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News Story

Conflict Researcher Vicka Heidt (C’24) Receives Gates Cambridge Scholarship

Vicka Heidt (C’24), a Georgetown senior and Russian-American researcher of peacebuilding and conflict resolution, has won a Gates Cambridge Scholarship, a competitive and prestigious international prize that provides recipients with a full-ride to the University of Cambridge to pursue a postgraduate degree.  

Heidt is one of just 26 scholars from the United States to receive the scholarship. Established in 2000 with a $210 million gift from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the scholarship selects promising young people from around the world who demonstrate outstanding intellectual ability, a commitment to improving the lives of others and leadership potential. 

At Cambridge, Heidt will pursue a Master of Philosophy in development studies. She is interested in how global institutions can integrate victim-centered, trauma-informed support systems in post-conflict situations. Specifically, Heidt plans to research how international law can support gender equality and development in Sudan. 

People-Focused Post-Conflict Solutions

A group of students stands in two rows in front of Healy Hall.

Vicka Heidt (C’24) in front of Healy Hall with fellow Global Irish Studies Fellows. As a fellow, Heidt is examining modes for alternative justice that respond to increasing levels of domestic violence and broader gender equity in Northern Ireland.

“Georgetown has pushed me to think critically about the most vulnerable people in global society and my role in the interlocking fields of development and peacebuilding,” Heidt said. “My coursework in peace and conflict studies exposed that the need for development is most dire in states which are experiencing active conflict or have recently emerged from conflict.”

As an undergraduate, Heidt has already been probing questions of conflict and healing inside the classroom and out in the wider world. Last summer, Heidt supported Just Grace, a non-profit located in Cape Town, South Africa that promotes community development in Langa Township. 

“Working on the ground in the post-apartheid state, I was able to see how interdisciplinary development mechanisms counteracted the deficit,” said Heidt. “I observed how this community-based organization equipped individuals with professional skills – providing barista training or interview preparation directly contributed to hundreds of new jobs.”

Heidt is interested in deploying people-focused development mechanisms in other post-conflict areas around the world. 

“I seek to support development initiatives, such as those in Cape Town, in conflicted and

post-conflict states,” said Heidt. “The Gates Cambridge Scholarship will allow me to gather a macro understanding of international development as well as build my technical skills.”

Personal Passion for Peacebuilding

A woman with long, auburn har stands behind a woman in a wheelchair with long, dark hair. They both are smiling and looking at the camera. The U.S. Capitol is behind them.

Vicka Heidt (C’24) with her mother in front of the Capitol.

“My passion for sustainable peacebuilding in post-conflict settings stems from being raised in an intergenerational, Russian-American household,” said Heidt. “Witnessing the consequences of unredressed harm following conflict in the Soviet Union drove my desire to study government, justice, and peacebuilding.”

The legacies and after-effects of conflict have animated Heidt’s own life – her late father, a contractor at the Department of Defense, and her mother, a Russian woman, met after the collapse of the Soviet Union. The experiences of her mother and grandmother, who lived in the Soviet Union and later with Heidt’s family, and her own intergenerational trauma, have informed her own academic pursuits.

“My family’s trauma, stemming from their lives in the Soviet Union, shaped their lives—and it shaped mine, too,” she said. “Witnessing my entire family carry these burdens gave me an unshakeable desire to serve people affected by trauma.”

Heidt transferred from William & Mary, where she had been the class president, to Georgetown in 2022. Since arriving on the Hilltop, Heidt, a double major in government and justice and peace studies, has been active in a multitude of classroom and extracurricular settings, investigating questions of conflict resolution, international law and transformative justice. 

At Georgetown, Heidt has worked as a research assistant at the Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security, where she created the first conflict tracking system in the world with a gendered focus and collected data on the female victims of armed conflict. In 2023, she was granted a fellowship to develop and publish research on gender, violence and transitional justice in Northern Ireland as a research fellow in the Global Irish Studies program.

In her free time, she served as the president of Georgetown University Prison Outreach, where she managed volunteer programs that connect students with incarcerated individuals and helped administer creative writing and GED classes for individuals in DC and Virginia detention facilities.

Heidt has been just as active in the wider world as she has been on the Hilltop. She completed a full-time internship with the Brookings Institution, supporting former U.S. Ambassador Norm Eisen through research and analysis of threats to American democracy, including the legal and political implications of Jan. 6. While there, she contributed to the article, “Detailed Chronology in Trump-Cohen Hush Money Investigation,” published in Just Security, which chronicles the indictment of former President Donald Trump. 

“Vicka is not merely an incisive, dedicated and capable legal and policy analyst; she is also a reliable, warm and collaborative person – one who is admired by her peers and her senior colleagues,” said Ambassador Eisen. “I am looking forward to seeing how Vicka uses her razor-sharp research and intellectual skills in her early career and beyond.”

Heidt also worked as the Eurasia Research Fellow at PEN America, where she collected data on imprisoned journalists in Russia and Crimea and aided investigations into the conflict in Ukraine. 

“Applying my classroom lessons in governance and justice and peace studies toward supporting real people is the crux of my education,” said Heidt. “The dire effects of neglecting trauma, predominantly felt in conflict responses, have pushed me to advocate trauma-informed lenses to development and peacebuilding.” 

Throughout it all, Heidt has served as a caregiver for her mother, who is in advanced stages of Multiple Sclerosis, her brother, who was recovering from an accident, and her grandmother.

“The fact that Vicka has accomplished so much, more in many cases, than her unencumbered peers, that she has faced the world which has dealt her so hard a hand with so much pluck, that she has risen to every occasion – becoming a caretaker, a survivor, and a champion for those in greatest need – makes her nothing less than a heroine in my eyes,” says Lauren Tuckley, director for the Center of Research and Fellowships.

Heidt one day hopes to be a lawyer and work on issues of transitional and restorative justice. 

“Researchers, policymakers, and lawyers work hand-in-hand to respond to international conflicts,” she said. “With a foundation in each of these fields, I will be best equipped to apply an empathetic, victim-centered lens to peacebuilding.” 

-by Hayden Frye (C’17)

Justice and Peace Studies