When Harvard senior Brandon Liu got the call, he could hardly believe what the person on the other end of the line was saying. He was one of 36 students nationwide to win a prestigious Marshall Scholarship, which will allow him to study for two years at a university of his choice in the United Kingdom.
“I was overwhelmed. It was very exciting,” said Liu, a computer science concentrator who lives in Quincy House. “Once I got some emails, that’s when I knew it actually happened.”
While his interests began in science and technology, Liu said his time at Harvard — and his extensive studies in global health and public health — led him to begin exploring the ways that technology can be used to combat disease in the developing world.
To that end, Liu helped to build Remindavax, an electronic medical records system for maternal health in Karnataka, India. He also founded Tech in the World, a global health fellowship for computer science students.
“I’m very interested in global health, specifically, and it’s very clear that technology has a huge role to play in global health,” said Liu. “By the end of this year, there will be as many cellphones as people in the world, and there are going to be more and more applications that will be harnessing this ability to reach people in rural areas that we couldn’t reach before. We have only just begun to explore the ways that technology can make things more effective, can allow us to reach more people and prevent disease and suffering to a much greater extent.”
To continue his goal of finding new ways to use technology to tackle global health problems, Liu plans to spend a year in London, working on development studies at the School of Oriental and African Studies, and a year in Cambridge, studying the history and philosophy of science. He will represent the University as its sole Marshall winner this year.
“Part of the reason I want to take those courses is because I’ve learned that solving a problem is not just about knowing how to build a technology, but about knowing what to build, and how to integrate it into someone’s culture and life,” he said. “To think critically about what sort of impact my technology will have on society, that’s a really important question that, as a computer scientist, you’re not really trained to think about.”
While he is excited to begin his studies in the United Kingdom, Liu said his time at Harvard has been incredibly valuable, for the friends he made and the experiences he had, and also for the opportunities it afforded him.
“Harvard is such a vibrant environment, and there are so many people doing such incredible work in very diverse areas,” he said. “The fact that Harvard has a School of Public Health and a Medical School and a School of Business and a School of Public Policy — I’ve had the chance to take classes with professors from each of those Schools, and those interactions exposed me to different ways of thinking that I wouldn’t have developed otherwise.
“There is so much room for interdisciplinary work here, and that’s really pushed me to think differently,” Liu added. “That has been very influential in me wanting to pursue this coursework.”
Going forward, Liu hopes that the development experience he will gain from studying in Britain will allow him to become a leader in using digital tools to combat the problems associated with public health and poverty around the world.
“In 10 to 15 years, I hope to become a thought leader in the field, providing guidance and perspective internationally to cities and nations,” he said. “The path is long and the problems are complex, but the opportunities are endless.”