KU senior from Kansas City awarded full ride to University of Cambridge to pursue sustainable engineering

Wed, 02/21/2024


Erinn Barcomb-Peterson

LAWRENCE — Elizabeth Appel looks at her future in engineering as more than just capitalizing on a talent for math and science. For Appel, it’s also a way to benefit humanity using a discipline that is not necessarily people-focused.

“I think one major issue is a lack of education on infrastructure not just as a technical product, but also as a social tool,” Appel said. “The built environment shapes how people interact with one another and how they see themselves in their greater community. Public services and public spaces have great power to influence peoples’ lives for the better.”

Appel is a 2020 Park Hill High School graduate and a University of Kansas senior in civil engineering with an emphasis in environmental engineering. She is also the most recent Jayhawk to be named a Gates Cambridge scholar, bringing the university’s total number of winners to four since the program was established. The scholarship covers the full cost of studying at the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom.

Gates Cambridge scholars are chosen for their outstanding intellectual ability, leadership potential, a commitment to improving the lives of others and reasons for their choice of course. For Appel, that will be pursuing a Master of Philosophy degree in Engineering for Sustainable Development.

“I felt there was a gap in my understanding of how to engineer things not just for today's problems, but for tomorrow's problems as well,” Appel said. “That's the main reason I pursued this Master of Philosophy program.” 

In her application, Appel noted how this particular program will facilitate her goal of becoming an engineer striving to undo the damage done by decades of divisive infrastructure. Internships and experiences as a KU undergraduate exposed Appel to the societal impact of infrastructure in the region, from the South Lawrence Trafficway to urban Kansas City communities shaped and dominated by highways.

“I've always known you learn more from people than you do in a classroom,” Appel said. “Working with engineers, students and community advocates in the Kansas City metro has really solidified my belief in the power of engineers to do real good for the communities.” 

As a KU undergraduate, Appel has pursued research that explores “ambiguous, social-focused questions” related to civil engineering. Working with Admin Husic, assistant professor of civil engineering, Appel examined the correlation between "redlined" neighborhoods as defined in the 1930s-1950s and modern urban flooding in those areas.

“Elizabeth is investigating the intersection of flooding and social vulnerability,” Husic said. “Her aim is to understand how flooding may disproportionately impact certain groups and what engineers and policymakers should do to address that inequity.”

Appel’s many leadership roles at KU have included restarting the university’s competitive design-build competition Concrete Canoe and leading the team to a third-place finish in the regional competition in 2023.

At the 2022 regional competition, KU could only bring three people and no competitive teams.

“I was motivated by my urge to represent KU well on a regional level and to provide the same opportunities that other students had to my own peers,” she said. “Restarting Concrete Canoe was a lot of work, but it showed that even a team of novices can outperform established competitors. That experience taught me that even without technical expertise or experience in the subject, if one has the persistence and dedication necessary to push forward, anything is possible.”

The Gates Cambridge Scholarship program was established in 2000 by $210 million from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to the University of Cambridge. The first class of scholars came into residence in October 2001. Since then, the trust has awarded more than 2,000 scholarships to scholars from more than 100 countries.

Each year Gates Cambridge offers full-cost scholarships to outstanding applicants from countries outside the United Kingdom to pursue a postgraduate degree in any subject available at the University of Cambridge. Approximately 25 awards are available in the U.S. each year.

Around the world is a community of more than 1,700 Gates Cambridge alumni, including three Jayhawks.

Wed, 02/21/2024


Erinn Barcomb-Peterson

Media Contacts

Erinn Barcomb-Peterson

KU News Service