Duke University senior Kenneth (Ken) Hoehn of Canton, Ga., has won the prestigious Marshall Scholarship.
Hoehn, an Angier B. Duke Scholar who is studying evolutionary and computational biology, will go on to complete at least two years of graduate study in the United Kingdom. Hoehn plans to use his award to pursue a doctoral degree in evolutionary genomics at the University of Oxford.
The British Parliament established the Marshall Scholarship in 1953 to honor U.S. Secretary of State George C. Marshall and to commemorate the ideals of the Marshall Plan. Thirty-four scholarships were awarded this year to "talented, independent and wide-ranging" young Americans to finance their study at institutions in the United Kingdom.
"Kenneth is in the top 0.1 percent of undergraduates with whom I've had the pleasure of working," said Duke biology professor Mohamed Noor, whose lab Hoehn has worked in since his freshman year. "I've literally never in my career met anyone like him -- he is more like an advanced Ph.D. student than an undergraduate."
At Duke, Hoehn was a biology major, with a minor in computational biology and bioinformatics. After graduating from Duke in 2013, Hoehn will work under professor Peter Donnelly at Oxford’s Wellcome Trust Centre for Human Genetics. There he is planning to help trace the evolution of antibiotic resistance in E. coli bacteria.
Hoehn's interest in evolutionary science began long before he arrived at Duke.
"Evolution has never been 'just a theory' for me; throughout my life it moved from a myth, to a possibility, to a driving academic interest," Hoehn wrote in his Marshall application. "I still remember learning for the first time in ninth grade the elegance and simplicity of the theory, and immediately saw its conflicts with the beliefs of the relatively conservative Christian community in which I grew up. ... These early experiences convinced me of the power of scientific research, and of the centrality of evolution to my own understanding and career pathway as a researcher."
As soon as Hoehn arrived at Duke, he began working in Noor's lab, where he continues research on evolutionary biology projects involving Drosophila flies. He also works in the lab of Duke professor V. Louise Roth on a paleobiology project that develops programs to detect higher level selection in fossil data. Through his research, Hoehn has published two papers in scientific journals over the course of his undergraduate career and presented results at multiple conferences across the country. He also spent a summer working in a bioinformatics lab in Germany as a researcher on a Research Internships in Science and Engineering (RISE) Scholarship.
Outside of the lab, Hoehn has been an active member of the Duke community. He is a teaching assistant for a computational genomics class, teaches a house course on bioinformatics and has participated in several scientific outreach programs to teach classes to the greater Durham community. He also has served as an editor for "Vertices," Duke's undergraduate journal of science.
Hoehn is also the recipient of the Barry M. Goldwater Memorial Scholarship, for academic merit in science, mathematics and engineering, and the Robert C. Byrd Academic Honors Scholarship.
Hoehn is president of the Duke Secular Alliance, which he says "is an open community of primarily skeptic and non-believing students who are interested in connecting with other like-minded individuals." His hobbies include long-distance running and homebrewing beer and cider.
Hoehn ultimately hopes to teach evolutionary biology and conduct research.
"I want to study evolutionary biology widely, and bring theoretical developments into more concrete applications and experiments," he said. "I want to educate the next generation of scientists."