Leah Castleberry grew up on Chicago’s South Side, went to college in Washington, D.C., and traveled the world. In 2017, she came back to the South Side as the recipient of a merit-based, full-tuition HBCU and HSI Bridge Scholarship through the University of Chicago Professional Education. The scholarship not only helped her discover her passion for investigating the ways that technology and social policy intersect, it inspired her to enroll in a master’s program at the Harris School of Public Policy, and gave her enough credits to complete her degree ahead of schedule.
Bridge Scholars are graduating seniors or recent alumni of historically black colleges and universities (HBCU) and Hispanic-serving institutions (HSI) who are selected to spend a year as UChicago graduate students-at-large. While on campus, scholars explore courses of their choice across the University's graduate divisions and work with faculty mentors.
A member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc., Castleberry became a Bridge Scholar after earning a bachelor’s degree in international business on full scholarship at Howard University. After graduating with honors in 2015, she participated in exchange programs in China and Japan and worked as a consultant with IBM Global Business Services. The more she learned and traveled, the more Castleberry felt pulled to return to academia.
She began her Bridge year thinking that she might enter the world of public policy, but her mentors helped her clarify her interests and pursue a new direction. Now, Castleberry is interested in researching the ways that racial, cultural, and gender biases can be embedded in technology, and in helping companies understand why mitigating this bias should be a priority, both for the benefit of society and for their bottom line.
“My Bridge year was really critical to establishing relationships with the faculty who have mentored and guided me through this exploration — not only what I want to do, but how to do it,” Castleberry says. “They’ve helped a lot along this journey.” She plans to enter a PhD program and delve into research that will allow her to explore her interdisciplinary interests.
“At the University, I learned about new opportunities that align with my existing interests. Going in, I never expected to be applying to PhD programs, but now I think that my atypical path to a PhD — including my work experience and the Bridge year — will help me have a bigger impact.”