Carnegie Mellon University
December 17, 2016

Biological Sciences Major Chrystal Thomas Named Schwarzman Scholar

Chrystal Thomas

Chrystal Thomas, a senior majoring in biological sciences at Carnegie Mellon University’s Mellon College of Science, has been named to this year’s class of Schwarzman Scholars. The highly selective scholarship program will fully fund Thomas as she completes a master of global affairs with a concentration in public policy at Tsinghua University in Beijing.

Thomas is one of 129 students from 30 countries and 75 universities chosen as Schwarzman Scholars. Each of the scholars will pursue a master’s degree at Tsinghua University in 2017. Founded by Blackstone Chairman, CEO and Co-Founder Stephen A. Schwarzman, the program is quickly becoming the premier training ground for future leaders. The program, which is in its second year, focuses on educating and preparing the world’s most exceptional students to confront the challenges of the coming century and provide them with the opportunity to develop an understanding of China.

“Chrystal is one of the top students that I have known in my 38 years at Carnegie Mellon.  She has great intellectual ability, is highly motivated, is a leader, and has a strong vision on how she will create policies and programs to benefit people around the world.  She will become a world leader in the area of public health,” said Eric Grotzinger, emeritus associate dean for undergraduate affairs at the Mellon College of Science.

Thomas first became interested in public health and policy during a Leadership Alliance Summer Undergraduate Research Internship at the University of Pennsylvania where she participated in a conference aimed at resolving conflicts of interest between academia and industry. There, she discovered a passion for facilitating dialogues between communities to create positive results. During an internship at the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Disease the following summer, Thomas’s interest in the field was cemented when she attended a keynote speech on public health.

“I think there are a lot of people who want to get things done, but because they don’t effectively communicate with teammates who hold different perspectives from them, progress towards their vision gets hindered. With the Schwarzman Scholarship, I’m really hoping to work on my own communication and decision-making skills so that I can help as many people as possible,” said Thomas. 

Thomas was drawn to the program in part by the opportunity to study abroad. The daughter of a Haitian immigrant, Thomas is interested in barriers to health care faced by immigrant families. One-third of the immigrants moving to the United States are from China, and she hopes that she will be able to learn more about the Chinese health care system while she is in Beijing and apply what she learned to her future work.

“Authentic and inspiring, Chrystal exemplifies the leadership qualities that the Schwarzman Scholar Program seeks. She is deeply committed to advancing the discourse on equity and inclusion at all levels and has a track record on campus and in the community that speaks to these interests. Chrystal’s academic and leadership experiences at Carnegie Mellon provide an important foundation for meaningful engagement with other Schwarzman Scholars and her host community at Tsinghua University,” said Joanna Dickert, assistant director of undergraduate research and national fellowships in Carnegie Mellon’s Fellowships and Scholarships Office(FSO). The FSO guided Thomas through the Schwartzman Scholar application and interview process.

Thomas is an active member of the Carnegie Mellon community, especially in activities focused on fostering diversity at the University. She founded and is president of Colors@CMU, a student organization that promotes open conversations on race and diversity. She served as one of the inaugural members of the Diversity and Inclusion Roundtable, which provides counsel to Provost Farnam Jahanian and other senior leadership on diversity initiatives for the university. She is also a mentor in the Coaching Minority Progress and Success in Science (COMPASS) program.

Thomas has received a number of awards and recognitions for her work in and out of the classroom. In 2013, she received a Gates Millennium Scholarship from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. This fall, she was named an Andrew Carnegie Society Scholar, a distinction bestowed upon only 40 graduating seniors.

After completing her master’s at Tsinghua University, Thomas plans to attend medical school to pursue an M.D./M.P.H. degree.


About Schwarzman Scholars:
Schwarzman Scholars was inspired by the Rhodes Scholarship, which was founded in 1902 to promote international understanding and peace, and is designed to meet the challenges of the 21st century and beyond. Blackstone Co-Founder Stephen A. Schwarzman personally contributed $100 million to the program and is leading a fundraising campaign to raise an additional $350 million from private sources to endow the program in perpetuity. The $450 million endowment will support up to 200 scholars annually from the U.S., China, and around the world for a one-year Master’s Degree program at Tsinghua University in Beijing, one of China’s most prestigious universities and an indispensable base for the country’s scientific and technological research. Scholars chosen for this highly selective program will live in Beijing for a year of study and cultural immersion, attending lectures, traveling, and developing a better understanding of China. Admissions opened in the fall of 2015, with the first class of students in residence in 2016.

By: Jocelyn Duffy,, 412-268-9982