WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind.— The highly competitive Gates Cambridge Scholarship has named Purdue University senior Michael Drakopoulos one of its 2017-18 scholars. Fewer than 40 U.S. students from all disciplines will receive the award this year. It funds a postgraduate degree at the University of Cambridge and recognizes intellectually outstanding students who have a capacity for leadership and commitment to improving the lives of others. Drakopoulos is the second Purdue student to receive the award in two years.
Michael Drakopoulos, 2017-18 Gates Cambridge Scholar
“I look forward to joining this incredibly diverse community whose members are dedicated to bettering the world through their studies,” he said.
“Michael is a potent force on campus, one of those rare students who pairs stellar academic gifts with equally-inspiring strength of character,” said Rhonda Phillips, dean of the Honors College. “He has chosen ambitious projects here at Purdue and will leave a trail of progress future students and community members will benefit from for years to come.”
Drakopoulos plans to pursue a Master of Philosophy in medical science at Cambridge, while researching new cures for inherited blood disorders.
“My personal experience with my grandfather’s own genetic blood deficiency has motivated me to seek cures that truly restore the body’s natural function,” Drakopoulos explained. “I want to bring regenerative medicine into widespread clinical practice, to provide remedies that treat the causes of illnesses, not just their symptoms.”
He began that mission with a 2015 Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship at Purdue in Professor Sarah Calve’s Musculoskeletal Extracellular Matrix Laboratory, where he has since worked during the academic year. He continued with an internship at the U.S. National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute the following summer.
“His motivation to gain expertise in regenerative medicine is palpable,” said Dr. Andre Larochelle of the National Institutes of Health. “He has devoted after-hours time and weekends to complete ongoing experiments, a commitment and tenacity that will continue to serve him well in his career.”
In addition to his research, Drakopoulos hopes to make improvements in health care as co-founder of Purdue MIND, a student-run medical device design team. The team’s first year of results recently made it to the finals of a national design competition.
“Michael saw a great demand among his peers for more practical, skills-oriented activities beyond traditional academic research,” said Professor Hugh Lee, with the Weldon School of Biomedical Engineering. “He mobilized several like-minded students to start Purdue MIND from the ground up.”
The Gates Cambridge Scholarship seeks applicants who work for the greater good. Among his many endeavors, Drakopoulos helps make long-term improvements to local neighborhoods as president of Purdue’s chapter of Habitat for Humanity. He has also been a student leader during a two-week service trip to Nicaragua, applying his biomedical engineering background to provide sustainable access to clean water. George Wodicka, head of the Weldon School of Biomedical Engineering, says Drakopoulus embodies the qualities the school holds in highest esteem.
“He is a gifted leader, inquiring and collaborative,” Wodicka added. “He inspires others around him to raise their expectations and stretch their capabilities. His work is well researched, well vetted and justifiable. We couldn’t be prouder of him and look forward to following his career with great anticipation.”
Drakopoulos is a member of the Phi Beta Kappa national honor society, a Purdue Trustees and Presidential Scholar and a recipient of the Combs Family Biomedical Engineering Scholarship. He applied for the Gates Cambridge Scholarship through the National and International Scholarships Office, housed in Purdue’s Honors College. NISO develops student-scholars’ skills as they prepare their applications for Purdue’s nominations for awards.
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