Kiera Peltz ’16, a political science concentrator who also elected to independently concentrate in happiness, is among the 36 students selected to be part of the 2017 class of Gates Cambridge Scholars.
The fellowship allows Peltz to study at Cambridge University for a year, covering her tuition, living expenses and round trip airfare to Cambridge and back. At Cambridge, she will pursue a masters in philosophy and in political and economic sociology, studying how political and economic institutions impact societal well-being. Peltz said she is most excited about being surrounded by equally passionate scholars.
Peltz’s interest in happiness studies can be traced back to her high school experience in California. The time she spent working at a local congressman’s office inspired her to spend her career at Brown trying to improve the lives of the American people. She sought to answer the question of what it meant to live a good life, a question which could not be answered purely by political science. In order to study how political, social and economic institutions impact our well-being, she created an independent concentration in happiness.
When developing her senior thesis, Peltz was interested in why American policy does not make people happier. She wrote a senior thesis on ways to use happiness research to influence the policy making process, focusing on three different policy areas: obesity, loneliness and unemployment.
Professor of Philosophy Bernard Reginster, Peltz’s independent concentration and thesis advisor, said he was especially impressed by the work Peltz has done concerning Thomas Jefferson’s belief in citizen’s fundamental right to pursue happiness. Focusing on this notion, she laid out the reason for policy makers to consider happiness as a criterion to evaluate the effectiveness of their policies, he said. “It was a very impressive and ambitious thesis,” Reginster said.
“Everyone has joked to me about studying happiness, like ‘good luck, you are never going to be employed,’ but, to be honest, I know (studying happiness is) what got me ranked so highly by my department and got me the interview” with Gates Cambridge, Peltz said.
Peltz said she likely landed the scholarship due to “bizarre” things she had done in her life. The summer after her first year at Brown, she created the Coding School, an after-school program that teaches students how to code. “We essentially recognized that coding is the universal language of the 21st century. The funny thing is I don’t know how to code -— that’s why I founded it,” Peltz said. She said she has also taken part in many political internships, like working at the White House and on former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign.
According to the Gates Cambridge website, approximately 800 candidates from the United States applied for the scholarship in 2017. Two hundred of these applicants made it to the second round in the process and were nominated by their prospective departments in Cambridge. One hundred were interviewed and 40 were offered the scholarship.
Fellowship Advisor Dean Linda Dunleavy said the Gates Cambridge application process is different from other scholarships in that students apply directly to Cambridge University and are then considered for the Gates Scholarship. For other scholarships, students usually have to be nominated by the University as candidates. “I don’t know other students who applied, but I knew Kiera and it is well deserved,” Dunleavy said.
Extracurricular activities, academics, leadership qualities and public service experience are important criteria for getting the scholarship, Dunleavy said, adding that Peltz’s initiative, academic strengths, optimism and unique independent concentration made her stand out. In addition, her commitment to public service and work with the government made an impression, she said.
Peltz said after this masters program she wants to pursue a joint J.D./PhD degree. “Obviously now, more than ever, (considering) how divisive American politics is, happiness is needed,” Peltz said, explaining her desire to go into politics after getting a PhD.
Peltz is currently in the Netherlands, working in the Erasmus Happiness Economics Research Organization as a research intern. She decided to spend the past year away from her books and papers, exploring happiness in real life.
“It is so important to do what you love and not follow the status quo … At the end of the day, that’s what is going to set you apart, so don’t be afraid to try something new, think differently. Studying happiness is the single greatest thing I have ever done.”