Eight undergraduates chosen to receive 2009 Deans' Awards

An aspiring plague fighter, a committed social activist and a young scholar of ancient philosophy were among the eight undergraduate students who each recently received a 2009 Deans' Award for Academic Accomplishment.

Stanford created the award in 1988 to celebrate exceptional scholarly achievements by undergraduate students. Faculty and staff submit nominations, and a committee established by the deans of the three schools that award undergraduate degrees—Earth Sciences, Engineering, and Humanities and Sciences—selects the winners.

Following are names and areas of academic interest of this year's winners:

Jonathan "Jonny" Dorsey of Woodside, Calif., a senior in human biology, was honored for his record of public service. He has volunteered at a Zambian refugee camp; organized and led an Alternative Spring Break class, Changemakers—Perspectives on Public Service Leadership; and co-founded two nongovernmental organizations, FACE AIDS and Global Health Corps. His presentations on his experiences and enthusiasm for social activism have inspired many other students to take part in public service projects.

Benjamin Eppler of Portland, Ore., a senior in history and in economics, was honored for his history research, including a paper he wrote on the Fourth Crusade of 1202-1204 and the crusade against the Albigensians from 1209 to 1229. History Professor Philippe Buc cited it as an "insightful argument that the first expedition ultimately made culturally and religiously possible the second crusade of 1209, which targeted heretics located in southern France and the nobles who tolerated or abetted them." Eppler is enrolled in the history honors program, and his senior thesis focuses on the infrastructure of British imperial control in the Persian Gulf from 1919 to 1939.

Alexander Fenner of Seattle, a senior in classics with a concentration in ancient history, was honored for his academic excellence across disciplines and for contributions to his major. His senior honors thesis examines the parallels between Roman imperial policies toward the ancient annexed kingdoms with modern British policies in 19th-century India, using the British national heroine Boudica, who led an uprising against occupying forces of the Roman Empire in A.D. 60, as a case study. Fenner's thesis adviser, Giovanna Ceserani, an assistant professor of classics, described the thesis as "one of unprecedented scale" and impressive in terms of "organizational skills, intuitive brilliance and rigor of analysis."

Max Kleiman-Weiner of Santa Monica, Calif., a senior in biology with a concentration in neurobiology, was honored for his work as a researcher, teaching assistant, lecturer and an editor at the Stanford Journal of Neuroscience and The Dualist, Stanford's undergraduate journal of philosophy. His senior honors thesis focuses on neural network oscillations in the thalamus. He is a co-author of "A Gain in GABAA Receptor Synaptic Strength in Thalamus Reduces Oscillatory Activity and Absence Seizures," which recently was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. He recently was awarded a Marshall Scholarship and plans to study neuroscience and statistics at the University of Oxford.

Katherine "Katy" Meadows of Fairfield, Calif., a senior in philosophy with honors and a minor in mathematics, was cited for her work in philosophy, including her senior honors thesis, "The Psychology of the Pyrrhonian Skeptic." Philosophy Professor Chris Bobonich, who observed her written work in two graduate-level courses, said Meadows "has familiarized herself with the relevant scholarship and shows great ingenuity in developing new lines of argument," adding that she is "already more at the level of a faculty colleague than an undergraduate or even graduate student."

Lauren Smith of Colorado Springs, Colo., a senior in human biology, was honored for her commitment and passion to studying infectious disease. She has taken the most difficult courses and invigorated her classmates and instructors with innovative, creative presentations and questions. Robert Siegel, an associate professor of microbiology and immunology, said her "remarkable" honors thesis, "Interferon Treatment of Ebola Hemorrhagic Fever," which shows that treatment with Interferon-beta prolongs survival in primates with Ebola hemorrhagic fever, is the "first comprehensive survey of the effects of the interferon activity upon Ebola-infected cells."

Mindi Summers of Cleveland, a senior in geological and environmental sciences, was honored for her work on multiple major research projects in a broad spectrum of the natural sciences. As a freshman, she studied the recovery of foraminifera (a group of marine protists) following a major mass extinction event. A year later, that research culminated with a presentation at the national meeting of the Geological Society of America, and her work is part of a manuscript now under review for the journal Paleobiology. Summers also has studied elephants in Namibia, and zooplankton and a small reef fish with Stanford@SEA. For her senior honors thesis, she studied the evolution of a coastal barrier system in New Zealand using ground-penetrating radar.

Sylvia Tomiyama of Tokyo, a senior in psychology with honors and a minor in biology, was honored for her contributions to research in neuroscience. Her work analyzing the cognitive abilities in young children led to co-authorship of a recent manuscript, "Standardized Assessment of Strategy Use and Working Memory in Early Arithmetic Performance," published in 2008 in the journal Developmental Neuropsychology. Vinod Menon, an associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences, said Tomiyama's research for her senior honors thesis, which focuses on gender differences in the large-scale functional organization of the human brain, "is leading to new insights into the neural basis of sex differences in human brain function."