MIT seniors Desmond Edwards, Michelle Lee and Syamantak Payra; graduate students Jessica Karaguesian and Tomás Guarna; and Pranav Lalgudi ’21 were honored by this year’s Knight-Hennessy Scholars program. They will travel to Stanford University this fall to begin their doctoral programs.
Knight-Hennessy Scholars receive full funding for up to three years of graduate study in any field at Stanford University. Scholars, from countries around the world, also participate in the King Global Leadership program, which aims to prepare them to become inspiring and visionary leaders who are committed to the greater good.
MIT students who would like more information about the Knight-Hennessy Scholar Program can contact Kim Benard, Associate Dean of Distinguished Fellowships in Career Guidance and Professional Development.
Desmond Edwards, of St. Mary, Jamaica, will graduate in May from MIT with a bachelor’s degree in biological engineering and biology, with a minor in French. As a Knight-Hennessy Fellow, he will undertake a doctorate in microbiology and immunology at Stanford School of Medicine. Edwards is interested in infectious diseases – both to understand their underlying mechanisms and to design new therapies to address unmet patient needs. He further aspires to combine this research with public policy, advocacy and education. He studied and designed host-pathogen interactions in MIT’s Lamason lab and evaluated AAV gene therapies in Caltech’s Gradinaru lab and at Voyager Therapeutics. Edwards is the first undergraduate to serve as co-chairman of the MIT Biotech Group, is president of the MIT chapter of the Tau Beta Pi Engineering Honor Society, served as co-chair of MIT’s Biological Engineering Undergraduate Board, and vice-captain of the MIT Quidditch team. Edwards is the recipient of the MIT Whitehead Prize in Biology, the MIT Peter J Eloranta Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship, a 2022 NSF Postgraduate Research Fellowship, and a 2021 Amgen Scholars Fellowship.
Tomás Guarna, from Buenos Aires, Argentina, will be pursuing a doctorate in Stanford’s Department of Communication. He graduated from Universidad Torcuato Di Tella with a degree in social sciences, then worked in the office of the president of Argentina’s digital communication team. He is currently completing his MS in Comparative Media Studies at MIT. Guarna aims to explore the role of technology in our civic life, understanding the relationships between governments, technology companies and civil society. Guarna was a fellow in human rights and technology at MIT’s Center for International Studies and a fellow in the Priscilla King Gray Center for Public Service at MIT. He will join Stanford as a Knight-Hennessy Fellow and as a Stanford EDGE Fellow.
Jessica Karaguesian, from Haliburton, Canada, is a master’s student at MIT in computational science and engineering, having earned a bachelor’s degree in biochemistry from McGill University. She will be pursuing a doctorate in bioengineering at the Stanford School of Engineering. Leveraging knowledge at the intersection of physics, biology and computer science, Karaguesian aspires to study biomolecular mechanisms and design new protein systems. She has previously studied the molecular basis of cancer drug resistance, cellular transport and mobile genetic elements. At MIT, Karaguesian worked on developing computational frameworks to design improved electrocatalysts for use in sustainable energy applications. During her master’s program, she also served as co-director of TEDxMIT. Karaguesian is a recipient of the Canadian Chemistry Society Silver Medal, the Chemical Industry Society Merit Award, and the JW McConnell McGill Fellowship.
Pranav Lalgudi, from San Jose, California, graduated from MIT in 2021 with a bachelor’s degree in biology, a minor in data science, and a concentration in philosophy. He will pursue a doctorate in genetics at the Stanford School of Medicine. Lalgudi is keen to answer fundamental questions in biology to improve our understanding of human health. At MIT, he discovered how cells regulate metabolism in response to nutrients, processes that are disrupted in cancer and diabetes. He previously worked at Stanford, creating new tools to study the genetic diversity of cancers. Lalgudi aspires to make academic research more collaborative, rigorous and accessible. He is also passionate about tackling inequalities in access to education and has worked in schools in Spain and Italy to develop more interactive STEM programs for students. Lalgudi’s research has been accepted for publication in several peer-reviewed journals, including Natureand he was awarded the NSF GRFP and NDSEG fellowships.
Michelle Lee, from Seoul, South Korea, graduated from MIT and majored in chemistry. She will go on to Stanford for a doctorate in chemistry as a Knight-Hennessy Fellow and an NSF GRFP Fellow. Lee’s goal is to understand and precisely manipulate the cellular machinery with synthetic molecules, which will open the door to new, effective and affordable therapeutic strategies, especially for curing genetic diseases. At MIT, she designed a small molecule “switch” to CRISPR activity, which can precisely manipulate the activity of the CRISPR-Cas protein, increasing its efficiency and reducing off-target effects. She also designed a rapid and affordable “mix-and-read” Covid-19 diagnostic tool for use in low- and middle-income countries, work for which she was the first published author. Lee lobbied to increase the accessibility of education by leading several educational enrichment programs.
Syamantak Payra, of Friendswood, Texas, will graduate this spring from MIT with a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering and computer science, and minors in public policy and entrepreneurship and innovation. He will pursue a doctorate in electrical engineering at the Stanford School of Engineering as a Knight-Hennessy Fellow and Paul and Daisy Soros Fellow. In addition to creating new biomedical devices that can help improve the daily lives of patients around the world, Payra aspires to shape America’s educational and scientific ecosystems to better empower future generations. At MIT, he conducted research on creating digital sensor fibers that were woven into next-generation health monitoring garments and spacesuits. He has organized and led STEM literacy and awareness programs for the benefit of a thousand underprivileged students nationwide. Payra has won multiple first-place awards at international science and engineering fairs, placed ninth in the 2018 Regeneron Science Talent Search, was inducted into the National Gallery of America’s Young Inventors, and was an Astronaut Fellow. , Coca-Cola Scholar and U.S. Presidential Scholar. .