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KU nominates three students, one alumna for Rhodes, Marshall scholarships

Friday, October 23, 2015

LAWRENCE — The University of Kansas has nominated three students and a recent alumna for prestigious fellowships for study in the United Kingdom. Alexis Knutsen, Alex Kong, Jennifer Stern and Jessica van Loben Sels are applying for the Marshall Scholarship; Knutsen, Kong and Stern are also applying for the Rhodes Scholarship.

Marshall Scholarships provide funding for graduate study at any university in the United Kingdom, while the Rhodes Scholarship provides expenses for one to three years of study at the University of Oxford in England.

“We’re proud of KU’s nominees who have accomplished a great deal during their time here,” said Bryan Young, director of the University Honors Program. “We know they will represent us well. Their successes serve as an inspiration for their peers and for the faculty and staff who have been fortunate to work with them.”

Regional panels review applications for both scholarship programs. Finalists are invited to participate in interviews in November.

KU students have previously won nine Marshall Scholarships and 26 Rhodes Scholarships. The nomination process is coordinated by the Office of Fellowships & Scholarships in the University Honors Program.

Alexis Knutsen, currently of Washington, D.C., is a 2014 graduate in classics and classical languages. She is the daughter of Bernhard and Christina Knutsen of Overland Park.

She was a member of the 2012 University Scholars Program, received a Critical Languages Scholarship and a Foreign Language and Area Studies Fellowship for the study of Arabic, and she was named a 2013-2014 KU Woman of Distinction. She was elected to Phi Beta Kappa as a junior and completed the University Honors Program.

“I am honored to be nominated for these prestigious scholarships,” Knutsen said. “I am also incredibly thankful for all the mentoring and support I have received from professors and advisers while at KU.”

Alex Kong is the son of Man and Sue Kong of Lawrence and a graduate of Free State High School.

He will complete his bachelor’s degree in pharmaceutical studies this spring, and he plans to earn a doctor of pharmacy degree and a doctorate in pharmaceutical chemistry. At KU he has been active in the lab of Jeff Krise, associate professor of pharmaceutical chemistry. A member of the University Honors Program, an honors ambassador and a research ambassador, he received an honorable mention from the Goldwater Scholarship Program in 2013.

“When I first came to KU, I did so with the goal of discovering who I wanted to be,” Kong said. “I deepened my scientific passions while pursuing anything that caught my eye, from a cappella to creative writing and even baking. I never imagined that someone might consider me to be a worthy candidate for opportunities like this, but I am humbled by the support that this community and these experiences have given me.”

In the summer of 2015 he was selected for the Amgen Scholars Program. He hopes to pursue a research career in pharmaceutical science, teach at the university level and increase scientific literacy.

Jennifer Stern is the daughter of George and Joan Stern of Lawrence and is a graduate of Free State High School.

She is majoring in ecology & evolutionary biology. She conducted original research on climate change with Joy Ward, professor of ecology & evolutionary biology, and on ichthyology with William Leo Smith, assistant professor of ecology & evolutionary biology and assistant curator at the Biodiversity Institute.

Stern said she was particularly interested in arctic whales and planned to integrate education and research into a career understanding and protecting crucial arctic ecosystems.

“I am incredibly honored to be a nominee for both the Rhodes and Marshall scholarships,” she said. “Both scholarships would allow me to attend phenomenal programs to become a well-rounded scientist and educator in conservation and climate change.”

She is a member of the University Honors Program and the 2014 University Scholars Program and head peer leader for the Peer Led Undergraduate Supplements in Biology program. Stern was named a 2015 Udall Scholar and an Astronaut Scholar.

Jessica van Loben Sels is the daughter of James and Monique van Loben Sels of Albuquerque, New Mexico, and is a graduate of St. Pius X High School. She is a microbiology major and works in the lab of David Davido, associate professor of molecular biosciences, researching the herpes simplex virus.

Van Loben Sels said she hadn’t considered studying in the United Kingdom until she learned of the scholarship opportunity, and she enjoyed interacting with the researchers she met during the application process.

“I hope to have the opportunity to work with them and further advance my scientific understanding,” she said. “I aim to conduct therapy-oriented research later in my career, so working with such accomplished scientists in the United Kingdom would play an instrumental role in my professional development.”

She is a member of the University Honors Program and the 2014 University Scholars Program, and she is a recipient of the K-INBRE research fellowship in 2014 and 2015. Van Loben Sels was named a 2015 Goldwater Scholar and an Astronaut Scholar.