University alum awarded prestigious Knight-Hennessy scholarship

Wednesday, March 13, 2019 - 7:26pm

Business alum Eli Cahan is the second University of Michigan student to win the Knight-Hennessy Scholarship.

Business alum Eli Cahan is the second University of Michigan student to win the Knight-Hennessy Scholarship. Buy this photo
Courtesy of Eli Cahan

Business alum Eli Cahan has been awarded the Knight-Hennessy Scholarship to pursue a graduate degree at Stanford University in the upcoming academic year, making him the second University of Michigan student to win the award. The Knight-Hennessy scholars program was founded in 2016 and allows graduates to pursue a fully-funded graduate degree at any one of Stanford’s seven graduate schools.

Last year, LSA alum Yiran Liu was selected to join the first cohort of Knight-Hennessy scholars. Liu is currently working on a PhD in cancer biology at Stanford School of Medicine.

According to a press release, the 2019 Knight-Hennessy awardees hail from 20 countries and have studied at 52 universities during their undergraduate careers. To be considered for the award, the students submit applications to the Stanford graduate school admissions committees and gain admission to one of the university’s competitive graduate programs. If they are granted admission, they are then eligible to apply for the Knight-Hennessy program. Out of 4,424 applicants, 69 were awarded the scholarship — a selection rate of about 1.5 percent.

Henry Dyson, director of the Office of National Scholarships and Fellowships at the University, said the application process looks similar to those of prestigious United Kingdom programs, like the Rhodes and Marshall scholarships, but is tailored to fit Stanford’s mission and curricula.

“They’ve had 100 years of UK scholarship experience to look back on and design exactly how they want this thing, so they’re very explicit on the website about what their selection criteria are,” Dyson said.

Dyson said both Liu and Cahan possessed the qualifications and intellectual curiosity the program was looking for.

“One of the big reasons we’ve been successful in the last couple of years is because the students who have been working with me have a really good understanding of what that Knight-Hennessy application is,” Dyson said. “We’ve started by telling them ‘if you think of this as money to go to Stanford, you’re not going to make it anywhere in the process.’ You’re applying to be a part of the scholarly community that they’re creating.”

Cahan, who finished his third year at New York University School of Medicine last year, is taking a break in between his third and fourth years of med school to pursue a master’s degree in health policy at Stanford.

Cahan followed a pre-medicine track at the University while simultaneously working toward a business degree with an emphasis in finance. Cahan said while he had a traditional interest in medicine that pushed him toward medical school, he approached his work through a “business lens” that ultimately led him to become invested in questions about health policy and equity in insurance coverage.

“I realized that the best way I could do my job was to not have any patients seeing me— there’s no complication, they’re just out there living their lives,” Cahan said. “The way to do that was to think about health policy and what we do on an infrastructure and systematic level in healthcare. I was frustrated that we have our list of patients, which at Bellevue (Hospital) is overflowing, but then when you see a patient in one side of the room and you walk by another patient on your way out with a roommate, I thought ‘wow, I would love to help that person too.’ And the best way I would know how to do both those things and prevent patient A from coming in in the first place and help patient B, even if they’re not on my list, is through these systematic initiatives.”

At the University, Cahan founded Phi Delta Epsilon, the University’s first pre-med fraternity, wrote for The Daily’s Opinion section and participated in a trip to Israel the summer after his junior year as a member of TAMID Group, a student organization dedicated to strategy consulting for Israeli companies. Cahan said his experience in Israel helped prepare him for the demands of senior year and eventually med school.

“Over that summer, I think I discovered how to be persistent and be resourceful in ways that maybe I hadn’t prior,” Cahan said. “I was just developing a position and a role for myself.”

Cahan said he was not only drawn to the Knight-Hennessy program because of its degree in health policy, but also because he connected with the program’s ethos of community and leadership.  

“One of the things that was really appealing was the nature of the pedagogy,” Cahan said. “To me, it feels almost like a reversal of how they understand leadership, as a series of soft skills that you can’t really describe and there aren’t really shortcuts to. So in terms of developing storytelling skills, listening skills, critical thinking … you just practice over and over and over.”

Len Middleton, lecturer of strategy and entrepreneurship at the Ross School of Business, taught Cahan and mentored him during his years at the University. Middleton, who continues to stay in contact with Cahan, praised his work and said he has faith that Cahan will make an impact in the fields of medicine and health policy.

“Eli’s brilliant — let’s start there,” Middleton said. “He was a top student, you just know he’s going to do great things … He’s on a really good trajectory. I’ve had a little bit of a hand in that, trying to help him with some of the forks in the road. He’s going to be more than just a doctor — you know he’s going to play in the intersection of business and medicine and really have a social impact on humanity.”

While Cahan was the only student from the University to be accepted into the Knight-Hennessy program, Engineering senior Kathryn Wallace and LSA alum Rishi Goel were both finalists for the award, according to Dyson. Next year, Wallace will pursue a master’s degree at Stanford. Goel completed a Master of Science in Immunology at Oxford University in 2018 and now works as a researcher at the National Institute for Health.