St. Olaf graduate named Knight-Hennessy scholar at Stanford
Recent St. Olaf College graduate Benj Wollant ’19 has been named a 2020 Knight-Hennessy Scholar at Stanford University.
As a Knight-Hennessy Scholar, Wollant joins a cohort of 80 students pursuing graduate degrees at Stanford who will receive three years of full funding for their program of choice. The cohort will also provide support and education in global leadership.
Wollant, one of 13 Oles named Fulbright Fellows for 2019-20, is currently studying proton therapy in Germany on a year-long Fulbright program. He will begin his Ph.D. program in electrical engineering at Stanford in the fall. Within the Knight-Hennessy Scholars program, he will also be able to participate in multidisciplinary seminars, guest lectures, workshops, and trips along with fellow scholars in the cohort.
Wollant is excited to pursue his own field of study while also being part of a cohort with other students working a variety of fields. “My cohort in electrical engineering will be excellent, and I’m really looking forward to learning and working alongside them. But also having this cohort outside of my discipline will really help me continue to broaden my education outside of my field of study,” Wollant says. “A Ph.D. is so, so focused, and I think the opportunity to interact with people outside your field during a Ph.D. program on a meaningful, regular basis isn’t something that’s always available or easy.”
My cohort in electrical engineering will be excellent, and I’m really looking forward to learning and working alongside them. But also having this cohort outside of my discipline will really help me continue to broaden my education outside of my field of study.Benj Wollant ’19
Wollant is interested in pursuing work with biomedical applications, potentially focusing on biomedical imaging or biosensors. At St. Olaf, Wollant majored in physics and math. His time spent working in the lab of Associate Professor of Biology and Physics Jay Demas allowed him to apply his quantitative skills to his interest in interdisciplinary work involving biology.
“Professor Demas’s research is in sensory neurobiology. Having the wonderful opportunity to work for him opened my eyes to applying physics and math to problems and questions in the life sciences,” Wollant says.
While at St. Olaf, Wollant also earned a grant from the American Association of Physicists in Medicine to do research in a medical physics lab. During the summer between his junior and senior years, he had the opportunity to work in the BADER Lab at the University of Chicago with Dr. Kenneth Bader. In this role, he researched a type of therapeutic ultrasound known as histotripsy and its use in treating deep vein thrombosis.
“That opportunity really opened my eyes because it combined my analytical background in math and physics with my intellectual interests in biology,” Wollant says. “Beyond my own academic and intellectual interests, it also had a very direct application to human well-being — the end goal was people. Whether it’s basic science generating new knowledge or applied research that leverages that knowledge, all research can arguably be said to go toward making the world a better place in one way or another. That’s why it gets funded. But having the application of the research be really tangible — people and, in this case, medicine and health — really appealed to me.”
Wollant also played flute in the St. Olaf Band throughout his four years at St. Olaf, serving as co-principal of the flute section his junior and senior years and as manager of the band during his senior year.
“I think specifically being able to serve as manager really helped me develop as a leader in a lot of ways — you’re doing logistics with the band and working with people on a personal level as well,” Wollant explains. This experience was crucial in preparing him for the Knight-Hennessy Scholars program. “For a leadership program, it was a strong component of my application. Music was really important for me.”
Wollant is most looking forward to spending the next few years of his graduate degree working with his fellow scholars in the Knight-Hennessy cohort.
“I think one of the most important things about anybody’s education, wherever you are, is not just the institution and the professors and the classes you’re taking,” Wollant says. “It’s also about the people you’re around.”
In February, Wollant traveled to Stanford to meet with faculty and other applicants for the program. Being able to meet with the other potential scholars was influential and inspiring for him.
Obviously the other scholars are all extremely bright, very talented, and successful in what they’ve done, but they are also easily among the most inspiring, driven, and caring people I have ever met.Benj Wollant ’19
“Obviously the other scholars are all extremely bright, very talented, and successful in what they’ve done, but they are also easily among the most inspiring, driven, and caring people I have ever met. Everyone was there not because they want to be personally successful, but because they want what they’re doing to succeed in that they help other people through that work,” Wollant says. “Even though my focus is more scientific, it is undergirded by a desire for my work and career to have positive, meaningful impacts on others. I could not be more excited to be around the rest of the Knight-Hennessy cohort in the coming years.”