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Ten undergraduates honored with 2013 Deans' Awards for Academic Achievement

"We created this award to celebrate some of the exceptional scholarly achievements of our undergraduate students and to bring them campus-wide recognition," said Tom Wasow, professor of linguistics, who created the award in 1988. A committee established by the deans of the three schools that offer undergraduate degrees – Earth Sciences, Engineering and Humanities and Sciences – selects the winners.

Ten undergraduates recently received the 2013 Deans' Awards for Academic Achievement , which honor extraordinary undergraduate students for "exceptional, tangible" intellectual achievements.

Tom Wasow, professor of linguistics, created the awards 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," said Wasow. "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 who work closely with undergraduates submit nominations for the awards. A committee established by the deans of the three schools that offer undergraduate degrees – Earth Sciences, Engineering and Humanities and Sciences – selects the winners.

The students, who were honored at an April 3 awards ceremony at the Faculty Club, each received a copy of the citation read at the ceremony, a certificate signed by the three deans and a gift card.

The 2013 Deans' Award recipients and descriptions of their work follow:

Jayne Patterson Franklin Caval-Holme

Franklin Caval-Holme

Franklin Caval-Holme, of Shrewsbury, Vt., a senior majoring in biology, was  recognized for his achievements as a student, scholar, researcher and mentor. His professors said, "Franklin is a true scholar… capable of investigating questions at great depth while never losing sight of the larger context."

When Caval-Holme began his work in the lab investigating the evolution of cell size, he quickly "identified an opportunity to take a fundamental problem in biology and vastly expand the scope of our knowledge regarding underlying controls."

His "contributions to this project are difficult to overstate," including creating and curating a data set of approximately 4,000 species from the foraminiferan fossil record, performing the required statistical analysis and writing the entire first draft of the manuscript. His professors reported that he "is already operating at the level of a senior graduate student, as evidenced by the imminent publication of a first-author publication in the prestigious, peer-reviewed journal Evolution, published by the Society for the Study of Evolution."

Reflecting on the breadth of Caval-Holme's achievements, Jan M. Skotheim, assistant professor of biology, and Jonathan L. Payne, associate professor of geological and environmental sciences, said, "We are deeply impressed by the originality of Franklin's thinking, the quality of his scholarship, the depth of his commitment to learning, and his desire to share his passion for knowledge with others. We can imagine no more deserving candidate for the Dean's Award." In short, "Franklin is absolutely exceptional," they said.

Jayne PattersonRowan Chakoumakos

Rowan Chakoumakos

Rowan Chakoumakos, of Lenoir City, Tenn., a senior majoring in computer science, was honored for his outstanding achievements in research in multiple disciplines. What sets him apart, said Fabian Pease, professor emeritus of electrical engineering, is "his combination of technical excellence … an engaging manner, unlimited energy and an ability to accomplish a wide variety of tasks."

In his first year, Chakoumakos worked with Mehran Sahami, associate professor (teaching) of computer science, on text similarity measures in non-Euclidean spaces, tackling real-world problems in text classification and information retrieval. Sahami said Chakoumakos had "no hesitation learning about new subjects as they arose during his research, even those that required a good deal of mathematical sophistication."

With Pease and Jun Ye, associate professor (consulting) in electrical engineering, Chakoumakos designed and built a computer-controlled tactile probing system, a project requiring computational skills and also a mastery of new electrical and mechanical engineering skills. He is now working on a more ambitious project to study the human brains' EEG signals and their relationship to different thought processes. Ye described Chakoumakos as "a rare talent."

Chakoumakos' productivity and drive extend beyond research. He served as chief technology officer of Stanford Student Enterprises and won a Lightspeed Summer Fellowship for one of his ventures with a fellow student. Jerry Cain, an instructor in computer science, described Rowan as likely "the most entrepreneurial CS student in his class."

Jayne PattersonFelix Chang

Felix Chang

Felix Chang, of Springfield, Mo., is a senior majoring in psychology. Faculty described his honors thesis as innovative and novel, and they have cited its creativity, brilliance and ingenuity. His thesis tests stereotype threat in a virtual environment, allowing Chang to manipulate important variables, such as gender, that otherwise cannot be manipulated.

