Neuroscience alumna is UAB’s first-ever Knight-Hennessy Scholar

By Samil Baker

Shreya Maholtra streamShreya MalhotraUAB alumna and Stanford University graduate student Shreya Malhotra was named among the fifth cohort of Knight-Hennessy Scholars, the largest fully endowed graduate fellowship in the world. The fellowship aims to create a multidisciplinary and multicultural community of graduate students across Stanford University and deliver engaging experiences that prepare graduates to be visionary, courageous and collaborative leaders who address complex challenges facing the world.

Malhotra is an Indian-Canadian dual citizen raised in Birmingham who graduated from UAB in 2020 with a bachelor’s degree in neuroscience and a master's degree in public health as part of the Science and Technology Honors Program. She now is pursuing an M.D. and Ph.D. in neuroscience at Stanford School of Medicine.

During her four years at UAB, Malhotra learned to become an effective advocate for social justice, a team player and a researcher.

“UAB provided me with the mentors and opportunities I needed to realize and pursue my passions,” she said. “I was heavily involved with organizations such as Women in STEM, the Social Justice Advocacy Council and International Mentors, and I spent a significant amount of time learning and working in Dr. Jacques Wadiche's lab, which studies the circuitry of the cerebellum. UAB taught me the importance of being an authentic person and helped me pursue the things I highly valued.”

“Making it this far in the Knight-Hennessy competition is a noteworthy achievement,” said Michelle Cook, Ph.D., director of Office of National and International Fellowships and Scholarships. “Shreya’s recognition here speaks volumes not only of her own intellectual merit and potential to be a visionary leader in her field but to the strength of her undergraduate training at UAB as well.” 

Aspiring to change the world

Malhotra aspires to be a physician-scientist working to fight prevalent neurological diseases worldwide.

“The field of neuroscience is rapidly growing, but there is a lot left to be discovered about the brain's physiology and neurological disease processes,” she said. “I am specifically interested in understanding the perturbations that happen in neuronal circuitry during diseases such as epilepsy and traumatic brain injury, which affect millions of people worldwide.”

Malhotra has been conducting neuroscience research for more than six years and was a Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) Janelia Undergraduate Scholar in 2019. During her senior year at UAB, Malhotra published her research in the Journal of Neuroscience, a top-tier journal in the field. She was the first author on a paper titled, “Climbing Fiber-Mediated Spillover Transmission to Interneurons Is Regulated by EAAT4.”

"We are thrilled for Shreya and proud of her tremendous accomplishment," said Pam Benoit, Ph.D., provost and senior vice president for Academic Affairs. "She is the torchbearer for UAB as our first-ever Knight-Hennessy Scholar, and we look forward to her achieving much more as she inspires change on the global stage."

At Stanford, Malhotra is working in the lab of Ivan Soltesz, Ph.D., James R. Doty Professor of Neurosurgery and Neurosciences, on a project that focuses on understanding the impacts of temporal lobe epilepsy on the hippocampus.

"We are thrilled for Shreya and proud of her tremendous accomplishment. She is the torchbearer for UAB as our first-ever Knight-Hennessy Scholar, and we look forward to her achieving much more as she inspires change on the global stage." 

“I study the changes that occur in neuronal circuitry during seizures and whether certain therapeutic interventions could be used to stop seizures and reduce the negative effects of epilepsy,” she explained.

Knights-Hennessy Scholars also participate in the King Global Leadership Program and receive up to three years of financial support to pursue a graduate degree program in any of Stanford’s seven graduate schools. The King Global Leadership Program is a core part of the Knight-Hennessy Scholars experience and offers a wide range of workshops, lectures, projects and experiences that complement scholars’ graduate school education and help them reach their leadership objectives.

Malhotra wants to contribute to the circuit-level understanding of neurological diseases to help create therapies that can be disseminated worldwide.

“I hope to help find creative ways to increase global collaboration in neuroscience research to allow for both greater knowledge sharing and creation of therapies that are more accessible to low-income countries,” she said.

“While we face many challenges — including the pandemic, racial justice, climate change, and ongoing conflicts — the accomplishments, dedication and promise of these new scholars gives me hope for a better future,” said John L. Hennessy, president emeritus and the Shriram Family Director of Knight-Hennessy Scholars.

Possessing a multidisciplinary and multicultural perspective

Knight-Hennessy Scholars develops emerging leaders who have a strong multidisciplinary and multicultural perspective, a commitment to the greater good and the tools needed to drive meaningful change.

“As an international student and a woman of color, I learned that I could use my own experiences to build community with others and create advocacy where it was needed,” Malhotra said. “My fulfillment comes from advocacy, health care and science, and my pursuit of an M.D./Ph.D. allows me to combine all three of these areas in such a way that I can hopefully create a positive impact in the world.”

Knight-Hennessy Scholars has no quotas or restrictions based on region, college or university, field of study or career aspiration. Nearly 3,000 graduate students enroll at Stanford annually; this year, 70 new scholars and students representing 27 countries have been announced Knight-Hennessy Scholars. The 2022 cohort includes first-time scholars from Belgium, Jamaica, Japan, Libya, Peru, Saudi Arabia, Serbia, South Africa, Tanzania, North Macedonia, and Vietnam. These students will be pursuing various degrees from 35 graduate degree programs across all seven of Stanford’s graduate schools.

Among 2022’s new scholars, 50% identify as female and 46% hold a passport from a non-U.S. country. Sixty-three percent of U.S. scholars identify as a person of color, and 13% have served in the U.S. military. The scholars earned undergraduate degrees at 13 international and 29 U.S. institutions. Seventeen percent are the first in their family to attend college.

“It is a joy to work with the scholars, who come from around the world and across the university, as they build a community that is dedicated to contributing to the greater good,” said Tina Seelig, Executive Director of Knight-Hennessy Scholars.

“I am incredibly honored and excited to be a part of the 2022 cohort of Knight-Hennessy scholars,” Malhotra said. “The fellowship provides a diverse community with people from all over the world seeking degrees in many different programs at Stanford. All are interested in solving interesting problems with global impact and I am very excited to meet these incredible individuals.”