Penn State senior selected as Marshall Scholar

By Heather Hottle Robbins
November 24, 2014

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Ryan Henrici, a Penn State Schreyer Honors College scholar, has been selected to receive a prestigious Marshall Scholarship, a highly sought-after program that finances American college students to study in the United Kingdom.

The senior from Wayne, Pennsylvania, will graduate in May with a degree in biochemistry and molecular biology and has chosen to study malaria at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.

“I’m still not down from cloud nine. I feel incredibly grateful,” Henrici said. “It’s so humbling to be considered for an interview much less to be picked.”

The program selects about 35 American college students from more than 900 applicants each year to study for any degree in the U.K., usually at the graduate level. Each scholarship is held for two years with the possibility of renewing for a third year.

“As an exemplary engaged student, Ryan has contributed to Penn State and the research community in many extraordinary ways.”

— Penn State President Eric Barron

“The Marshall Scholarship is one of the most prestigious scholarships available. It ranks with the Rhodes and the Gates-Cambridge,” said Ruth Mendum, director of the University Fellowships Office at Penn State. “What’s important isn’t so much the number of people who applied, but the quality of students who apply.”

At Penn State, the University nominates students for the scholarship after an application and interview process. Henrici will be the eighth Penn State student to be awarded the scholarship since its inception in 1953. The last winner was in 2006.

“There’s a rigorous selection process,” Mendum said, adding that “the Marshall differs from other U.K. prestigious awards in that it may be used at any institution in the U.K., allowing students to apply to the best program of study to suit their needs.”

Henrici has chosen to study malaria from the perspective of its emerging drug resistance as well as trying to develop more affordable vaccines and testing kits for use in developing nations.

“As an exemplary engaged student, Ryan has contributed to Penn State and the research community in many extraordinary ways,” said Penn State President Eric Barron. “I’m pleased that his efforts are being recognized with such a prestigious award, and I’m confident that Ryan will use this scholarship to achieve great things in the future.”

Henrici has previously won other awards, including the Barry M. Goldwater and Astronaut scholarships, two competitive national awards given to undergraduate students pursuing research in science, mathematics and engineering.

Mother's illness encourages undergrad to enter research field

Doctors told the Henrici family that their matriarch was suffering from multiple sclerosis, but the resulting treatments didn't seem to help her condition. Ryan, who was a high school swimmer, was looking to continue swimming in college, but felt a conviction to find a way to help his mother. After a family friend and doctor correctly diagnosed his mother, he felt led to change his career path. Ryan was looking for a large research institution with high academic standards. He found Penn State. Studying biochemistry & molecular biology, Ryan will graduate and seek to become a medical researcher, ultimately becoming a medical doctor.

C Roy Parker

He said his interest in medicine started at a young age as he watched his mother struggle with a diagnosis of multiple sclerosis, or MS, that “didn’t really fit the bill” for her symptoms. After years of doctors appointments, his mother’s neurologist learned of a study conducted by the Mayo Clinic that could differentiate neuromyelitis optica — what his mother actually had — from MS because the two conditions present very similarly.

“The development of novel diagnostic methods like this is one area that I hope to investigate while studying the malaria parasite and disease,” Henrici said. “Only through medical research would there have been this really miraculous change for our family, and that initial experience showed me that modern medicine is rooted in empirical data from research. We wouldn’t have an understanding of how the body works or how drugs combat disease without research.”

Henrici got involved in undergraduate research early at Penn State. He has worked in Professor Song Tan’s laboratory since his freshman year and was second author on a publication in Nature last month that provides new insight into the function of an enzyme related to the BRCA1 breast cancer protein.

“I’ve really settled in to what I want to do through working in the lab,” Henrici said. “Thinking back, if you told me when I was sitting at orientation that I was going to be a Marshall Scholar, I would have thought that you were out of your mind. I had no concept that I could be eligible for those kinds of awards, but Penn State, as a land-grant university, has all the resources to enable students to accomplish things beyond their wildest dreams.”

Tan, a professor of biochemistry and molecular biology and a former Marshall Scholar himself, found helping Henrici grow as a scientist throughout his time in the lab and preparing him for the scholarship application process gratifying.

“This is one of the joys of teaching at a place like Penn State,” Tan said. “I get to meet undergraduate students early in their careers and help them mature from students who are interested in science into true scientists, and Ryan is now an outstanding full-blooded scientist. He’s remarkable.”

Besides his research, Henrici said experiences including an internship at Lankenau Institute for Medical Research in Wynnewood, Pennsylvania, and a medical mission trip to Ecuador through the Schreyer Honors College have impacted his collegiate and career ambitions.

“Engaged scholarship is something that’s incredibly important for students, and it’s something that I’ve learned as a result of doing it myself. My horizons have gone from very small in high school, to bigger here at Penn State, and now I’ve just expanded it to the entire world.”

— Ryan Henrici, Penn State senior and 2015 Marshall Scholar

"Ryan is an exceptional young man who truly embodies the mission of the Schreyer Honors College in promoting academic excellence, building a global perspective and creating opportunities for leadership,” said Christian M. M. Brady, dean of the Schreyer Honors College. “His desire to enter into medicine is motivated by his desire to help others. Ryan has already undertaken several medical mission trips, which only serve to further affirm his chosen calling. The awarding of the Marshall Scholarship not only serves as acknowledgment of his incredible accomplishments so far, it will allow him to deepen his scientific knowledge, particularly with respect to infectious diseases.”

After completing graduate work through the Marshall Scholarship, Henrici plans to attend medical school and eventually become a physician scientist. “I want to work in global medicine and public health, spending time in both the lab and the clinic,” he said.

In addition to conducting graduate work, Henrici will act as an informal ambassador while studying abroad. The Marshall Scholarships are distinctive among British award programs because an Act of Parliament established them in 1953 to commemorate the ideals of the post-World War II Marshall Plan and to strengthen the enduring relationship between the British and American people.

While the enormity of his accomplishment hasn’t quite sunk in for Henrici, he and Tan both recognize the impact the Marshall opportunity will have on his future goals.

“I am excited about what’s ahead for Ryan,” Tan said. “The next two to three years in England are going to help determine Ryan’s vocation and not just his career. He’s going to engage with faculty and students from across the world. In the future, he’ll be able to draw upon those personal connections to accomplish great deeds.”

Before he leaves for London in October, Henrici will spend the rest of his time at Penn State continuing his research in Tan’s lab, writing his thesis and encouraging other students to try something new and get involved early in their collegiate careers.

“Engaged scholarship is something that’s incredibly important for students, and it’s something that I’ve learned as a result of doing it myself,” Henrici said. “My horizons have gone from very small in high school, to bigger here at Penn State, and now I’ve just expanded it to the entire world.”

To learn more about the Marshall Scholarship or about other fellowship or grant opportunities, contact the University Fellowships Office at 814-863-8199 or visit online.

(Media Contacts)

Last Updated December 17, 2014