Reid Lidow, a senior with a double major in international relations and political science, has been awarded a highly competitive Gates Cambridge Scholarship. The award grants him a full scholarship for graduate studies at the University of Cambridge, where he will pursue a master of philosophy in development studies this fall.
Lidow was chosen based on his intellectual ability, social leadership potential and demonstrated commitment to helping others. The Gates Cambridge program aims to build a global network of future leaders committed to improving lives around the world.
The program was established in 2000 through a donation of $210 million from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to the University of Cambridge. This year’s pool of United States applicants included 800 students. Of those, 40 U.S. scholars were selected and will be joined by an additional 55 international scholars to be chosen later this year.
For the past three years, Lidow has served as a research assistant for Steven Lamy, vice dean of academic programs and professor of international relations at the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences.
“He is an incredible intellectual force, approaching all of his tasks with energy, creativity and commitment to quality scholarship,” Lamy said.
“Reid’s interests in development and human security in Southeast Asia will be further developed at Cambridge,” he continued. “I see him becoming an important participant in the policy community working in this vital area.”
Professor Lamy served as an inspiration
Lidow hails from Encino, Calif., and is a graduate of Harvard-Westlake School in Studio City.
“I’m so profoundly grateful to everyone who helped me get here,” Lidow said. “Even though it’s only my name listed under the award, I couldn’t have done it without the help of so many individuals. I think about Professor Lamy, on day one when I was a freshman, telling me about all the opportunities available to me at USC and my possibilities upon graduation. To say he’s a mentor is an understatement.
He cited Associate Professor of International Relations Dan Lynch, his thesis adviser, as the one who piqued his interest in Burma, officially the Republic of the Union of Myanmar.
“Professor Lynch has made it possible for me to ask the right questions about the country,” he said, “in order to produce substantive, quality research that advances the discussion and sheds light on an underserved topic and area of the world.”
Inspired by Lynch’s undergraduate course “Introduction to Asian Security Affairs,” Lidow has traveled independently to Burma three times to conduct research. This research served as the backbone for his senior honors thesis, an evaluation of Burma’s recent political reforms.
Lidow’s work in Burma
Burma is a sovereign state in Southeast Asia bordered by Bangladesh, India, China, Laos and Thailand. In recent years, the Obama administration has eased sanctions against the state, which was governed by a military junta from 1962 to 2011, and opened channels for American investment. In a landmark special election in 2012, representatives from the National League for Democracy won seats in Burma’s parliament for the first time.
In Burma, Lidow has conducted interviews with former political prisoners and current dissidents, foreign ministers, a founder of the National League for Democracy and other leading figures.
In 2013, Lidow spent two weeks in Burma teaching basic international relations theory and English to students ages 18 to 24 through the Shan Intensive English Program. In Los Angeles, he is a seven-semester participant in the Teaching International Relations Program, a community outreach and service learning program based at USC Dornsife. This service involvement is the kind of social leadership the Gates Cambridge Scholarship is designed to recognize and support.
“Going to the U.K. to conduct research on Burma, a former British colony, offers perspective on the state today through a historic lens,” Lidow said. “All the documents of record and history are there. Peeling back the layers of Burma’s history in England, at Cambridge, is a tremendous opportunity.”
As a development studies graduate student, Lidow wants to look to the future and help transform the talk of Burma’s shift to a democratic federalist system from rhetoric to reality. He’ll also research ways in which Burma can lift itself out of poverty.
Lidow plans to establish a journal featuring in-depth Burma research, which has historically been underserved in academic literature. Only one other USC student, Megan Sim, has received a Gates Cambridge Scholarship since the program’s inception. In 2008, Sim earned bachelor’s degrees in psychology from USC Dornsife and in theater from the USC School of Dramatic Arts.
“Winning the Gates Cambridge Scholarship is a great honor, and we are incredibly proud of Reid for this accomplishment,” said Noosha Malek, director of academic and international fellowships at USC. “He is a bright, engaging and talented student with maturity beyond his years.”
USC’s Office of Academic and International Fellowships supports prestigious global fellowships by providing students with advisement and workshops on applying, interviewing and writing personal statements.
Lidow has been published numerous times, including opinion pieces in international newspapers such as Asia Sentinel, The Korea Times, The Irrawaddy and the Korea JoongAng Daily. His awards and honors include the 2014 Phi Beta Kappa Undergraduate Award, 2014 University Trustee Award, membership in the Phi Beta Kappa National Honors Society and the Order of the Torch Outstanding 1st Year Achievement Award.
The Carnegie Council’s Global Ethics Network selected Lidow as a finalist for its 2013 Ethical Challenges in Trans-Pacific Relations Contest, in which he co-authored a paper with Thaw Zin Aung Gyi, a former USC student from Burma.
“As a Gates scholar, it’s not enough to have great academic credentials and be passionate about a topic,” Lidow said. “What’s important is a commitment to improving the lives of others. Though it’s a daunting, humbling challenge, I’m eager to see what difference I can make in a state like Burma.”