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Golden, Firestone, and Kennedy Thesis Awards

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The top undergraduate honors theses are recognized annually

The Firestone and Golden Medals are awarded to the top 10 percent of honors theses completed in a given year. The Firestone Medal for Excellence in Undergraduate Research recognizes theses written in the social sciences, natural sciences and engineering. The Golden Medal for Excellence in Humanities and Creative Arts similarly distinguishes theses in the humanities or creative projects in the fine arts. The medalists each receive an engraved bronze medal and a monetary award.

The Kennedy Thesis Prize is awarded annually to the single best thesis in each of the four areas of arts & humanities, social sciences, natural sciences, and engineering & applied sciences. Recipients of this award have accomplished exceptionally advanced research in the field and have shown strong potential for publication in peer-reviewed scholarly works. The prize was established in 2008 in recognition of history Professor David M. Kennedy’s mentoring of undergraduate writers. Winners each receive an engraved plaque and a monetary award.

The Nomination Process

All nominations for Golden, Firestone, and Kennedy thesis awards must be made by the department or honors program, so individual faculty who wish to nominate students should contact the honors program to learn more about their specific process. An official announcement with detailed nomination instructions will be sent in early March, and nominations are due to VPUE in late May. These communications come from the VPUE Medals email account.

Nominations for the 2022 competition closed on May 23, 2022. The 2023 competition deadline for all nominations and supporting documents will be Tuesday, May 29, 2023.

Departments and faculty are welcome to contact at any point with questions about the nomination and award process. The basic criteria are that the thesis should stand out as exceptional in five areas: originality, rigorous deployment of research method, value of research to the field, quality of argument, and quality of presentation according to standards of the field. All students who submit their final honors thesis between Summer 2022 and Spring 2023 are eligible to be nominated for the 2023 competition by their department or honors program, regardless of their official date of graduation.

Students with questions should contact their honors program, as each program sets their own process for how to determine the top theses in that department. Deadlines and eligibility will vary by department.

Medals Luncheon

The Golden, Firestone, and Kennedy awards are presented at the annual Undergraduate Medals Celebration, held midday on the Saturday of Commencement Weekend. The luncheon offers an opportunity for families and thesis advisors to meet and mingle as their student is honored.

2021-2022 Prize Winners Announced

David M. Kennedy Honors Thesis Prizes

Engineering and Applied Sciences: Soo Hyun (Francesca) Kim, Biomedical Computation. "Minimally Invasive Optogenetics Across Physiological Systems." Mentored by Karl Deisseroth and Liqun Luo

Arts & Humanities: Ekalan Hou, Art & Art History. "Pockets of Becoming: The Photography of Mary Tape, Lai Yong, and Frank Jue." Mentored by Marci Kwon

Natural Sciences: Carissa Anne Lee, Human Biology. "Multimodal Mapping of Cardiac Cell Types Throughout Mammalian Embryonic Development." Mentored by Sean Wu, Julie Baker, and Francisco Galdos

Social Sciences: Maria Clara Rodrigues da Silva, Economics. "Differential Treatment of Politically Connected Labor Traffickers: Evidence from the Brazilian Dirty List of Slave Labor." Mentored by Grant Miller

Firestone Medals for Excellence in Undergraduate Research

Coen Rhys Richard Armstrong, Mathematics. "Maps of Stein Manifolds without k-multiple points, k ≤ 4." Mentored by Yakov Eliashberg

Veronica Ayala, Science, Technology, & Society (STS). "It Takes a Village… and More: Southeast Los Angeles as a Model for Alleviating Infrastructure Deficits and Environmental Injustices Through Community-Based Resistance." Mentored by Sibyl Diver

Justin-Casimir Braun, International Relations. "Germany's Changing 'Boundary of Belonging': Anti-Immigrant Attitudes amidst the Refugee Crisis of 2015." Mentored by Vasiliki Fouka

Angela Gomez, Sociology. "Conscientizar: The Development and Enactment of Sociopolitical Consciousness and Critical Hopefulness in Salinas Youth Activists."
Mentored by David Grusky

Jessica Gonzalez, Political Science. "The Impact of Hispanic Ethnicity on Vote Choice." Mentored by Jon A. Krosnick

Emmett Hough, Physics. "Novel Techniques to Measure Micron-Scale Gravity." Mentored by Giorgio Gratta

Deborah J. Jantz, Center for International Security and Cooperation (CISAC). "Battlegrounds to Bipartisanship: The Effect of Military Experience on Bipartisanship in the U.S. Congress." Mentored by Scott Sagan and Joseph Felter

