Presidential Scholar Becomes First University of Scranton Student to Earn Prestigious Mitchell Scholarship

November 24, 2015

Christopher L. Kilner, the founder and chairman of a nonprofit organization, triathlete, triple major and Student Government president at The University of Scranton, was among just 12 undergraduate and graduate students in the United States chosen as a 2017 George J. Mitchell Scholar.

Recipients of the scholarship, named in recognition of the former senator’s contributions to the Northern Ireland peace process, are selected on the basis of academic distinction, leadership and a sustained commitment to community and public service through a competitive vetting process that attracted 284 applicants this year. Scholars will spend a year of post-graduate study at institutions of higher learning in Ireland.

Kilner was among the dozen students representing prestigious universities such as Harvard (2), the University of Pennsylvania (2, including its medical college), Princeton, the U.S. Military Academy and the U.S. Naval Academy. He is the only 2017 Mitchell Scholar currently studying at a Jesuit university. One other recipient is a graduate of Georgetown University, who is now pursuing a master’s degree at Notre Dame University.

“Given all that Chris has accomplished during his young life, the University could not have had a more deserving student as our first Mitchell Scholar. On behalf of the University, we wish to congratulate Chris on this honor,” said University of Scranton President Kevin P. Quinn, S.J. “We are also grateful for the learning and research opportunities given to Chris and other students by our faculty, as well as the support provided to them by Dr. Mary Engel and so many others at Scranton.”

This is the second prestigious national scholarship Kilner has earned this year. He is also a 2015-2016 Barry M. Goldwater Scholar, which is one of the most coveted honors in science, mathematics and engineering that an undergraduate can achieve.

A full-tuition Presidential Scholarship recipient at Scranton, Kilner is the first Mitchell Scholar in the University’s history and the 11th Scranton student to be named a Goldwater Scholar.

Kilner, of Rockville, Maryland, maintains a 4.0 G.P.A. while pursuing a triple major in biochemistry, cell and molecular biology, environmental science, and philosophy; a minor in political science; and participating in the University’s Special Jesuit Liberal Arts Honors Program. Kilner is active in multiple research projects, working with Biology Professor Kathleen Dwyer, Ph.D., through the University’s Faculty Student Research Program to study “the function of Arabidopsis thaliana genes via fluorescence-tagging and RNAi.” He has also worked with Robert Smith, Ph.D., professor of biology, to pursue independent tutorials in climate change biology and in geographical information systems.

In addition, Kilner is continuing with research started through a summer research position at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), where he works under the direction of Jennifer Lippincott-Schwartz, Ph.D., on DNA preparation and sequencing protocol. The protocol he developed increased the amplification yield of purified plasmid by an average of more than 500 percent. Also at NIH, he is conducting research on intercellular and intracellular fatty acid trafficking with Dr. Lippincott-Schwartz and post-doctoral fellow Sarah Cohen, Ph.D.

Yet Kilner is much more than his GPA and resume of scholarly achievements.

“Chris cares more about being of service to others than his grades,” said Mary Engel, Ph.D., director of health-professional school placement and fellowship programs at the University.

This side of Kilner became evident when he immediately thought of the impact being awarded a Mitchell Scholarship would have on others.

 “For a student from Scranton to be listed alongside recipients from Harvard, Princeton and Duke, I hope future students can see what an amazing place Scranton can be for them,” said Kilner, who views leadership as “not what you can do individually, but rather what you can inspire others to accomplish.”

An established leader on campus, Kilner is most proud of a non-profit organization he founded while in high school that addresses education and nutrition issues concerning Native American children. He continues to serve as chairman of the Woape Foundation Corporation, organizing and managing all aspects of the non-profit that has raised more that $10,000 for impoverished Native American children since its founding.

“Originally a pre-med student at Scranton, Chris excelled at everything,” said Dr. Engel. “His studies in environmental science and his work with the non-profit he founded in 2011 led him to realize that he could influence the health of medically underserved individuals more fully by pursuing a path allowing him to improve institutions perpetuating structural impediments to health.”

As a Mitchell Scholar, Kilner will study biodiversity and conservation at Trinity College in Dublin. In addition to science-based courses, his graduate studies will include components in political science and economics. Kilner hopes that his graduate-level research as a Mitchell Scholar and beyond will “show the interaction of conserving biodiversity and its impact on human development.” He plans to eventually earn a Ph.D. and J.D.

A Dean’s List student at Scranton, Kilner is a member of Phi Sigma Tau, the international honor society for students of philosophy, and president of Alpha Lambda Delta, the national freshman honor society. He is a founding member of the University’s Sustainability Club and serves in the Campus Ministry Office. He also volunteers as a peer-tutor.

A National Merit Commended Scholar, Kilner graduated with the Don Smith History Award and The Jesuit Secondary Education Award from Gonzaga College High School, Washington, D.C. He is the son of Mark and Maura Kilner, Rockville, Maryland.

Kilner was also a 2012 Scholastic Rowing Association of America National Champion in high school, a fete he earned after overcoming 10 surgeries before he was 14 years-old. He now competes in triathlons.

The Mitchell Scholarship Program provides tuition, accommodation, a stipend for living expenses and travel for future American leaders to study in Ireland. Senator Mitchell, who served as a special advisor to President William J. Clinton on Ireland, was in Scranton last month to present the Honorable T. Linus Hoban Memorial Lecture, a collaboration between the University’s Schemel Forum and the Lackawanna Bar Association.

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