When Anna Forringer-Beal, a 2016 University of Michigan graduate of LSA, found out she had won a Gates Cambridge Scholarship to study at Cambridge University next year, she had to take a minute to digest the news.
“I was working when I found out, and I was on break, and I just left and walked around the block a couple times,” she said. “I was so excited — just so much energy — but I also really see it as a responsibility. It certainly feels like I’m responsible to share what I learn with others … so it can go beyond me and just my one year at Cambridge.”
Forringer-Beal is one of just 36 American scholars to earn the scholarship this year. She and the rest of the American cohort will be joined by 54 other international scholars whose names have not yet been announced. Established in 2000 by an endowment from Bill and Melinda Gates, the scholarship will enable her to spend a year at Cambridge University in England and earn a Master’s degree in multi-disciplinary gender studies.
While at the University, Forringer-Beal studied women’s studies and anthropology, completing an honors thesis with the assistance of Anthropology Assistant Prof. Jason De León about the migration experiences of undocumented women as they move from Central America to the United States.
At Cambridge, she hopes to do a comparative study between the Trafficking Victims Protection Act from the United States and the Modern Slavery Act in the U.K. This interest stems from her current work at the National Human Trafficking Hotline in Washington, D.C., as well as her undergraduate research and work with the Sexual Assault Prevention and Awareness Center at the University.
As for after Cambridge, Forringer-Beal already has big plans to use her educational background. She wants to pursue a law degree and a Ph.D. in sociology so she can both practice law and do academic work.
“I really want to be able to interrogate the law and how gender plays a part in the laws we construct,” Forringer-Beal said.
The Cambridge program will require intensive research, but Forringer-Beal is no stranger to the lab or the field. She began as a research assistant to De León as a senior in high school. Once she entered college, Forringer-Beal worked as an Undergraduate Research Opportunity Program student in his lab for two years, then did an independent study in the lab as a junior. The summer before her senior year, she and De León took a trip to Mexico, where Forringer-Beal collected much of the data for her senior honors thesis in anthropology.
After watching her grow over the past five years, De León said he was thrilled to hear Forringer-Beal had won the scholarship.
“She was always someone who was very interested in doing research and being involved in social justice issues … and I think there was a time where she considered those things to be fairly separate,” he said. “Eventually, those worlds sort of collided, and I think the work she’s planning on doing in England is a reflection of that growth and the combination of those two interests.”
For students who might want to pursue a similar path to Forringer-Beal’s, De León stresses the importance of research.
“Anna is a really wonderful example of (taking) advantage of all the things Michigan has to offer its undergraduate students,” De León said. “(Students should) get involved with independent research really early on. UROP is a great program to help students fine-tune their interests. I think, most times, students come to the independent research too late, and it’s kind of a crash course in senior year. But if you get involved early on, it’s only going to benefit you.”
Similarly, Forringer-Beal said her research impacted the course of her studies profoundly, primarily because it interested her so much.
“Probably one of the most impactful things for me was my thesis research,” she said.
Forringer-Beal is the eighth Gates Cambridge scholar to come from the University, and University students frequently win other prestigious fellowships and scholarships as well. However, most students, including Forringer-Beal, have had to seek these opportunities out for themselves.
LSA Honors advisor Henry Dyson, who also worked closely with Forringer-Beal, is trying to change this by heading up the University’s new Office of National Scholarships and Fellowships.
“Michigan, because we’re so decentralized, has for years had national scholarships advised by different offices,” Dyson said. “And we’re still keeping that to some extent — our Fulbright Institute … is the envy of many other colleges — but (for) other places, students almost had to know what they were looking for before we could find it.”
The new office is housed in the LSA Honors Program office but serves students from all University schools and colleges.
Forringer-Beal understands the importance of having the kind of help the new office aims to provide. She said she would not have accomplished her undergraduate goals without the guidance of many people at the University.
“I really didn’t do it alone,” she said. “I had all these amazing mentors … they all really shaped my research and helped me to grow as a researcher and an activist and a scholar.”
For students who want to follow in Forringer-Beal’s footsteps, an informational meeting held by the Office of National Scholarships and Fellowships about the Gates Cambridge Scholarship is scheduled for Feb. 20 in Room 1528 of the C.C. Little Building.