Five alumni intent on improving the world named Knight-Hennessy Scholars
Two current graduate students and three Yale College alumni are among the 49 students from 20 countries named as inaugural Knight-Hennessy Scholars. They are Yale Law School student Zoe Weinberg and School of Forestry & Environmental Studies student Leehi Yona and alumni Vivienne Hay ’14, Jeremy Hutton ’15, and Diana Li ’15.
Knight-Hennessey Scholars receive financial support for the full cost of attendance for their graduate education at Stanford University, and build on their core degree program with leadership training, mentorship, and experiential learning across multiple disciplines. Announced in 2016, the program aims to prepare a new generation of leaders with the “deep academic foundation and broad skill set needed to develop creative solutions for the world’s most complex challenges,” according to a press release announcing the scholars.
“We have selected students who believe strongly in the pressing need for better leadership across all disciplines, and around the globe,” said John L. Hennessey, the Shriram Family Director of Knight-Hennessey Scholars.
Along with Hennessy, who served as Stanford’s 10th president from 2000 to 2016, the program is named for Stanford alumnus Phil Knight, M.B.A. ’62, a philanthropist, business leader, and co-founder of Nike Inc., who is contributing $400 million to back the scholarship program.
“This program brings together the best students from around the globe,” said Knight. “I expect they will become leaders in all sectors, both public and private, and find breakthroughs that will improve the world.”
Knight’s founding gift to the Knight-Hennessy Scholars endowment is the largest cash gift from an individual to Stanford. Other gifts include a $100 million donation from Dorothy and Robert King, M.B.A. ’60. With an endowment of $750 million, the Knight-Hennessy Scholars program will be the largest fully endowed scholars program in the world.
The five Yale affiliates were chosen from 3,601 applicants from around the world. The primary admission criteria include independence of thought, purposeful leadership, and a civic mindset. Applicants were also required to apply and be admitted to the Stanford graduate program of their choice.
“The scholars we selected are not just outstanding academically,” said Jeff Wachtel, the program’s executive director. “Each exhibits the humility, kindness, and empathy that establish the foundation for future cohorts of Knight-Hennessey Scholars, and that we hope will redefine global leadership.”
Weinberg, who was born in Paris and raised in New York, is pursuing a master’s degree in business administration at Stanford Graduate School of Business. She earned a bachelor’s degree in social studies from Harvard University, and is now working toward a J.D. at Yale Law School. Prior to graduate school, she worked on the Hillary for America campaign, serving as the assistant to the chief administrative officer. Previously she worked at the International Finance Corporation at the World Bank, based in Washington, D.C. and Nairobi, and in Goldman Sachs’s alternative investments group in New York. At Yale, she was named a Kerry Initiative Fellow and an associate fellow of the Greenberg World Fellows Program. At Harvard her senior thesis was awarded the Thomas T. Hoopes Prize and the Kathryn Ann Huggins Prize for outstanding thesis relating to African-American history.
Yona, born in Israel and raised in Montreal, Quebec, will pursue a Ph.D. in environment and resources at Stanford School of Earth, Energy and Environmental Sciences. She graduated from Dartmouth College with a bachelor’s degree in biology, environmental studies, and was awarded a Senior Fellowship. She will receive her master’s degree this year in environmental science, climate change science, and policy from Yale’s School of Forestry & Environmental Studies. Leehi serves as programming chair of the New Directions in Environmental Law Conference, and on the board of Green Coalition Verte Montreal, an organization for urban environmental conservation and restoration. As the author of over 100 opinion pieces on climate change, she has been featured in outlets such as USA Today, Time, The Nation, Montreal Gazette, and The Guardian. She was named Canada's Top Environmentalist Under 25, was a national winner of The Nation Student Writing Contest in the United States, and received the Donella Meadows Prize for Promoting Sustainability and Yale’s Merit Research Scholarship.
Hay, who is from London, England, will pursue a mechanical engineering degree with a focus on human-centered design at Stanford School of Engineering. She graduated magna cum ladue from Yale as a double major in physics and mathematics and philosophy. She plans to apply her graduate degree toward researching, designing, and building affordable technology for small-scale farmers in low-income countries. Since graduating from Yale, she has worked in the United States and East Africa as a senior business analyst and engagement manager at McKinsey & Company, with a focus on food security and economic development. Her work has helped guide the deployment of $200 million of international development funding to East Africa over the past two years. She received a Yale Undergraduate Prize for Excellence in Research Related to Agriculture and an athletic award from Grace Hopper College.
Hutton is from Montecito, California, and will pursue a J.D. degree from Stanford Law School. He graduated summa cum laude from Yale with a bachelor’s degree in economics. He intends to apply his law degree toward rectifying inequalities associated with criminal justice, climate change, and wealth distribution. For the past several years, he has worked as a sales and trading analyst at JPMorgan Chase, and has been an active member of the junior board of Avenues for Justice, a rehabilitation and crime prevention program. Chosen to introduce then-Vice President Joe Biden as Yale Class Day co-chair in 2015, he received Yale’s Polunin Cup for personal quality and scholastic achievement, as well as the Tobin Scholar Prize for outstanding performance in the core theory courses in economics.
Li, from New York, New York will also pursue a J.D. at Stanford Law School. She graduate from Yale with a bachelor’s degree in ethics, politics, and economics, and aspires to become an immigration lawyer and advocate. She currently works as a strategy adviser at the International Rescue Committee, a global humanitarian aid organization that assists refugees. She was previously an associate at the Boston Consulting Group, where she helped organize the firm’s pro bono consulting. In her free time, she volunteers as a debate teacher at Rikers Island jail and teaches English to a Syrian refugee. While at Yale, she reported on local politics and economic development for the New Haven Independent and the Yale Daily News. As president of the Yale Debate Association, she won the American Parliamentary Debate Association’s Team of the Year award, given to the top two-person team in the nation.
The Knight-Hennessy Scholars will pursue graduate degrees in 28 departments across Stanford University and all seven of its schools: Business; Earth, Energy & Environmental Sciences; Education; Engineering; Humanities and Sciences; Law; and Medicine. Women comprise 57% of the selected scholars, and 63% are from countries other than the United States. Among the Americans, 23% are first-generation U.S. citizens.
While at Stanford, the scholars will reside in Denning House, which is currently under construction. An artist-in-residence program will bring emerging and established artists to campus to pursue their art practice and interact with the scholars.
“The art program at Denning House will allow scholars to engage with significant global artists who are poised to make a lasting impact,” said Robert Denning, former chair of Stanford’s arts advisory board. “The arts will be an important of the Knight-Hennessy experience, strengthening our scholars’ ability to lead across disciplines and cultures.”
A gift from Denning and her husband Steven A. Denning, past chair of the Stanford board of trustees, made the building possible.