By Annie Chang
This February, the inaugural cohort of Knight-Hennessy Scholars was announced. The scholars will receive full tuition at a Stanford graduate school of their choice and engage with fellow scholars through programming and a shared residence on campus.
Three Knight-Hennessy Scholars attended Stanford as undergraduates: Jason Khoo ’16, who will pursue a M.D. at the School of Medicine; Matthew Colford ’14, who will jointly study law and business; and Amanda Zerbe ’15, who will pursue a J.D. at Stanford Law School as well as a master’s degree in environment and resources.
“I think it was a lot of disbelief,” said Khoo, reflecting on his experience finding out that he’d been selected as a Knight-Hennessy Scholar.
Entering medical school, Khoo said, he is compelled by the impact that physicians can have on their patients.
“I think that fundamentally what physicians stand for is something that I connect with very deeply,” he said. “I have been on both sides of the healthcare spectrum, and as a patient you feel very exposed and very unsure of what’s going on. I think a physician in that moment is really able to make an impact in your life, to help you feel reassured and help you view healthcare as something that you should care about and engage with.”
Khoo attributes the interdisciplinary community of the Scholars program as key to his enthusiasm for joining the cohort.
“This program makes it a lot easier to be in the same place, to be in the same roof — quite literally, with Denning House — to talk to people, and to figure out, how are [they] approaching similar problems that I’m facing in my field, what approaches have [they] learned in [their] field,” he said. “Perhaps we can borrow some of those techniques.”
As an undergraduate, Khoo conducted bioengineering research, focusing on automating lab diagnostics. After graduation he worked on building a company that translated his research findings into commercial applications.
“We got to a point during my senior year where we had wrapped everything up on the academic side and we were thinking, well, this is a really cool technology and it would be a shame if it just stayed as a paper, so we really started exploring what it takes to translate the technology,” Khoo recalled. “Part of my goal going into medicine is to help technologies come out of that academic space.”
Khoo is currently developing a company with his co-founders at Start-X, a nonprofit startup accelerator. In the future, he plans to balance direct patient care with designing technologies and systems that empower people to take control of their healthcare.
What would Khoo do differently if he were a freshman again? He says he would focus on cultivating relationships with others at Stanford.
“Something I wish I had realized a bit earlier was to get to know people even better, understand how they think and their ways of life, just because, once you get out of Stanford, it’s hard to do that,” he explained. “There aren’t that many situations where you’re living in the same place with people from all different countries, all different walks of life, all different goals and ambitions. Trying to absorb as much of their thoughts and perspectives is something that I would encourage myself to do even more.”
Colford said he was overjoyed and humbled when he learned he had won the Knight-Hennessy Scholarship.
“I was on a run in the morning, and [former President John Hennessy] called me,” he said. “I was thrilled and speechless.”
Colford applied for the scholarship because he wanted to make a difference in the world through public service and company-building while getting to spend time with others in the Knight-Hennessy cohort.
“One of the cool things about the program is that the people in it are change-oriented, and I feel that one of the ways I want to effect change is through serving in office, particularly at a state or local level,” Colford said. “Also, because I’ve worked in venture capital for the past two years, I’m interested in starting companies that are going to make global change. Within the program, I’m excited to work with people from all different disciplines and encounter problems that I didn’t even know existed.”
Expressing excitement about his J.D./M.B.A. joint degree, Colford said, “I’m really fascinated by the intersection of business and law.”
Colford traces that fascination back to his time as an undergraduate, where he deliberately took a diverse course load and worked under the guidance of mentors like former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Senior Fellow at the Stanford Institute for International Studies Coit Blacker.
Colford was also involved during his undergraduate years with the Haas Center for Public Service, where he ran a program that brought awareness to civil-military issues in the Stanford community.
Colford led an Alternative Spring Break trip that brought a group of Stanford students to the White House, U.S. Naval Academy and Pentagon.
After graduation, he also spent a year working as a special assistant at the State Department to former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Powers.
He later returned to Stanford to co-write a book on civil-military relations at the Hoover Institution and then joined the venture capital firm Andreessen-Horowitz, where he has been working for the past two and a half years.
Asked what advice would he give his freshman self, Colford emphasized learning broadly.
“I would try to ask as many questions as possible, to meet as many people as possible, to take classes across a bunch of different disciplines, to try to collect as many mental models as I can, and to realize that it’s a lot more important to be interested than interesting,” Colford said.
When Zerbe found out that she had won the Knight-Hennessy, she was shocked and excited.
“I jumped up and down a lot,” she recalled.
As a recipient of the scholarship, she looks forward to breaking disciplinary silos by working with other graduate students passionate about a variety of issues.
“I think this scholarship is emblematic of what’s so great about Stanford,” Zerbe said. “[It has] a practical focus on solving real world problems.”
She also cited the program’s emphasis on storytelling as one of its attractive features.
“Having grown up in California, close to the ocean, my interest in environmental issues was nurtured from an early age,” explained Zerbe, who studied Earth Systems and international relations as an undergraduate. “I took a couple classes at Stanford that confirmed my interest in environmental law.”
She eventually received the John Gardner Public Service Fellowship — a program from the Haas Center for Public Service in which students work for 10 months with a government or non-profit agency in the U.S. — through which she worked as a consultant for the Flora Family Foundation, which supports organizations geared toward the public good.
During her time at Stanford, Zerbe played on the fencing team, served as the Editor-In-Chief of “Intersect: Stanford’s Journal of Science, Technology and Society,” worked as the academic dean associate at Crothers and participated in both the Stanford in Washington and Stanford in Paris programs.
In Washington, Zerbe interned at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), an experience which she described as “formative.” The classes she took were taught by practitioners “doing in the day, teaching in the night,” and the experience opened her eyes not only to the basics of legislation but also the different levers of power in D.C.
Zerbe aspires to work in climate law, bridging the gap between legislators and scientists. To do so, she wants to cultivate a skill-set that will allow her to move back and forth between science and law. With climate change playing an increasingly prominent role in global politics, Zerbe is currently working on a sustainable energy agenda at the United Nations, where she has already had the opportunity to attend two conferences on climate change.
“It is exciting to see nations come together and address problems,” she said.
Zerbe said she would tell her freshman self “not to forget to thank the people around [her] who made that experience so special.”
“They did so much to make my experience amazing and enjoyable,” she added. “I think I would take a little bit more time to appreciate them in the moment.”
Contact Annie Chang at annette.chang ‘at’ stanford.edu.