UNC-Chapel Hill student Benjamin Kompa named Churchill Scholar

Benjamin Kompa, a fourth-year student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, has been named a recipient of the prestigious Churchill Scholarship, a research-focused award that provides funding to outstanding American students for a year of master’s study in science, mathematics and engineering at Churchill College, based at the University of Cambridge in England.

Kompa is one of only 15 selected for the award, which not only requires exemplary academic achievement but also seeks those with proven talent in research, extensive laboratory experience and personal activities outside of academic pursuits, especially in music, athletics and social service. He is Carolina’s 17th Churchill Scholar.

“Receiving a Churchill Scholarship is an incredible opportunity for a young scholar and Benjamin is so deserving of this prestigious award,” said Chancellor Carol L. Folt. “He is focused on applying his significant skills in computer science and statistics to solve challenging, global biomedical problems. We are very pleased for Benjamin and know his studies at Cambridge will help pave the way for him to make life-changing impacts in the fields of computational biology and bioinformatics.”

Kompa, 22, is a native of Columbus, Ohio and plans to graduate from Carolina this May with a double major in mathematics and computational science, and a minor in biology from the College of Arts & Sciences. He is a Colonel Robinson Scholar, a Phi Beta Kappa member and an Honors Carolina student and has worked in biology labs since high school. Kompa is also a two-time national champion Bridge player, who upon request from the World Bridge Federation, successfully investigated cheating in Bridge using computer methods.

He has worked in the same lab since his first year at UNC-Chapel Hill, where he learned biology lab techniques and conducted computational research to model chromosomes. His research has been pioneering in its exploration of new models and approaches, emphasizing lasting impacts over quickly publishing papers. Kompa also spent a summer at Harvard Medical School studying methods of artificial intelligence neural networks and applied them to analyzing MRIs.

Deeply interested in applying the techniques of computer science and statistics to biomedical problems, Kompa plans to use the Churchill Scholarship to pursue a Master of Philosophy in computational biology in the department of applied math and theoretical physics, and conduct research on disease comorbidities with Dr. Pietro Lio. He then hopes to pursue a Ph.D. and career in research in bioinformatics.

“We are thrilled to see the Churchill go to such an exceptional and worthy student, “ said Inger Brodey, director of Carolina’s Office of Distinguished Scholarships.

The Churchill started in 1963 with three awards and since grown to an average of 14 awards. The Scholarship was set up at the request of Sir Winston Churchill in order to fulfill his vision of U.S.-U.K. scientific exchange with the goal of advancing science and technology on both sides of the Atlantic, helping to ensure our future prosperity and security. There have now been approximately 500 Churchill Scholars. This is the third in a row that a UNC student has been awarded with the Churchill.

Published January 26, 2017.