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Amnahir Peña-Alcántara named 2019 Knight-Hennessy Scholar

Fellowship funds graduate education at Stanford University and prepares global leaders.
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Amnahir Peña-Alcántara
Amnahir Peña-Alcántara
Photo: Ian MacLellan

MIT senior Amnahir Peña-Alcántara, from the Bronx, New York, has been selected as one of this year’s 69 Knight-Hennessy Scholars. After graduating in June with a bachelor of science in materials science and engineering, Peña-Alcántara will begin PhD studies this fall at Stanford University School of Engineering. She aspires to create affordable, wearable-technology clothing that offers sustainable solutions to environmental and public health issues.

The Knight-Hennessy Scholars program, now in its second year, funds the full cost of graduate education at Stanford University and aims to develop future interdisciplinary global leaders committed to tackling the world’s most complex challenges. For its 2019 cohort, the program received over 4,400 applications from students around the world. Scholars are selected based on their academic excellence, independence of thought, purposeful leadership, and civic mindset.

Dance was an integral part of Peña-Alcántara’s Dominican culture while she was growing up, but childhood asthma limited her participation. Instead, she became fascinated by the dancers’ costumes and how they contributed to expression of movement. During her first year at MIT, Peña-Alcántara visited Ministry of Supply, a startup founded by MIT graduates, where she discovered that fashion offers many engineering as well as decorative possibilities. She began to investigate how biofabrics could enhance public health by filtering carbon dioxide and improving air quality.

Peña-Alcántara has conducted research on novel fibers and wearable technology with Professor Yoel Fink’s Fibers@mit lab; Professor Neri Oxman’s group at the MIT Media Lab; Institute Professor Robert Langer’s MIT lab; Professor John Rogers’ Center for Bio-Integrated Electronics at Northwestern University; and Professor Hazel Assender’s polymers lab at Oxford University during a junior year departmental exchange. As an intern, she has integrated temperature sensors into fiber with the Advanced Functional Fabrics of America, analyzed fabric design processes with Himatsingka Seide in India, and repaired costumes for the Boston Ballet. She has also worked as a research assistant at labs in the United States, Bahamas, and China, and as a surgeon assistant in the Dominican Republic. Prior to matriculating at MIT, Peña-Alcántara spent a year in China studying Mandarin at Tsinghua University and working on research at Peking University.

Peña-Alcántara, a National Hispanic Recognition Program Scholar, has been the women’s saber squad leader with the MIT varsity fencing team. She has tutored and mentored middle and high school students with the National Society of Black Engineers and she tutors MIT students through the Tau Beta Pi honor society. She is also a member of the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers.

MIT students interested in applying for the Knight-Hennessy Scholarship should contact Kim Benard, assistant dean of distinguished fellowships, in the Distinguished Fellowships Office at Career Advising and Professional Development. The deadline to apply for the program’s 2020 cohort is Oct. 9.

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