, it really depends what I learn in the coming year and beyond. That will dictate where my passions lead me.”