Published May 03, 2023 by Jane Godiner ’23

Lia Kornmehl ’23 is Selected for Competitive Gates Cambridge Scholarship

The religion and government double major is one of only seventy-eight students worldwide to receive the scholarship, which offers full financial support to pursue a graduate degree at the University of Cambridge.
Kornmehl portrait
At Bowdoin Lia Kornmehl has been an outstanding scholar, a co-leader of Hillel, a singer in Ursus Verses, a performer in Improvabilities, and a mentor with Bear PALS ESOL at Brunswick High School.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation founded the Gates Cambridge Scholarship in 2000 with a donation of $210 million, the largest single donation to a UK university. Since then, the scholarship has been awarded to over 2,000 individuals from more than 100 countries, enabling them to pursue post-graduate degrees in any subject at the university free of cost.

"...By selecting outstanding scholars, providing them with financial and non-financial support at one of the world's leading universities and facilitating community building at and beyond Cambridge," the scholarship program aims "to build a global network of future leaders committed to improving the lives of others," the website states.

Kornmehl will begin a one-year course of study at Cambridge in the fall, studying for a master of philosophy degree in theology, religion, and philosophy of religion, while focusing on religion and conflict. She describes this program as a “perfect match” for her academic interests.

“Religion, politics, and violence are entangled with each other a lot of the time,” Kornmehl said. “Religion can be such a divisive and charged topic, but I also haven't encountered much in my life that is as comforting, healing, and community-building as religion is.”

Kornmehl also believes that this unique academic pathway will equip her with the tools she needs to take her studies to the next level. Both before and during her time at Bowdoin she studied the role of religion in Northern Indian electoral violence, and she now is looking forward to making her passions actionable.

“I want, as much as possible, to be a constructive scholar,” she said. “I want to be someone that doesn't just look at a phenomenon that is actively causing a community pain, but takes it one step further and thinks about community-led solutions or amelioration for that situation.”

While she anticipates that the journey toward constructive scholarship might be a challenging one, Kornmehl knows that the support of Cambridge faculty—and of her Gates cohort—will support her ambitions.

“The biggest highlight will be getting to meet, engage with, and learn from everyone at Cambridge,” she said. “I can't wait to take everything I learned from Bowdoin and build on it in an even more specialized way.”

With goals to attend law school in the future, Kornmehl also hopes that this program will inform the way she pursues her professional aspirations.

“My hope is that, as a lawyer, I can navigate secular and religious law and be as knowledgeable and empathetic as possible to the ways that those two intersect in people's lives,” she said. “I’d love to look at how religion can create inter-communal bridges and work against how politics can exploit religion.” 

As she prepares to graduate in May, she looks back fondly on her support system at Bowdoin—and looks forward to expanding it further in the next step of her academic career.

“I want to sincerely thank all of the wonderful advisors and mentors I have here,” she said. “I never thought that academia would be where I landed, but everyone has been so supportive of my curiosities and questions, and I'm so thankful.”