The Fannie and John Hertz Foundation Announces First Recipients of New Fellowship in Global Health and Development

June 12, 2017
Hertz Staff
Livermore, Calif

The Fannie and John Hertz Foundation, a not-for-profit organization dedicated to empowering America’s most brilliant minds in science, mathematics and engineering, today announced a new Fellowship in Global Health and Development. This new program includes an internship at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and is a joint effort between the two foundations to identify and nurture Hertz Fellows who have demonstrated a commitment to addressing global health and development issues. The first two recipients of the new Fellowship are Rebecca Carlson and Alyssa Ferris. The new program was made possible by a $5 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

“The Hertz Foundation believes that investing in people and partnerships can have transformational impact,” said Robbee Baker Kosak, president, the Fannie and John Hertz Foundation. “We launched the Hertz Fellowships in Global Health and Development because innovations in science, mathematics and engineering can accelerate and change the way we tackle the wide range of health and development challenges faced by people around the world. It is our hope that under the direction of the world-class leaders at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Rebecca, Alyssa, and future recipients of this special internship will help discover and develop new technologies that lead to actionable solutions to global issues from infectious diseases to lack of clean water and beyond.”

One example of technology driving solutions to health challenges is the “Reinvent the Toilet Challenge” funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The goal of this challenge was to bring sustainable sanitation solutions to the 2.5 billion people worldwide who don’t have access to safe, affordable sanitation. A group of Hertz Fellows tackled this challenge at a Hertz Foundation Summer Workshop and came up with a way to use pyrolysis and other approaches for using electrolysis for drying and combusting. Philip Welkhoff, also a Hertz Fellow, was involved in designing the challenge in collaboration with program officers at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Today, Philip is the director of research at the Institute for Disease Modeling, with a focus on eradicating malaria. He grew up in Haiti and contracted malaria many times, which drove home the importance of finding solutions to protect people from the variety of preventable illnesses that are still prevalent around the world.

“It was through the Hertz Community that I was introduced to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which turned out to be a decisive factor in the direction I took my work,” said Eckhoff. “I am deeply humbled by the opportunities I have had to collaborate with numerous Hertz Fellows and those experiences truly embody the spirit of innovation, creativity and practical intelligence that has long been associated with the Hertz Community. These relationships have proven to be life-changing for me, both personally and professionally, inspiring and motivating me to pursue my lifelong dream of making a positive impact on public health in developing countries and around the world.”

The Hertz Fellowships in Global Health and Development provides another avenue for the Hertz Foundation to continue its singular mission to identify and support the next generation of scientific leaders and innovators in the United States. In addition to receiving all the benefits of the Hertz Fellowship, recipients will serve as interns with the global health and global development teams at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation for two summers. The goal of this program is two-fold: To provide these top students in science, engineering and math with hands-on opportunities to learn about global health issues more deeply via work with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s teams and to inspire Fellows to contribute to these global challenges in ways that can have lasting impact.

Rebecca just graduated from Michigan State University (MSU) with a degree in chemical engineering and will begin her PhD in bioengineering at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in the fall. While at MSU she conducted research in Dr. Walton’s Applied Biomolecular Engineering Lab and had summer research internships at the National Institutes of Health and Harvard. These experiences fueled Rebecca’s passion to combine computational and experimental methods in her future research with a particular interest in applying these methods to study autoimmune diseases, such as lupus.

“It has long been my dream to lead international and interdisciplinary research teams in the pursuit of a better understanding of autoimmune disease presentation and progression so that we can anticipate future needs – and potentially prevent them,” said Carlson. “I envision working on these and other critical diseases in collaboration with research institutions overseas, especially in developing countries. I especially hope to strengthen local research initiatives so we may have a better chance of providing practical, sustainable solutions. I believe my internship with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation will begin to equip me with the training needed to become a leading researcher in global health and will help me focus my graduate research on useful questions that will help improve conditions in developing countries around the world.”

Alyssa will continue her PhD in bioengineering at Stanford University where they recently joined Dr. Elizabeth Sattely’s team to research how plants create specific natural products and how to engineer these pathways into different plant species. As an undergraduate at Wellesley College, Alyssa worked in Timothy Lu’s laboratory at MIT using recombinase to develop genetic tools for efficiently programming and recording order dependent signals detected by cells. Their work led to novel insights about recombinase kinetics and behavior and applied this to creating devices for recording analogue signals.

“My ultimate research goal for my PhD is to help increase the nutritional content of crops by developing better bioinformatics tools for discovering plant pathways and creating a platform for engineering complex pathways into crop plants much more quickly,” said Ferris. “Joining the Agricultural Research and Development team as an intern at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation will help broaden my knowledge of quantitative modeling skills, which will be extremely important for my thesis research, as well as how genetic and bioinformatics can be leveraged to solve practical problems in agriculture. I am greatly looking forward to gaining firsthand experience at a non-profit, particularly how to transform academic research into viable solutions for real-world problems.”

The Hertz Foundation is the only organization in the United States that supports PhD candidates for a full five years at one of the Foundation’s numerous partner institutions and grants students total research freedom, ensuring that each Fellow is able to pursue the most compelling, cutting-edge research. Over the past 60 years the Hertz Foundation has invested more than $200 million (current value) in nearly 1,200 Hertz Fellows chosen for qualities that are essential to transforming research and discovery into life-changing innovation, including exceptional intelligence, creativity and strength of character. Fellows have the opportunity to partake in unique learning experiences with alumni scholars, entrepreneurs and scientific leaders through the Hertz Community, exposing Fellows to a variety of scientific fields and opening the door for cross-disciplinary collaborations.

To date, Hertz Fellows collectively possess more than 3,000 patents, have founded more than 200 companies and have received more than 200 major national and international awards, including two Nobel Prizes, eight Breakthrough Prizes, a Fields Medal, and a Turing Award.

The Fannie and John Hertz Foundation
The Fannie and John Hertz Foundation is a not-for-profit organization changing the world around us by granting freedom of American scientific research and innovation through fellowship and financial support. Celebrating 60 years in 2017, the Hertz Fellowship is the most exclusive fellowship program in the world. Our 1,200 Hertz Fellows are the leaders, shapers and disruptors of American science, engineering and mathematics. For more information on the Hertz Foundation and the innovations led by our Hertz Fellows please visit