Alumna Ashley Zhou named 2020 Gates Cambridge Scholar

Author: Erin Blasko

Ashley Fb Feature

University of Notre Dame alumna Ashley Zhou will study medical science at the University of Cambridge this fall as a member of the Gates Cambridge Scholar class of 2020.

Zhou is a 2019 Notre Dame graduate from Gaithersburg, Maryland. She majored in neuroscience and behavior and minored in innovation and entrepreneurship. She currently lives in San Jose, California.

“Ashley is a model fellowships applicant. She entered the process knowing exactly what she was looking for and then found a fellowship that would let her accomplish just that,” said Jeffrey Thibert, the Paul and Maureen Stefanick Director of the Flatley Center for Undergraduate Scholarly Engagement at Notre Dame. “She was then able to build a narrative out of her outstanding record of academic achievement, combined with her impressive array of leadership and entrepreneurial activities, that demonstrated to the Gates reviewers that she was an ideal candidate for this opportunity.

“Notre Dame graduates, like Ashley, have been consistently strong contenders for the Gates Cambridge Scholarship, and we hope to work with many more in the years ahead.”

A former QuestBridge Scholar, Zhou is one of 28 members of the Gates Cambridge Scholar class of 2020 from the U.S., in addition to about 60 from other parts of the world. She is Notre Dame’s ninth Gates Cambridge Scholar overall and fourth in as many years.

“I am very indebted to Notre Dame for providing me with four years of scholarship and financial support to pursue a bachelor’s degree in neuroscience,” Zhou said. “Notre Dame has shaped me in more ways than I can say or even understand, professionally and personally. I truly believe that being part of the College of Arts and Letters and receiving a well-rounded liberal arts education has prepared me to think critically and dimensionally about issues that the world is facing.”

Zhou was active in a number of areas during her time at Notre Dame.

She was president of the Chinese Student and Scholar Association, a researcher with the eMotion and eCognition Lab, a research assistant with the Liu Institute for Asia and Asian Studies, a Chinese ethnic minority arts and culture advocate with the Center for Social Concerns, and a member of the Student International Business Council. She studied in France with support from a Summer Language Abroad grant from the Center for the Study of Languages and Cultures, and in Copenhagen and Beijing with Notre Dame International.

Away from school, Zhou was a volunteer teacher with the Overseas China Education Foundation in rural China, an assistant project manager with United Family Healthcare in Beijing, and a computer programmer intern with DaVinci.IO, a business-focused mobile app developer in Maryland. She shadowed doctors in the Wheels for Life project in rural China, conducted independent research on the lifestyle and culture of ethnic minorities in Guizhou, China, and volunteered as a science and sex-education teacher and program leader for middle school students in Gansu, China.

Zhou is the founder and CEO of Prometheus Fire, which promotes ethics in emerging research and technological fields.

Zhou plans to pursue a doctorate in medical science at the MRC Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit at Cambridge, with the goal of leveraging her programming background and work at the intersection of neuroscience and artificial intelligence to lead breakthroughs in technology that improve people’s lives.

Alternately, she is open to further study in a relevant research area as preparation for a career in academia, where she would seek to facilitate collaboration among researchers in the U.S., China and Europe.

“My proposed research at Cambridge is investigating the neural circuits behind how we arrive at insightful solutions to problems” Zhou said, specifically, how the mind divides mental power and uses neural capacity to produce highly intelligent thoughts and ideas with little conscious effort.

“As her general advisor, watching Ashley’s academic journey at Notre Dame was a fascinating experience,” said Vicki Douillet Toumayan, professional specialist emerita in the College of Arts and Letters at Notre Dame. “I was constantly amazed at her ability to discern connections among seemingly disparate disciplines, such as philosophy and neuroscience, and then, with her entrepreneurial skills, find imaginative, innovative, practical and, importantly to her, ethical applications for her research.”

Established with a $210 million gift from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in 2000, the Gates Cambridge Scholarship recognizes students from outside the United Kingdom who demonstrate outstanding intellectual ability, leadership potential and a commitment to improving the lives of others.

The award covers tuition, cost of living, travel and inbound visa costs, health care costs and other related costs associated with the study of any post-graduate subject at the University of Cambridge, a public research university in Cambridge, England, and the fourth oldest university in the world.

For more information on this and other scholarship opportunities, visit

Contact: Erin Blasko, assistant director of media relations, 574-631-4127,

Originally published by Erin Blasko at on February 28, 2020.