Dietrich School Student Wins Kanders Churchill Scholarship in Science Policy

Freitag in a light blue shirt and aqua tieFor the second time in three years, a Pitt student has won the prestigious Kanders Churchill Scholarship in Science Policy from the Winston Churchill Foundation of the United States. 

Thomas Freitag, a fourth-year student studying neuroscience and psychology in the Kenneth P. Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences with a minor in chemistry, will pursue a one-year Master’s in Public Policy (MPP) at Churchill College in the University of Cambridge next academic year, carrying out research on issues related to HIV prevention and treatment. 

“As just the third recipient of the Kanders Churchill Scholarship—and the second student from the University of Pittsburgh to win this award—Thomas stands in elite company,” said Chancellor Patrick Gallagher. “I am deeply grateful that the Winston Churchill Foundation saw the same Thomas that we know: a talented leader, innovator, researcher and scholar who is destined to make a positive and powerful difference in this world.”  

“As a policy fellow in Philadelphia, Thomas helped craft groundbreaking legislation, including reforms to make tax documents gender-neutral,” said Audrey Murrell, acting dean of Pitt Honors College. “As a talented student and a considerate individual, Thomas is already on a path to improve lives by leveraging knowledge for society’s gain.”

Freitag is this year’s only Kanders Churchill recipient, and one of 16 Churchill Scholars named to the class of 2020-2021. The Kanders distinction was first made in 2018 to award a student with public policy interests in addition to basic science, mathematics or engineering. The Churchill awards cover tuition, a stipend, travel costs and the chance to apply for a $2,000 special research grant. 

Joseph Kannarkat (A&S ’18), also of Pitt, won the inaugural Kanders Churchill award. Kannarkat spent his year at Cambridge studying the United Kingdom’s universal health care system. Since then, he has gone on to work with the Panthers Forward program, an innovative student loan debt reduction plan that utilizes Pitt’s generous and successful alumni network to “pay it forward.”

Freitag, a native of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, said, “Being selected as the Kanders Churchill Scholar is an incredible honor. The program’s focus on training scientists who are capable of developing effective policy and communicating with legislators fits perfectly with my interest in contributing to health equity through transformative healthcare reform. It’s the culmination of years of hard work and the incredible support of a number of professors, family members and friends. I can’t fully describe how thankful I am for everyone who has helped me to learn and grow throughout my time at Pitt and I certainly couldn’t have done it without help from some very special people.”

One such person is Aidan Beatty, Freitag’s scholarship mentor in the Honors College, in charge of all British and Irish scholarships. 

“Thomas has already excelled during their time at Pitt. Under an Amgen Scholarship, they carried out research at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda; received the Honors College’s David C. Frederick Public Service Internship Award; and in summer 2018 was a Policy Fellow at the City of Philadelphia Mayor’s Office of LGBT Affairs.” 

In addition, Freitag earned a top scholarship for LGBT undergraduates in STEM disciplines in 2018. Freitag is finishing their academic year at Jesus College Cambridge through a fellowship organized by the Study Abroad office. 

“Thomas has built a strong foundation combining medical science with policy research,” Beatty said, “and I'm excited to see how Tom continues this in their MPP program in Cambridge.”