Two alumni join inaugural Knight-Hennessy Scholars

by Abby Mihaly | 2/22/18 2:30am

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Source: Courtesy of Leehi Yona and the Knight-Hennessy Scholars program

Leehi Yona ’16 and Asaf Zilberfarb ’17 will join the inaugural class of Knight-Hennessy Scholars, Stanford University announced on Feb. 15. The program grants 49 students from around the world a scholarship for any Stanford graduate degree. The fellowship also offers leadership training and a housing community.

Yona and Zilberfarb both expressed excitement and said they were humbled by the acceptance. Zilberfarb said that though the Stanford scholarship is exciting, it is just the beginning.

“It’s a milestone, obviously it’s a very proud moment,” he said. “But this is really when the hard work begins.”

Yona will pursue a Ph.D. in environment and resources at the Stanford School of Earth, Energy and Environmental Sciences and Zilberfarb will pursue a master’s degree in international policy studies at the Stanford School of Humanities and Sciences.

“I’m excited to be among a cohort of people who are just equally passionate about so many issues and just so incredibly talented, and to be able to learn from them,” Yona said.

The program accepted students from 20 countries pursuing 28 Stanford graduate programs. Yona added that around one-fifth of the program is comprised of first-generation students like herself.

According to Yona, a Ph.D. is an essential next step for a career that includes both a science and an advocacy element, whether as a professor or government official. After graduating from Dartmouth, Yona pursued a master’s degree in environmental science at Yale University and will graduate this spring. Since Zilberfarb’s graduation from the College last spring, he has been working at Parthenon-EY, a consulting firm in Boston.

“[Stanford has] professors and mentors whose work I’ve read when I was studying at Dartmouth, whose names I’ve read in newspapers,” Zilberfarb said. “[I’m looking forward to] the opportunity to interact with those scholars in different fields and experts in this specific field that I’m so passionate about.”

Prior to attending Dartmouth, Zilberfarb, an Israeli, worked for three years as a platoon leader and intelligence analyst for the Israel Defense Forces. Zilberfarb said the Israeli-Palestinean conflict is important to him and an issue in which he hopes to find a career.

“[The Israeli-Palestinian conflict] is something that I want to be involved in helping solve … I don’t think I have the solution to everything, but I definitely think I have the desire to be a voice of hope even if it’s a very cautious one, for a better future for my country,” he said.

At the College, he was a student director for the War and Peace Fellows program and said that meeting with people in the State Department and the Department of Defense, as well as journalists and scholars, helped form his future aspirations.

“Just interacting with them on a regular basis through the [War and Peace Fellows] program definitely opened my eyes to a lot of opportunities and career prospects,” Zilberfarb said.

Zilberfarb was also a Paganucci Fellow through the Tuck School of Business’ Center for Leadership and worked with a migrant children’s school in Beijing and on funding issues relating to China’s migration policies.

His thesis showed that in-group preferentialism exists in Israeli politics and tested whether Israelis respond to ethnic and religious cues.

“Ethnic identities and religious identities really matter in Israeli politics and very much help shape attitudes towards the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” Zilberfarb said.

At the College, Yona co-founded Divest Dartmouth in 2012 and built her research confidence through various Dartmouth programs, such as Stamps Scholars and a Senior Fellowship — a program that allows seniors to complete a project instead of their major. As a Stamps Scholar, Yona designed her own Arctic studies fellowship.

Through the Senior Fellowship program, she worked to find leverage points for change within the United Nations climate change negotiation, bridging her research and her passion for advocacy. She said the fellowship helped her prepare for graduate school and that she wrote two books for young climate change activists.

“It just gave me so much confidence in my ability as a researcher,” Yona said.

Yona is still involved with the Dartmouth Alumni for Climate Action group, the alumni branch of Divest Dartmouth.

“If all we do is research and don’t take that research to inform what we do today, then our research actually does a disservice,” said Yona, emphasizing that the College should divest.

Though it is easy to praise research, she said that “it’s a matter of walking our talk.”

Yona acknowledged the influence of faculty mentors environmental studies professor Ross Virginia, who brought Yona on a research trip to Greenland the summer after her freshman year, and environmental studies professor Anne Kapuscinski, who has continued advising Yona on her career even after graduation.

Assistant dean of faculty for scholarship advising Jessica Smolin said it is exciting to have such a major new fellowship emerge. She said she imagines Dartmouth students will continue to be involved and apply for the Knight-Hennessy Scholarship.

Zilberfarb said he learned about the program when the fellowship’s admissions director visited the College campus. Smolin said the information session was incredibly well-attended, with almost 100 students.

“There was a lot of excitement about it, a lot of enthusiasm,” she said.

Since the program is new, Smolin said the fellowship office is still learning how to best advise students during the application process and that she is looking forward to seeing how the program develops in the next few years.

“Our job is to promote the scholarship and maintain ties with the admissions people so we find out what’s going on and what changes are happening so we can help advise students through that process,” Smolin said.