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Hayley Raquer standing in front of a building at National Institutes of Health

Hayley Raquer standing in front of a building at National Institutes of Health

6 Things You Didn’t Know About Hayley Raquer ’16

Hayley Raquer ’16 is one of the first Knight-Hennessy scholars. Here’s what you need to know about Hayley and her prestigious honor.

Hayley Raquer ’16 is one of the first Knight-Hennessy scholars. Here’s what you need to know about Hayley and her prestigious honor. 


The Knight-Hennessy program is young, scrappy, and hungry. Just like Hayley Raquer. 

Established in 1902, the Rhodes Scholarship celebrated its 116th birthday this year (and did so by honoring former Bronco Sean Reilly ’16). But if the Rhodes is the gold standard among graduate awards, the Knight-Hennessy might just be the Bitcoin. Nike co-founder Phil Knight got the whole thing started with a $400 million gift in 2016. Using the Rhodes Scholarship as its inspiration, the Knight-Hennessy aimed to bring together future global leaders to address complex challenges. Today, the Knight Hennessy is the largest fully endowed scholarship program in the world and it announced its first 49 scholars who will earn their graduate degrees from Stanford and be part of an on-campus community. Raquer earned her B.S. in cell/cellular and molecular biology at SCU and will earn her Ph.D. in immunology, starting this fall.

Hayley thinks of herself as a mechanic for the immune system—kind of. 

“You can’t make good decisions in medicine unless you understand what’s happening on a very basic level,” Raquer says. “You have to know how something works and what's going on when it fails in order to come up with a good solution.”

Fortunately, Raquer likes to figure out how things work. As an immunologist at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland, she studies the body on a subcellular level. You might think immunologists deal solely with how the immune system fights bacteria and viruses, but they also examine how the body tolerates healthy bacteria and even its own cells. Autoimmune diseases, for example, are when the body attacks itself. So, why does that happen? Raquer’s lab tries to find out. Specifically, they study primary immunodeficiency, or PIDs. These patients have variants or mutations in their genomes that cause their immune system to fail.

“It’s kind of like taking a part out of your car and the car does something weird. Then you figure out what that part is for,” Raquer explains. “And it’s not just for one part. Immunologists look closer. Like, what happens if you remove one nut from the engine? What does that do for the next five miles or the next 5,000 miles?”

Hayley’s road to the Knight-Hennessy started at 2 a.m. 

The application for prestigious scholarships and fellowships is a fairly well-worn path for those in the circuit. Once you’ve seen a couple, you know the stops along the way: attach your CV, how many papers have you published, what’s your GPA? The Knight-Hennessy was a little different. Raquer remembers the application asking her to connect the dots of herself. “Basically tell us who you are, what motivates you,” she says. “Why are you the way that you are?’”

You could say Raquer was inspired. She stayed up until 2 a.m. reflecting on her path and determining the meaning in her profession at NIH.

When Raquer attended her first Knight-Hennessy meeting in January she encountered a lot of new faces, but many of them seemed familiar.

“We really have a passion for what we’re doing,” Raquer says. “It's not like, ‘Okay, I have to check this box on a resume.’ Instead it's, ‘This is something I feel very passionate about.’”

Hayley wasn’t curing cancer as an undergrad, but the work she conducted here might help someone eventually cure it. 

There were several faculty members who helped Raquer on her path at SCU. Associate Director of Special Projects Katy Korsmeyer and Assistant Director, Public Health Program Biology Tracy Ruscetti were both instrumental. But Leilani Miller, associate professor in the Department of Biology, shaped Raquer’s work in the lab.

With Miller, Raquer researched Ras-MAP Kinase Pathway, which are cell-signaling pathways that mutate in about 30 percent of human cancers. Understanding what is going on downstream from that pathway is important to how we treat cancer.

Raquer is quick to point out that her work with Miller wasn’t about finding a cure for cancer, but about contributing to a larger scientific community. Doing research that helps scientists better understand cell signaling or morphogenesis are the everyday mini-discoveries scientists make that lead to cures.

“That’s what a real scientist is,” Raquer says. “It’s not just the person figuring out cancer, it’s the person figuring out how can I answer this one small but significant question that I have about the world. You don’t do huge experiments. You do small ones that build on each other.”

Hayley started the Women in STEM club at SCU. 

As a sophomore at SCU, Raquer loved science and research, but she didn’t know her options. Her family hadn’t worked in science, so she didn’t know what kind of careers were available in science.

“I was trying to find mentors and role models. It started out with me seeking those things and it turned into a group of us,” Raquer says. “It was supposed to start out as kind of a small little maybe 15 girls and I think by the time I graduated we were like close to 150 people. It kind of snowballed.”

She noticed that there were groups on campus for engineering and other niche groups, but there wasn’t an overarching campus group that could connect women in STEM. So she started one herself.

Knight Hennessy scholars have their own building. 

In addition to the academic program, Knight-Hennessy scholars will have exclusive access to a brand new building, the Denning House, located on Lake Lagunita on Stanford’s campus. The Denning House, which is currently under construction, will host talks, presentations, readings—scholars can even have meals together.

Hayley says she’s the only immunologist among the inaugural group. She’s looking forward to people from disparate disciplines—from aeronautics to law to neuroscience and sociology— and different regions, all offering their perspective.

“I’m just going to thrive off of the energy of the other scholars,” Raquer says. “We’re all very different. I love that and I’m so excited to hear from other people who are really passionate about something.”

Raquer says there’s an optimism about Silicon Valley that fuels problem solving.

“Maybe I’m young and naïve but I really do think that we can solve a lot of the world’s problems if we put our minds to it,” Raquer says.


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