Downing Scholarship Funds Leo Alaghband ’24 and Zongqi “Tim” Zhai ’24 to Study at Cambridge

Leo Alaghband ’24 and Zongqi “Tim” Zhai ’24

Each year, the Downing Scholarship funds two graduating seniors from 鶹Ӱ to pursue a one-year master’s degree at Cambridge University. Leo Alaghband ’24 and Zongqi “Tim” Zhai ’24 have been selected to represent 鶹Ӱ at Downing College, a college within the University of Cambridge system, this fall.

The scholarship will cover tuition, fees, living expenses and airfare for Alaghband and Zhai, along with an allowance for books and other expenses associated with the year at Cambridge.

As applicants, Alaghband and Zhai both demonstrated strong academic preparation in a subject area for which Cambridge offers a master’s degree.

Zhai, a history major and classics minor, wanted to pursue the subject of his senior thesis further. The title of Zhai’s thesis is “Demosthenes’ Ghost: Athenian Imperial Ideology in the Olynthiacs.” In it, Zhai looks at Demostehenes’ speeches as a Greek politician and orator after Athens had lost its empire.

He looks forward to studying with the many classicists at Cambridge.

“It’s a chance for me to focus on one thing for nine months and to have probably some of the best professors, some of the best classes in the world,” says Zhai. “That’s going to make a huge difference for me academically.”

He anticipates that his time at Cambridge will help him decide if academia is a good fit for him career wise. Law school is also a possibility, he says.

Likewise, Alaghband also majored in history at Pomona, with a minor in physics. His senior thesis similarly formed the basis for what we will study at Cambridge.

In his thesis, which he calls his “passion project,” Alaghband wrote a connected history of Mexico and Iran from the mid-19th century to the 20th century, culminating in revolution in both countries. To conduct his research, Alaghband relied on his ability to read both Persian and Spanish.

“What I found is Mexico, in Iranian literature, almost always plays this role of kind of a mirror for Iran, something that Iranians can reflect their own domestic anxieties on through the example of Mexico,” he says. “And Mexico followed the Iranian Constitutional Revolution very closely, both in state-aligned newspapers that were supportive of their dictatorship and in the opposition press.”

At Cambridge, he hopes to dig deeper in his research, on the path to pursuing a Ph.D. eventually. That Ph.D. could be in global history, Middle Eastern studies or Latin American studies, he says.

Both Alaghband and Zhai foresee the possibility of ending up back at Cambridge for Ph.D. programs. In the meantime, they are looking forward to studying in a very different academic context this fall.

“There are a lot of other interesting people who end up there,” says Alaghband, adding, “There’s a different perspective, a different way of looking at things.”