In his study, Chang recruited Stanford women who are personally invested in mathematics and potentially vulnerable to the stereotype that women are less skilled at math than men. He placed these women in a virtual world in which they learn a novel mathematical operation from a tutor. In this world, Chang manipulated (1) whether the woman's avatar is male or female and (2) whether the male tutor interacts with the woman's avatar in a neutral manner or in a subtly domineering and flirty manner, which has been shown in past research to trigger stereotype threat among women. Chang predicted that when a woman's avatar is female, and when the man interacts with it in this subtly domineering and flirty manner, the woman would subsequently perform less well on a test of mathematical reasoning.

As Greg Walton, assistant professor of psychology, said, "By manipulating women's gender identity in the virtual world, Felix's research has the potential to show more directly than past studies in non-virtual settings how a person's social identity can make them vulnerable to threats rooted in social stereotypes."

Jayne PattersonRachel Kelley

Rachel Kelley

Rachel Kelley, of Englewood, Colo., a senior majoring in human biology, has been a stellar example for the Stanford community through her combination of academics and public service. She has devoted significant time to the health concerns of underserved people and communities in the United States as well as overseas.

Kelley has served for four years in the patient advocacy program of a local community health center, not only working weekly shifts but also helping the center redesign its curriculum and its breast cancer screening strategy. In 2011 and 2012 she created her own internship with the Tennessee Health Care Campaign, traveling the state and interviewing low-income, disabled and medically fragile individuals in order to shape their stories into policy recommendations.

Through her efforts, the stories gained nationwide news coverage and influenced the thoughts and decisions of key policymakers in the state. Kelley also spent a quarter in the Stanford in Washington program where, in addition to taking classes, she held a full-time internship with an organization working on refugee health projects in Africa and other areas.

Her mentors described their deep appreciation not only for her exceptional academic gifts, but also for her character, creativity and natural ability to work with all sorts of individuals. In light of those characteristics, plus her genuine commitment to public service and public policy, they said they fully expect her to have a significant impact in the field of public health in the years to come.

Jayne PattersonPatrick Kennedy

Patrick Kennedy

Patrick Kennedy, of Palatine, Ill., is a senior majoring in political science. His advisers spoke of his "all-around brilliance." They said Kennedy has achieved excellence not only in original research in political science, but also in the creative arts. Patrick is a gifted musician and composer. He has composed music for the St. Lawrence String Quartet, Stanford's ensemble-in-residence (Drift, 2012), the Stanford Chamber Chorale (Three Irish Songs, 2012), and for The Chocolate Heads, a "movement band" of musicians, dancers and visual artists at Stanford (2011).

Kennedy's honors thesis in political science examines the approval ratings of chief executives around the world. To write the thesis, he painstakingly gathered approval data from a large number of countries, merged the data with measures of political and economic performance, and used sophisticated statistical methods to study how popular sentiment changes during a leader's tenure in office.

Kennedy's work challenges the conventional wisdom that popularity falls because checks and balances prevent leaders from implementing the changes that citizens want. The evidence shows that popularity rises and falls with macroeconomic performance, regardless of whether the executive is institutionally constrained.

Next year, Kennedy will be an economic analyst at the Federal Reserve Bank in Washington, D.C.

Jayne PattersonBojan Milic

Bojan Milic

Bojan Milic, of Salmiya, Kuwait, a senior majoring in biology and in chemistry, is recognized for his extraordinary contributions as a young scholar and researcher.  He joined the biophysics lab of mentor Steven Block, professor of applied physics and of biology, as a freshman, and has since become integral to that group's work on kinesin, a motor-protein that ferries cargo inside living cells. 

With colleague Johan Andreasson, a graduate student in physics, Milic used laser-based optical tweezers to characterize the nanoscale motions of individual recombinant kinesin molecules with unprecedented resolution. He is co-author of a paper in preparation, "The Role of the Neck Linker in Kinesin Processivity," which describes the group's new understanding of the role played by these molecules within cells. 

Milic's colleagues regard him as someone very special: brilliant, diligent, dedicated and mature beyond his years, adding that his exemplary work in the classroom complements his research efforts.  He has been awarded two separate Bio-X summer undergraduate research fellowships.