Stewart Kim, Biology. "Identification of a Myogenic and Highly Transplantable Tert Expressing Non-Satellite Stem Cell Population." Mentored by Steven Artandi

Sayeh Kohani, Bioengineering. "Molecular Gradients Instruct Dendritic Targeting of Olfactory Projection Neurons." Mentored by Liqun Luo

Zixian Ma, Computer Science. "Towards More Effective Multi-agent Coordination via Alignment." Mentored by Fei-Fei Li

Patrick Joseph Monreal, Earth Systems Program. "Identifying the sources and drivers of variable nitrous oxide concentrations across the Eastern Tropical North Pacific." Mentored by Karen Casciotti

Saketh Prazad, Economics. "Fed Transparency: A Sentiment Analysis Approach." Mentored by Matthew Gentzkow and John B. Taylor

Maia Louise Rocklin, Psychology. "Smartphones and Emotion: Assessing Ability of AI to Rate Valence and Arousal of Smartphone Content." Mentored by Nilam Ram

Adrian Scheibler, Center on Democracy, Development and Rule of Law (CDDRL). "Challenging the State: Western European Regionalism in the Era of Financial Crisis." Mentored by Christophe Crombez and Stephen Stedman

Sofia Schlozman, Human Biology. "Exploring Medical Student Perspectives on Mental Health Self-Disclosure." Mentored by Jennifer Wolf, Lars Osterberg, and Aliya Kassam

Rex Shen, Mathematical and Computational Sciences (MCS). "A Seasonality-Adjusted Sequential Test for Vaccine Safety Surveillance." Mentored by Lu Tian

Miley Sinantha-Hu, Biology. "Proteomic Profiling of Purkinje Cell Surface Reveals the Critical Role of Armadillo-like helical domain containing protein 4 in Mammalian Dendrite Morphogenesis." Mentored by Liqun Luo

Neha Srivathsa, Computer Science. "Multimodal, Self-Supervised Deep Learning-Based Estimation of Symptoms and Severity of Depression and Anxiety." Mentored by Fei-Fei Li and Ehsan Adeli

Isabel Z. Wang, Symbolic Systems. "Hope for Caregiver and Child Health Under Lockdown: Impacts of the COVID-19 Pandemic on the Changing Landscape of Caregiver Outcomes, Caregiving Behaviors, and Health Services Utilization in Rural China." Mentored by Scott Rozelle and Gary Darmstadt

Julien Minoru Wright-Ueda, Biology. "Long-term avian responses to drought and urbanization in Northern California." Mentored by Rodolfo Dirzo

Robert M. Golden Medals for Excellence in the Humanities and Creative Arts

Hagar Gal, History. "Aswim in a Sea of Poppies: Opium Challenges the English Empire, 1827-1910." Mentored by Thomas S. Mullaney

Morgan Tom Gwilym Tso, Theater & Performance Studies (TAPS). Acting in “As Soon As Impossible.” Mentored by Samer Al-Saber

Sequoiah Hippolyte, African and African American Studies. "Decolonizing Desire: Pleasure as a Framework for Constructing a Black-Womanist Cinematic Gaze." Mentored by Aileen Robinson

Jeevanjot Singh Kapur, Theater & Performance Studies (TAPS). "Modified Digital Forum Theater—A Novel Approach for Improving Communication and Reducing Acculturative Family Distancing in Immigrant Families." Mentored by Michael Rau and Shashank Joshi

Didier Natalizi Baldi, Classics. "Weaving Classical Poetry in Modern England: The Latin and Greek Verse of Thomas Gray." Mentored by Christopher B. Krebs

Lily Nilipour, English. "A Sentence of One's Own: An Algorithmic Approach to Punctuation in the Novels of Virginia Woolf." Mentored by Alex Woloch

Vrinda Madabushi Suresh and Jenna Wang, Arts Institute. (un)grounded. Mentored by Jessi Piggott and Amy Elkins

Paige Warmington, Art Practice. Boyhood Fabricated and Boyhood Received. Mentored by Jonathan Calm

Cybele Athena Zhang, English. "Allegations: The Proto-Public Sphere and the Figure of the Female Accused (1550-1640)." Mentored by Esther Yu

Matthew Haide Zheng, Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies. "The Hill Beyond Community: A Political Ethnography of Spectacular Intimacy in Queer D.C." Mentored by Sylvia Yanagisako and Margaret Levi

Past recipients: Golden, Firestone, and Kennedy Thesis Awards

More Questions?

If you have questions about the Golden, Firestone, and Kennedy Awards or the Medals Luncheon that are not answered here, please email