Five current and former Yale students have been selected for the inaugural class of Stanford’s highly selective Knight-Hennessy Scholars program.

Announced in 2016, the Knight-Hennessy Scholars 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 from the program. It is named after John Hennessy, who served as Stanford’s tenth president from 2000 to 2016 and is currently the program’s director, and Stanford alumnus Phil Knight, a philanthropist and co-founder of Nike, Inc. who is contributing $400 million to the program.

The Yale students and alumni selected are Diana Li ’15, Vivienne Hay ’14, Jeremy Hutton ’15, Leehi Yona FES ’18 and Zoe Weinberg LAW ’20. They are among the 49 scholars selected from 3,601 applicants. The inaugural class of scholars is 57 percent women, and includes citizens of 20 countries who will pursue degrees in 28 different Stanford graduate departments, according to the press release.

With its $750 million endowment, Knight-Hennessy Scholars at Stanford University will be the largest fully endowed scholars program in the world, according to the program’s website. The scholars will receive up to three years of funding to pursue any graduate degree at Stanford. They will also take part in “tailored workshops and individual coaching” to develop their leadership skills and in mentoring programs. Stanford is also finishing up construction of the Denning House, which will serve as a hub for all scholars to meet and interact.

“We have selected students who believe strongly in the pressing need for better leadership across all disciplines and around the globe,” Hennessy said in a statement.

Li graduated magna cum laude from Yale with a degree in ethics, politics and economics. She currently works as a strategy advisor at the International Rescue Committee, a global humanitarian aid organization that assists refugees and was previously an associate at the Boston Consulting Group, where she helped organize the firm’s pro bono consulting. At Yale, Li was a staff reporter for the News, and served as the 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.

She will pursue a degree from Stanford Law School and aspires to work as an immigration lawyer and advocate after graduating.

“I loved the emphasis the Knight-Hennessy program put on interdisciplinary collaboration and teamwork,” Li said. “When I traveled to Stanford to interview for the program, every candidate I met was doing incredible things in their respective fields, so I feel extremely lucky to have been selected and I’m excited to continue learning from this impressive group of people.”

Hay graduated magna cum laude from Yale with a double major in physics and mathematics & philosophy. Since her graduation, she has worked as a senior business analyst and engagement manager at McKinsey & Company in the United States and East Africa, focusing 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. At Yale, she received a Yale Undergraduate Prize for Excellence in Research Related to Agriculture and the Yale Athletic Award from Grace Hopper College.

She will pursue a master’s degree in mechanical engineering with a focus on human-centered design at the Stanford School of Engineering. She plans to apply her graduate degree toward researching, designing and building affordable technology for small-scale farmers in low-income countries.

Hutton graduated summa cum laude from Yale with a degree in economics. Since graduating, he has worked as a sales and trading analyst at JPMorgan Chase and has been an active member on the junior board of Avenues for Justice, a rehabilitation and crime prevention program. At Yale, 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.

He will pursue a degree from Stanford Law School and intends to apply his education toward rectifying inequalities associated with criminal justice, climate change and wealth distribution.

“Right now, I feel a little like I’m wearing a tuxedo t-shirt to a black-tie wedding,” Hutton said. “I’m blown away by the chance to become a part of — and have a hand in shaping — this first class of Scholars. The scope of the commitment being made to the Scholars is truly humbling, and I will do everything in my power to earn this honor and advance the program’s mission of leaving this world better than we found it.”

Yona received her bachelor’s degree in biology and environmental studies from Dartmouth College. She is currently working towards a master’s degree in environmental science, climate change science and policy from Yale’s School of Forestry and Environmental Studies. She serves as programming chair of the New Directions in Environmental Law Conference and also is on the board of Green Coalition Verte Montreal, an organization for urban environmental conservation and restoration. Yona has written over 100 opinion pieces on climate change and has been featured in outlets such as USA Today, Time and The Guardian. She was named Canada’s Top Environmentalist Under 25, was a national winner of The Nation Student Writing Contest in the U.S., received the Donella Meadows Prize for Promoting Sustainability and Yale’s Merit Research Scholarship.

She will pursue a doctorate degree in environment and resources at the Stanford School of Earth, Energy and Environmental Sciences.

Weinberg earned her bachelor’s in social studies from Harvard University and is currently studying at Yale Law School. Prior to graduate school, she served as the assistant to the chief administrative officer of the Hillary for America campaign and worked at the International Finance Corporation at the World Bank, based in Washington, D.C. and Nairobi, and in Goldman Sachs’ alternative investments group in New York. At Yale, she is a Kerry Fellow and an Associate Fellow of the Greenberg World Fellows Program.

She will pursue a master’s degree at Stanford Graduate School of Business.

“I am humbled to have been chosen to be a member of the pioneer cohort of Knight-Hennessy Scholars,” Weinberg said. “I couldn’t be more excited to be part of a community of remarkable students who care deeply about making the world healthier and more just.”

John Hennessy will come to Yale on Tuesday, April 3, to host an information session about the scholarship.

Anastasiia Posnova |