Jayne PattersonAnna Ntiriwah-Asare

Anna Ntiriwah-Asare

Anna Ntiriwah-Asare, of Bloomington, Ind., is a junior majoring in anthropology who represents the successful amalgamation of academic excellence, rigorous scholarship and civic-mindedness. She serves as executive director of the Alternative Spring Break program while mentoring high school students preparing for college. She founded and directs Photography Competing to Raise Support, a nonprofit organization that raises money for women's health clinics and organizations through a photo shoot competition.

Ntiriwah-Asare has been awarded a number of fellowships, including the Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellowship and Chappell Lougee Scholarship. She recently submitted an article to Problematics: Undergraduate Journal of Anthropology, a publication of Stanford's Department of Anthropology. The article is expected to be published later this year.

Ntiriwah-Asare has a passion for the arts. She is a member of Catch a Fiyah, Stanford's Caribbean dance group, and manages its community-building efforts. She was selected as a dancer and a lead cast member in The Color Purple: The Musical about Love, a 2012 production of Stanford Drama and BackStage Theatre Company.

Jayne PattersonEmma Pierson

Emma Pierson

Emma Pierson, of Arlington, Va., a senior majoring in physics and also pursuing a co-terminal master's degree in computer science, was recognized for "her talents and accomplishments in physics, machine learning, statistical analysis and interpretation of data, writing and debating." Her professors said she "already operates at the level of a graduate student in terms of self-motivation and intellectual drive" and, that she possesses the "confidence and ability to take on very challenging problems."

Pierson also was commended for her laudable "drive to apply her skills to projects with a strong positive social impact" and her engagement with "problems that have the potential to help people." This has included projects to optimize suicide prevention and a consideration of diagnostic challenges in oncology. Noah Goodman, assistant professor of psychology, wrote that Pierson was "among the best two or three undergrads I have interacted with at Stanford, and the best in terms of combining intellectual excellence with a desire to reach a broad community and help the world."

Patricia Burchat, professor of physics, met Pierson as an incoming freshman when Pierson sat in on Burchat's quantum mechanics course. A year later, Pierson returned to the course as a full participant and earned one of a very few A+ grades. That summer, she worked with Burchat's research group. Pierson's work was so intellectually sophisticated that visiting scholars mistook her for a postdoctoral scholar. Burchat reports that she looks "forward to seeing what Emma does in the long term."

Jayne PattersonMaritza Urquiza

Maritza Urquiza

Maritza Urquiza, of Santa Ana, Calif., a senior majoring in history, was described as "a truly outstanding young scholar in public history." She is writing a thesis focusing on the development of a public history exhibition about the life and times of the 19th-century San Francisco figure Juana Briones, who survived as a landowner and entrepreneur despite the turbulence of the Gold Rush years.

Urquiza's thesis will lay the groundwork for the Juana Briones exhibition that will be launched by the California Historical Society in January 2014. History Professor Albert M. Camarillo said Urquiza was one of the most notable students he has taught in nearly four decades.

Four years ago, Urquiza arrived at Stanford from a hometown with one of the highest dropout rates in California.  A first-generation college student, she will graduate in June with honors in history.  

Jayne PattersonSarah Weston

Sarah Weston

Sarah Weston, of Columbia, Mo., is a junior majoring in English with a minor in art history. Weston is described as a "remarkable young scholar whose conscientiousness, inventiveness, professionalism and dynamism were a great credit to Stanford recently when she presented a conference paper in 2012 at a major symposium hosted by the Digital Resource for Palaeography (DigiPal)." About 80 senior colleagues and researchers in the fields of manuscript studies, digital humanities, archival studies, history and literature attended the event, which was held at the University of Westminster in London.

Weston's paper, "ST(M)EMS – Stanford Tree of (Medieval and) Early Modern Scripts and the Implications of Online Paleographic Tools," showcased her own palaeographical innovation – an online database illustrating the genealogy of historical scripts with an inbuilt crowdsourcing function. "This highly entrepreneurial project garnered tremendous praise from participants," who were keen to let her professors know how highly regarded Weston's paper was. 

According to her professors: "No other undergraduate has achieved the privilege of presenting a research paper at meetings associated with the EU-funded DigiPal project, and it is rare in the UK for undergraduates to attend conferences at all, so this is a noteworthy tribute to the quality and original contribution of Sarah's work."