Stephen Lezak ’15 Awarded Gates Cambridge Scholarship

May 29, 2019
Hillary Hempstead
Stephen Lezak
Photo credit: Photo courtesy of Stephen Lezak ’15

Stephen Lezak ’15, a politics graduate, is Oberlin’s second Gates Cambridge Scholar and the first since 2012.

Stephen Lezak ’15 has been awarded a Gates Cambridge Scholarship, a scholarship dedicated to building a global network of future leaders committed to improving the lives of others.

For the past year, Lezak has been based at the University of Oxford, where he studies land and water conflicts between Central Asian communities and international mining firms.

Lezak's doctoral research, supported by the Gates Cambridge Scholarship, will take place in the Cambridge University geography department and in conjunction with the Scott Polar Research Institute. Lezak will explore the Arctic as the new frontier of a planet in transition.

“The surface of the Arctic is warming at more than double the global rate, meaning that the future for much of the planet is the present-day reality in the Arctic,” says Lezak. “My research will explore this natural laboratory by looking at the livelihoods most disrupted by these changes and examining those who are profiting in disaster's wake.”

Lezak will be spending time with communities in the North that are retreating from sea level rise and forced to find new ways to make a living. He’ll also be studying those who are rushing to stake their claim to the new territory that is being uncovered by retreating sea ice: fossil fuel extractors, shipping companies, and cruise lines.

“The present-day Arctic tells a set of human and environmental stories that will come to characterize much of the world in the decades ahead,” says Lezak. “But the region is also the site of innovation and adaptation occurring in response to these changes. New forms of governance—particularly those driven by Inuit communities—and ways of responding to environmental change are being developed out of necessity by Arctic peoples. Their resilience stands to inform populations around the world whose futures will become increasingly tenuous in the Anthropocene.”

Lezak says he’s most looking forward to continuing to grow as a writer and thinker. “The Gates Cambridge scholarship provides three years of funding which allows an expansive amount of time to study, reflect, and write,” says Lezak.

While at Oberlin, Lezak was involved with the Outings Club and the Climbing Club, along with the Oberlin Fossil Fuel Divestment campaign.

Post-Gates Cambridge, Lezak plans to continue working on climate adaptation and the nexus of human displacement and extractive industries.

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