Ten undergraduates receive Deans' Award for Academic Accomplishment
Ten undergraduates recently received the 2011 Deans' Award for Academic Accomplishment, which honors extraordinary undergraduate students for "exceptional, tangible" intellectual achievements.
Tom Wasow, a professor of philosophy and of linguistics, created the award in 1988 when he was serving as dean of undergraduate studies.
"Students receive recognition at Stanford for so many of their accomplishments in areas such as athletics and service, but, except for commencement awards, most academic achievements are a private matter," Wasow said. "We created this award to celebrate some of the exceptional scholarly achievements of our undergraduate students and to bring them campus-wide recognition."
Faculty and staff members who work closely with undergraduates submit nominations. A committee established by the deans of the three schools that offer undergraduate degrees – Earth Sciences, Engineering, and Humanities and Sciences – select the winners.
The students, who were honored at a recent awards ceremony, each received a copy of the citation read at the ceremony, a certificate signed by the three deans and a gift card.
The 2011 Deans' Award recipients and descriptions of their work follow:
Autumn Albers, of Danville, Calif., a senior majoring in human biology, has combined public service commitments, academic coursework and research interests through an honors thesis.
She undertook a challenging qualitative project using the Integrated Model of Behavioral Prediction to frame her study. Her empathetic curiosity and cultural competence – developed from long-term engagement with communities in Papua New Guinea – strengthened the academic rigor, as well as practical value, of her research.
Building on her solid relationships with community partners, Albers is working with local school boards and health clinics to create and distribute a storybook focused on adolescent sexual health in Papua New Guinea. The book will be written in the local language and will offer teachers a culturally sensitive resource currently missing from the curriculum.
Albers' professors said that she has "distinguished herself as a thoughtful colleague: one who is as interested in her classmates' success as her own." She was described by Robert Siegel, associate professor (teaching) of microbiology and immunology, as insightful and compassionate with a deep sense of social consciousness. Virginia Visconti, director of the Public Service Research Program at the Haas Center for Public Service, wrote, "Autumn's accomplishments demonstrate that the life of the mind and the work of the world are inseparable."
Alexander Berger, of Littleton, Colo., is a senior majoring in philosophy and pursuing a master's degree in education. His senior honors thesis examines a nationwide struggle in more than 40 state supreme courts over educational finance.
Berger worked for two summers for the Education Program of the National Conference of State Legislatures, where he familiarized himself with the legal landscape. Political science Associate Professor Rob Reich – who said that Berger is one of the best undergraduates he has worked with in the last decade – called his honors thesis "publishable material."
Berger also has brought exceptional energy and great insight into an important study of the development and diffusion of the field of nonprofit service delivery. Like much of society, philanthropy is being altered and enabled by the Internet. Berger believes that the online giving marketplace can be transformed and made much more valuable and transparent. Education Professor Woody Powell, with whom Berger is working on this project, wrote that his great contribution to this study comes from his "dedication to systematic inquiry."
Berger is distinguishing among organizations that aggregate information, those that function as hubs in the supply of information, ones that are channels for guiding giving and philanthropy and those that are influential users of evaluation information. Powell said Berger is "more diligent and systematic" than any undergraduate research assistant he has encountered.
Katherine Dektar, of Durham, N.C., is a senior in biomedical computation whose work exhibits the sophistication characteristic of advanced graduate students.
Dektar's work on the complex foraging behavior of ants contributed significantly to the modeling of the algorithm that ants engaging in such behavior employ – work that is featured in two publications currently in progress.
Balaji Prabhakar, associate professor of electrical engineering, said that Dektar is "the best undergraduate that I have interacted with on interdisciplinary research." Deborah Gordon, professor of biology, called Dektar "one of the most intellectually active and resourceful people I have ever met."
Dektar's professors are equally impressed with her leadership and teaching skills, which she honed in several settings: teaching middle school and high school students in a photography camp in Alaska; teaching – and organizing other undergraduates to teach – high school students as part of Stanford's Splash! program; and developing educational programming for her peers during a summer research internship. Above all, whether researching or teaching, Dektar exudes an "enormous sense of fun and delight in intellectual work," Gordon said.
Alex Fialho, of San Diego, a senior in art and art history whose academic work is exceptionally promising.
Fialho's senior honors thesis on the African American visual artist Glenn Ligon – at the intersection of art history and queer theory – is a meaningful "contribution to studies of race, sexuality and contemporary art," said Peggy Phelan, professor of drama and English.
Fialho has published two essays on Ligon and a third on the work of Stanford Master of Fine Arts student Dorian Katz. In his freshman year, Fialho received the President's Award for Academic Excellence, the only art and art history major ever to have earned this distinction.
Fialho's professors describe him as a "young scholar of dazzling accomplishment" and "the kind of student academic departments dream of." They are confident that he will one day have a major impact on the art world – whether hands-on, through curatorial work or as an academic – and are equally complimentary of his remarkable talents as both a researcher and a teacher.
Fialho's professors also praised him as an outstanding citizen of the arts community at Stanford and beyond, whose passion for his work and dedication to the highest standards of scholarship inspire others to renew their own commitment to rigorous thought.
Anand Habib, of Houston, is a senior majoring in biology with honors in international security studies. He is completing an honors thesis focusing on health governance.
Habib sees his work as an intentional synthesis of scholarship and larger social commitments. He has lived this out in many ways at Stanford, including working on behalf of politically and medically disenfranchised people in India, Mexico and Guatemala. On campus, he has turned the Stanford tradition of the annual Dance Marathon into a vehicle dedicated to addressing the HIV/AIDS pandemic by engaging not only Stanford students but also local communities and corporations, raising more than $100,000. His exceptional work was recognized by his participation in the Clinton Global Initiative University Conference in April.
