Chris Finch recently earned the Churchill Foundation Scholarship, which will allow Finch to spend the year studying at the University of Cambridge in England. He is one of 14 students nationwide to receive the honor.

Photo by John F. Russell

Chris Finch recently earned the Churchill Foundation Scholarship, which will allow Finch to spend the year studying at the University of Cambridge in England. He is one of 14 students nationwide to receive the honor.

Steamboat's Finch off to Cambridge

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— Christopher Finch’s plate includes whole foods, natural foods and plenty of locally grown foods.

After a life of playing hockey, including just finishing up his senior season at Amherst College, Finch has made nutrition central to his lifestyle.

“I think with hockey, and as an athlete, you’re focused on nutrition,” he said. “I’m a firm believer in whole foods and real foods.”

But Finch is also a scholar, a scientist and a believer in what’s out there. The Amherst senior was recently one of 14 students from around the nation to receive the Churchill Foundation Scholarship, which is awarded to exemplary students who will contribute to advancing sciences, engineering or mathematics in a creative and unique way.

Finch will conduct research in plant bioengineering for a year starting in October at the University of Cambridge in England.

For Finch, this involves what’s on his plate.

The Steamboat Springs native always has had an interest in biochemistry. His studies at Cambridge will focus on bridging the gap between industrial agriculture and locally and organic grown food.

“In bioengineering, we have the ability to use genetic materials and manipulate genetics to do good in the world,” Finch said. “When you can change the world, that’s a pretty powerful thing. You can do amazing things.”

Finch, though, is very aware of the contention that exists with naturally grown foods and dealing with genetically modified organisms and companies like Monsanto. It’s a hot-button issue that Finch knows draws people on both sides.

“I’m an optimist on that front,” Finch said. “I think there is room for both. I think there are ways to move industrial agriculture into a more sustainable practice.”

Scholarship is another highlight in Finch’s academic career. In 2012, he helped develop concussion workshops for youth coaches based on his time spent playing hockey.

In 2013, he was named the Amgen Scholar at the California Institute of Technology, where he worked on controlling brain behavior with lights and optics.

Finch said he knew his previous work put him in a position to be considered for the Churchill Scholarship, but he never thought he actually would get it.

He’d accepted a job in San Francisco doing management and consulting for a biotechnology company. But when the opportunity arose to do research at Cambridge, he had to jump at the chance. He said he’s not sure where he will go in the future, but he knows he wants to take his scientific knowledge and incorporate into business. After the year, he’ll return to the San Francisco company to learn about the business side of things.

“Even by college standards, he’s pretty impressive,” said Sandra L. Burkett, associate professor of chemistry at Amherst. “He’s definitely someone we’ll be hearing from down the road. He’s got the ability to think broadly, but he’s also a deep thinker. Many people have one or the other. He gets the whole picture. The challenge is not what he is going to be successful in, it’s where he wants to focus his attention.”

To reach Luke Graham, call 970-871-4229, email lgraham@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @LukeGraham

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