Alumnus Adam Cowden Awarded Gates Cambridge Scholarship

Author: Carrie Gates

Adam Cowden

Adam Cowden, a 2012 graduate of Notre Dame’s College of Arts and Letters, has been selected as a Gates Cambridge Scholar. With the award, he will pursue a master’s degree at the University of Cambridge this fall.

Cowden is one of only 40 students in the U.S. to receive the prestigious scholarship, from an initial field of approximately 800 applicants.

Established in 2001 through a donation from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Gates Cambridge program recognizes students for their social leadership, as well as their outstanding academic ability.

“Adam is an exceptional student and represents the kind of dynamic undergraduate experience that we hope all students will have,” says Deb Rotman, the Paul and Maureen Stefanick Faculty Director of Notre Dame’s Center for Undergraduate Scholarly Engagement.

“He conducted research as an undergraduate, including while traveling abroad, and wrote a senior thesis. In all of these ways, Adam went beyond classroom coursework and took advantage of the numerous opportunities afforded by Notre Dame to develop and flourish as a young scholar. The experiences he sought not only enriched his undergraduate experience, but have equipped him extraordinarily well for post-baccalaureate success as a Gates Cambridge Scholar.”

Cowden, a member of Notre Dame’s Glynn Family Honors Program, majored in political science with a minor in Philosophy, Politics, and Economics (PPE). He says he has had a longstanding interest in addressing the issues of development and urban poverty.

“Poverty was something I focused on throughout my time at Notre Dame, in part because I have five younger siblings who were adopted from the south side of Chicago,” he says. “In particular, my senior thesis allowed me to do research and delve into the issue a little deeper. I think it serves as good preparation for my graduate studies at Cambridge.”

During his senior year, Cowden traveled to Botswana and Mauritius to conduct interviews for his senior thesis project on the impact of social welfare policy on family planning and educational participation.

Following graduation, he has worked as a full-time, live-in volunteer at Su Casa, a Catholic worker house in Chicago, which primarily serves Spanish-speaking homeless families. Cowden credits Notre Dame’s Center for Social Concerns for connecting him to the organization on a service trip during his sophomore year.

“Adam is a very interesting, accomplished, and committed student with a wide range of talents and interests,” says Paul Weithman, a professor in Notre Dame’s Department of Philosophy and director of the PPE program. “He is also committed to social service, as his long association with Su Casa testifies. That commitment to service has an academic dimension, as evidenced by his senior thesis work and his interest in international development.

“I was delighted to learn that the Gates Foundation awarded Adam this well-deserved scholarship. I hope his selection inspires other Notre Dame students to apply for the Gates and for other major fellowships.”

Cowden plans to pursue a master’s of philosophy in planning, growth, and regeneration at Cambridge. There he will study how economic disparities in cities can be reduced via spatial planning, land use, and public policy.

“I’m looking forward to the opportunity to collaborate with other Gates Cambridge Scholars,” he says, “and to have an impact on issues I care about and that are close to home for me. I think it will allow me to contribute in ways that wouldn’t have been available otherwise.”

Notre Dame’s Center for Undergraduate Scholarly Engagement (CUSE) provides students across the university with opportunities for research, scholarship, and creative projects. The center assists them in finding faculty mentors, funding, and venues for the publication or presentation of their work. It also promotes applications to national fellowship programs and prepares students in their application process. For more information, please visit

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