Purdue senior named Churchill Scholar, will join elite students from across U.S. in yearlong master’s program at Cambridge University

Last updated: Jan. 31, 2024

pictured: headshot of sydney hummel, winner of the churchill scholarship

Purdue senior Sydney Hummel had spent months developing her Churchill Scholarship application, and years before that pursuing the kind of experiences that would make her a competitive candidate for the prestigious award.

She was on vacation with her family this December when the decision email arrived, but the Wi-Fi was spotty and the content of the email wouldn't load. Hummel sprinted to the nearest access point so she could read what it said. Then she sprinted back to her family to share the good news — that her hard work had paid off. She'd be spending the next year studying in the United Kingdom at University of Cambridge with students from some of the most elite institutions across the U.S.

Dating back to 1963, the Churchill Scholarship is for one year of master’s study at Churchill College, Cambridge. The award covers full tuition, a competitive stipend, travel costs and the chance to apply for a $4,000 special research grant. Established at the request of Sir Winston Churchill as part of the founding of Churchill College, the program aims to deepen the partnership between the U.S. and U.K. to advance science and technology on both sides of the Atlantic.

Since the program’s launch more than 60 years ago, 14 Purdue students have been named Churchill Scholars, four of whom were named in only the last eight years.

Pictured: Sydney Hummel stands next to her research poster

Hummel, who is studying chemical engineering at Purdue, worked closely with Purdue’s National and International Scholarships Office (NISO) to develop her application. She says she’s most excited for the opportunity to study in another country and expand her comfort zone. Born and raised in Indiana, Hummel chose Purdue for its collaborative and welcoming environment. She credits much of her success to the supportive community at Purdue, particularly Davidson School of Chemical Engineering, where she found opportunities to engage in impactful research.

“I’ve always enjoyed learning about the mechanisms behind the way things work, and chemistry explains so much about biology and life, things we interact with on a daily basis,” she said. “Learning that subject opened my eyes to scientific discovery and understanding what happens behind the scenes. I also enjoy the problem-solving aspects of those fields and working on teams.”

Hummel currently works as an undergraduate research assistant with the Xiaoping Bao Lab to study engineered human stem cells for targeted cancer therapy, showcasing her commitment to disease targeting and treatment.

According to Bao, assistant professor in chemical engineering, Hummel has helped collect scientific data for original research papers published from his lab. She also co-developed an approach to engineer artificial neutrophils and co-published a first author manuscript in 2023.

“(Hummel) is always willing and eager to learn new things and has great time-management skills, which have helped her excel as a Purdue student,” Bao shared. “She has been involved in several different research projects and always spent additional time to better understand the scientific materials, which strengthened the research outcomes.”

Pictured: Xiaoping Bao, assistant professor in Chemical Engineering

Bao says it’s helpful for undergraduates to pursue these types of research activities early on in their academic careers.

“Research always takes time, sometimes years,” he adds. “Engaging in these opportunities as undergraduates helps students become effective collaborators, which is critical to the scientific process and opportunities they’ll pursue later on.”

As part of the Churchill Scholarship, Hummel will pursue her master’s degree in medical sciences. Her goal is to specialize in immunology, combining engineering principles with a deeper understanding of the human body to develop innovative disease treatments. Hummel’s recognition as a Churchill Scholar not only reflects her academic excellence but also positions her as a future leader in science and engineering.

In addition to the Churchill Scholarship, Hummel was named an Astronaut Scholar by the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation and received the Centennial Scholarship through Davidson School of Chemical Engineering, emphasizing her outstanding contributions to research and academic achievements. Her involvement in extracurricular activities, such as Purdue’s triathlon club team, demonstrates her dedication to personal growth and challenges outside her academic pursuits.

Pictured: Sydney Hummel stands with a Purdue triathalon club teammate after completing the Tri Indy race

As Hummel prepares to graduate from Purdue, she says she’s most proud of how she’s demonstrated resilience. Facing challenges, adapting to new environments and maintaining a passion for her work have been key elements of her success. Her advice to other students is to keep striving as they navigate their academic paths, to pursue what they are passionate about and embrace the unforeseen opportunities that may arise along the way.

“One of my first memories from Purdue, and maybe not a good one, was failing my second organic chemistry test, but that experience taught me that I needed to adjust my study strategies and learn how to prepare a little differently,” Hummel recalled. “I think that moment encapsulates a sense of resilience I discovered going forward into my career. It’s the feeling that, wherever I land, even if it is outside of the way I understand doing things, I am prepared to adapt and figure things out.”

headshot of communications director andrea mattingly

Andrea Mattingly

Director of Communication for Teaching and Learning, andrea@purdue.edu 

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