English Associate Professor Michele Elam described Habib as a "superb critical thinker" whose work is characterized by "creative genius" and "mature insights." She holds him up as a model for others, saying that "he exemplifies exactly the kind of deeply informed, pragmatic and caring leadership that the world needs and Stanford enables."
Daniel Jacobson, of Richmond, Calif., a junior majoring in urban studies, is already making a name for himself outside Stanford in the world of urban studies and public policy.
As part of an independent study project begun as a sophomore, he authored a comprehensive, 140-page proposal for an urban streetcar line in Oakland, Calif., that described its potential for beneficial impacts on sustainability, livability and prosperity.
One of Jacobson's advisers, Michael Kahan, associate director of the program on urban studies, said Jacobson's work was "on par with anything [he had] seen in the professional world." His proposal captured the attention of the media, including the San Francisco Chronicle and the Financial Times. Two major candidates running for mayor of Oakland voiced support for the plan; the Oakland City Council is giving it serious consideration.
Moreover, the process of writing the plan was as impressive as the final product. Jacobson reached out, both within the university and beyond, creating a network of advisers in academia, government and the private sector. He also traveled to Portland, Ore., and Seattle, two cities known for their excellent transportation systems, and met with agency heads and other key transportation officials to gain further insights.
Jacobson's work represents an exceptional accomplishment that combines the best of academic scholarship with tangible, real-world impact.
Leander Love-Anderegg, of Cortez, Colo., is a senior majoring in human biology with honors. He is recognized for his exceptional academic achievement and original research in conservation biology and the biotic impact of climate variation.
Love-Anderegg's independent research addresses the ecophysiology of water dynamics as a potential driving factor in Sudden Aspen Death (SAD) in the central Rocky Mountains. Specifically, his study has examined the response of aspen trees to drought stress using a combination of field and laboratory work. He has shown exceptional promise in his writings and ground-breaking data analysis.
Love-Anderegg's professors described him as "talented," "ambitious" and "insightful," with a broad range of talents and interests. His academic work and research were described as "sophisticated," "ground-breaking" and "on the scale expected of a doctoral student." He "has truly blazed a trail of accomplishment while at Stanford as an undergraduate," one professor said.
Love-Anderegg has excelled academically while spending time as a mentor for other students, formally and informally. He also has taken a leadership role in organizing and sustaining the Environmental Faculty Dinners with the goal of promoting interdisciplinary faculty-student interaction.
Owen Marecic, of Tigard, Ore., is a senior majoring in human biology with academic interests in a variety of disciplines. He was honored for his academic achievement in his major and for his dedication to studying both microbiology and virology.
Marecic has excelled in a rigorous academic curriculum while balancing his commitment as a standout football player and has shown promise in both writing and discourse. Before the Cleveland Browns drafted him last weekend, he had begun preparation for a career in the medical sciences and plans on continued exploration of his interest in public health.
Robert Siegel, associate professor (teaching) of microbiology and immunology, described Marecic as a "dedicated, devoted and humble" student despite his considerable talents and achievements in the classroom and on the field of competition. He often goes above and beyond standard curricular expectations and has contributed a unique perspective in original writings.
Marecic also has quietly given his time and energy to a variety of worthy causes, including the "Locks for Love" program for individuals undergoing chemotherapy.
John Melas-Kyriazi, of Chestnut Hill, Mass., a senior pursuing honors in engineering, is recognized for outstanding work on photovoltaic cell performance.
Michael McGehee, associate professor of materials science and engineering, said he handed Melas-Kyriazi "an important project explaining the details of how solid-state, dye-sensitized solar cells work."
According to McGehee, Melas-Kyriazi "produced a beautiful set of data that explained in a crystal-clear manner exactly what happens in the solar cells and how the performance is limited. It was the most impressive performance I have seen from an undergraduate. … He had to use electron microscopy and other characterization techniques to determine the extent to which nanoporous titanium films were filled with an organic semiconductor. He had to use multiple, sophisticated, time-resolved spectroscopic and electronic techniques to determine the rates of recombination in the solar cells. Finally, he had to analyze a large amount of data and develop a theory to explain everything he saw."
Melas-Kyriazi's full-length manuscript was accepted by the journal Advanced Energy Materials, with all three reviewers rating it as critically important. "This accomplishment is truly phenomenal and is rare even for PhD students until their fourth year," McGehee said. "For John to have done this in his undergraduate career makes him the best student that I have ever seen."
Elina Robeva, of Sofia, Bulgaria, a senior mathematics major who won two silver medals in the International Mathematical Olympiad before coming to Stanford, devoured the most challenging undergraduate and graduate mathematics courses at Stanford.
Even more impressive than her coursework has been her development into a mature and powerful research mathematician. Robeva's accomplishments are already well known in the field of tropical geometry.
Robeva proved an elegant formula for the optimal strategy in bidding Hex, a game invented and studied by John Nash, Nobel laureate in economics. She also developed and implemented a Monte Carlo approximation to this optimal strategy, which is now available online. Her program is undefeated against human opponents, and the results of this project have been written up as "Artificial intelligence for bidding Hex" and accepted for publication in Games of No Chance, the premiere publication on the mathematics of combinatorial games.
Robeva also contributed to a co-authored paper, "A tropical proof of the Brill-Noether Theorem," currently under submission at a top journal. "Multiple definitive breakthroughs along the way were due solely to Robeva," said Sam Payne, assistant professor of mathematics at Yale University. "Signing on to this project required courage."
Ravi Vakil, professor of mathematics, said graduate students turned down the chance to work on the project because it was too difficult. "This essential quality in a mathematician, the willingness to dive into a research problem and not be fearful, is something that Elina has developed at a young age," Vakil said.