Stanford University: Stanford bioengineering honors student named Rhodes Scholar

Stanford senior Sayeh K. Kohani, who is pursuing a bachelor’s degree in bioengineering with honors, and a minor in public policy, has been selected as a 2022 Rhodes Scholar.

The Rhodes Scholarships are the oldest international fellowship awards in the world. Each year, 32 students from the United States are awarded Rhodes Scholarships, which provide all expenses for two or three years of graduate study – and in some instances, four years – at the University of Oxford in England.

Kohani, an aspiring physician-scientist who grew up in San Diego, is one of 22 women selected as 2022 Rhodes Scholars in the United States, the most ever chosen in a year.

“I’m thrilled and humbled to be going to Oxford,” she said. “It certainly hasn’t sunk in yet, but I am so grateful for the guidance of my professors, my advisors – Liqun Luo, a professor of biology, and Stephen Skirboll, an associate professor of neurosurgery – and Stanford’s Overseas Resource Center.

As a Rhodes Scholar, Kohani hopes to study neuroscience and social policy by pursuing two degrees: a Master of Science in Physiology, Anatomy and Genetics, and a Master of Science in Evidence-Based Social Intervention and Policy Evaluation.

After nearly two years of living and learning remotely during the pandemic, she is looking forward to meeting people in person in a new environment. It will be her first time studying abroad.

“One of the things that’s so special about the Rhodes is the opportunity to meet peers from all around the world with a diverse range of interests,” she said.

The U.S. Rhodes Scholars will join an international group of scholars chosen from more than 60 countries. Worldwide, more than 100 Rhodes Scholars will be selected this year.

Kohani, who has worked in several labs at Stanford, is writing her thesis based on her research in the Luo Lab examining how neural circuits assemble throughout development in fruit flies. In the Skirboll Lab, she is examining cancer stem cells in human glioblastomas – an incredibly aggressive brain cancer.

During the summer of 2020, Kohani participated in the Bio-X Summer Undergraduate Research Program, where she conducted research on the molecular mechanisms of neuronal wiring specificity using the fruit fly olfactory circuit as a model.

“Research is exhilarating,” she said. “You’re sitting at the very edge of the unknown and it’s so exciting to be a part of that – to work collectively with others and solve problems.”

Last year, Kohani founded NeuroConnect, a program that matches student volunteers with patients with neurodegenerative disorders for one-on-one conversations via Zoom.

“During the pandemic, a lot of memory care facilities were reporting rapid declines in brain health among people with neurodegenerative diseases – such as dementia and Parkinson’s disease – because of social isolation,” said Kohani, who was paired with a fellow pianist named Belle.

“Each week, Belle would pick a song and I would play it,” Kohani said. “She was a classically trained pianist, so we played a lot of Chopin and some Bach. It was really fun.”

Rhodes Scholarships
U.S. Rhodes Scholars are chosen in a two-stage process. Applicants, who apply as residents of one of the 50 states, the District of Columbia or the U.S. territories, must be endorsed by their college or university. Finalists are interviewed individually by district committees the weekend before Thanksgiving; winners are announced Saturday evening.

Rhodes Scholars are chosen not only for their outstanding scholarly achievements, but for their character, commitment to others and to the common good, and for their potential for leadership in whatever domains their careers may lead.

Stanford students interested in overseas scholarships and Stanford faculty interested in nominating students for such awards should contact Diane Murk, manager of the Overseas Resource Center at dmurk@stanford.edu, of the Bechtel International Center.

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