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Theo Di Castri CC’12 wins prestigious Gates Cambridge Scholarship

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Theo Di Castri CC’12 — the founding director of Catalyst: Youth Voices Rethinking the War on Drugs, a year-long fellowship for adolescents and educators across the Americas living within communities affected by the War on Drugs — has received a prestigious Gates Cambridge Scholarship to pursue a Ph.D. in history and philosophy of science at the University of Cambridge. The native of Edmonton, Canada graduated from Columbia College in 2012 with a B.A. in neuroscience and comparative literature and society and completed a M.Phil. in history and philosophy of science from Cambridge University.

Theo Di Castri CC’12

Theo Di Castri CC’12

Theo Di Castri CC’12

“My proposed Ph.D. project builds on the work I’ve been doing with Catalyst,”said the multi-hyphenate musician-writer-researcher-educator who has been based in Mexico City, Mexico for the past three years. “I am specifically interested in understanding how prevention science took shape in and between the U.S., Mexico and Colombia. Through this research I hope to explore fundamental questions about the political nature of futurity, the ethics of the claims and interventions that experts make upon the futures of others, and the assumptions that shape youth subjectivities and the possibilities for youth political participation in the Americas.”

The Gates Cambridge Scholarship program was established in October 2000 by a donation of $210 million from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to the University of Cambridge. Scholarships are awarded to outstanding applicants from countries outside the United Kingdom to pursue a full-time postgraduate degree in any subject available at Cambridge. The selection criteria are outstanding intellectual ability, leadership potential, a commitment to improving the lives of others, and a good fit between the applicant's qualifications and aspirations and the postgraduate programme at Cambridge for which they are applying.

Theo is an incredibly impressive candidate, whose innovative field work and advocacy has sought to address the failures of the American War on Drugs,” said Ariella Lang, associate dean of Academic Affairs. “As a recipient of the Gates Cambridge, Theo will now be able to turn his attention to the field of prevention science. I can think of no one better placed to re-think the ways in which we grapple with this seemingly intractable issue.”

Di Castri had his first taste of transnational education when he was awarded a scholarship to finish his last two years of high school at Mahindra United World College of India. After finishing high school, he spent a year pursuing the possibility of a career in music in Germany before attending the College. Upon graduation in 2012, Di Castri was awarded “The Fifth Year Fellowship” a year-long experimental travel fellowship organized by Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, Rosalind Morris and Charles Armstrong in collaboration with the Columbia Global Centers. Besides heading Catalyst and partaking in academic conferences across the Americas, Di Castri is currently working on an experimental novel set in Mexico City that explores the legacy of Mexico’s Dirty War.

“My years at the College were extremely formative — Catalyst was actually co-founded by a group of Columbia grads, Benjamin Fogarty Valenzuela CC ‘11, Nataya Friedan CC‘13, Atenea Rosado Viurques TC’16, Diana Rodriguez TC’16,” said Di Castri, who also attributes the “deepening” of his ability to think transnationally to the Fifth Year Fellowship.

“I am grateful that I found within the College an environment that allowed me to pursue my various passions and interests. Academically, the faculty affiliated with Institute for Comparative Literature and Society were always very supportive and encouraging of my interdisciplinary leanings,” he added. “Potluck House was an important hub of my social life during my CC years. It was there that I found my people at Columbia and forged many of the friendships that continue to sustain and inspire the work that I do. Being selected for the Gates Scholarship really feels like a collective achievement rather than something I accomplished on my own.”

Since the first cohort of Gates Cambridge Scholars in 2001, more than 1,600 scholars have been selected from over 100 countries. This year’s cohort of 90 Scholars — the Class of 2019—- includes citizens from 37 different countries and the first scholars from Burundi and Mongolia. Two-thirds of the scholars-elect will pursue doctorates and their subjects range from cybersecurity, human trafficking and the heritage and identity of the Caribbean to early detection of esophageal cancer and the genetics of tuberculosis resistance.

This year, Di Castri is part of a Gates Cambridge first — Di Castri will attend Cambridge with his partner, Emiliano Cabrera Rocha, who is from Bolivia and received the scholarship to pursue a M.Phil. candidate in Latin-American Studies.