Centre College graduate Stephen Metcalf ’14 is one of 34 talented Americans selected as a 2019 Gates Cambridge Scholar at the University of Cambridge, where he will pursue a Ph.D. in public health and primary care.
A Brown Fellow and behavioral neuroscience major from eastern Kentucky, Metcalf is the third Centre graduate to earn this highly competitive award in the last four years. He will join fellow alumni and 2016 winner Ben Cocanougher ’11 and 2017 winner Parker Lawson ’15, both of whom are currently studying at the world’s fourth-oldest university, founded in 1209.
The scholarship program has quickly earned a reputation on par with the Rhodes Scholarship awarded at the University of Oxford. It was established in 2000 through a generous gift of $210 million from Bill and Melinda Gates.
This will actually be a return trip to Cambridge for Metcalf, who earned an M.Phil. degree there in epidemiology in 2015 in the Department of Public Health and Primary Care, which will again be his academic home through 2022.
Currently, Metcalf is conducting research at Dartmouth College as part of a research team at the Center for Technology and Behavioral Health in the Geisel School of Medicine.
His recognition comes as no to surprise to the many mentors he had throughout his career at Centre.
Interim Vice President for Academic Affairs and Dean of the College Brian Cusato served as Metcalf’s Brown Fellows Program advisor and said there’s a reason he’s so successful.
“Stephen took a deep dive into everything he was asked to do as a Brown Fellow,” Cusato said, “and I know that was the case throughout his Centre career. He’s not only bright but also introspective as well as a very deep thinker.”
Cusato, who also described Metcalf as “exceptionally humble and thankful,” taught Metcalf in a key behavioral neuroscience class on experimental design (BNS 210).
Associate Professor of Behavioral Neuroscience KatieAnn Skogsberg offered similar insights.
“I’m not at all surprised that Stephen’s gone on to do great things,” Skogsberg said, “because he is wired to seek answers to some of the most impossible questions.” She added that he’s among “a rare few students who want to understand how each nugget of information fits into the complex web of the world.”
As evidence of this, while firmly rooted as a scientist, Metcalf embodies what NEH Associate Professor of Religion Lee Jefferson calls “a true liberal arts education by incorporating his studies in the sciences with his interest in literature, biography and religion.”
Jefferson served as Metcalf’s John C. Young Scholars Program advisor for a year-long research project that investigated spiritual memoirs and their impact on the theory and practice of religion.
Metcalf’s research took him to the Gethsemani Monastery in Kentucky, where he interviewed a monk who trained with the late Thomas Merton. Earlier, he participated in the Humanistic Buddhist Monastic Life program in Taiwan. In addition to living a monastic life for a full month, Metcalf meditated 10 hours daily during a week of silence.
It is this broad cross-section of interests that causes Richard Trollinger, senior philanthropy advisor and former vice president for college relations, to suggest that beyond simply possessing “a first-class mind,” Metcalf is also “a first-class person who cares deeply about others and the quality of their lives.”
Trollinger has valued the friendship that the two have, which dates back to Metcalf’s student days at Centre. “Although he sometimes refers to me as a mentor, I suspect I learn as much, if not more, from him than he ever learns from me,” Trollinger said.
“Knowing there are exceptionally capable young people like him, who are also deeply committed to making a difference for good in their service and work,” Trollinger concluded, “gives me hope.”
On Metcalf’s character, Sarah Scott, who worked in student life prior to her current role as director of Centre’s Grissom Scholars Program, couldn’t agree more.
She first worked with Stephen when he was hired to serve as a Resident Assistant. Besides “a strong sense of self-awareness, humility, and an unwavering ethical code,” Scott said, “Stephen has to be one of the kindest, most inclusive students I have worked with in my 18 years at Centre College.”
And while a student, Metcalf earned a list of honors and accomplishment that is wide and deep.
He was elected to Phi Beta Kappa and is also a member of both Omicron Delta Kappa (ODK) and Psi Chi. He won numerous awards throughout his career, including the top prize for math as a sophomore and the Ormond Beatty Alumni Prize, awarded to a senior for a distinguished record.
His service commitments were varied as well. Metcalf served as chair of the Student Judiciary, speaker of the house for the Student Government Association, co-president of ODK and president of the Philosophy Club.
Since then, Metcalf has published four co-authored papers in peer-reviewed journals, has another article under review and 10 more in preparation. Most deal with his focus area of opioid addiction and the relationship between mental illness and the immune system.
Metcalf says his Ph.D. work at Cambridge will explore the disparity in adolescent success among those who face similar adversities.
“Studying resilience may help us improve well-being and could lead toward greater health and educational equity,” Metcalf writes on his Gates Cambridge profile page.
“I look forward to working with others in the Gates Cambridge community as we explore fundamental life questions and help others thrive.”
Complete information about the 2019 Gates Cambridge Scholarship recipients is available here.
by Michael Strysick
February 25, 2019