Deans' Award Winners 2014

Ten Undergraduates Honored With 2014 Deans’ Award for Academic Achievement

The ten winners of the 2014 Deans’ Award for Academic Achievement were announced at a luncheon held Monday, April 28 at the Faculty Club. The award, now in its 27th year, is given to extraordinary undergraduates deserving attention from the Stanford community for their intellectual accomplishments. Nominations are submitted by faculty and staff members who work closely with undergraduates in their academic endeavors. Selection of finalists are made by a committee established by the deans of the three schools which offer undergraduate degrees -- Earth Sciences, Engineering, and Humanities and Sciences.

The Deans’ Award was created in 1988 by Tom Wasow when he was dean of undergraduate studies. Wasow is now a professor of linguistics and philosophy. In reflecting on the motivation for establishing the Deans’ Awards, Wasow explained that “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. We created this award to celebrate some of the exceptional scholarly achievements of our undergraduate students and to bring them campus-wide recognition.”

Richard Nevle, undergraduate program director in the School of Earth Sciences offered introductory remarks to award recipients. Richard Saller, Dean of the School of Humanities and Sciences, served as master of ceremonies for the awards presentation. Brad Osgood, Senior Associate Dean for Student Affairs in the School of Engineering made closing remarks for the occasion.

Each award winner received a copy of the citation read at the ceremony, a certificate signed by the three deans, and a gift card. Citations for the ten 2014 Deans’ Award recipients follow:

Emma Dohner

Emma Dohner

Emma Dohner, a junior majoring in Chemistry, is recognized for her outstanding research accomplishments. Emma joined Professor Hema Karunadasa’s laboratory in Chemistry at the end of her freshman year. Karunadasa writes that “…as a junior, she is one of my most productive coworkers. She single handedly started a new research direction in my group through the discovery that new materials she synthesized emitted white-light when exposed to ultra-violet radiation. These materials are extremely promising for solid-state lighting. Emma recently published her first first-author paper in the Journal of the American Chemical Society. She is currently writing her second first-author paper describing a more efficient white-light emitter. She also performed time-resolved spectroscopy with our collaborators at the University of Washington to study the emission mechanism; this will be the subject of her third paper”.

“Emma genuinely operates as an independent researcher. She works tirelessly and continuously drives her research into exciting new areas.  I have worked with truly exceptional and dedicated undergraduates at Princeton, UC Berkeley, and Caltech. Emma tops this list by a wide margin. She has exceeded my expectations of what a student can achieve…”

Jessica Holtzman

Jessica Holtzman

Jessica Holtzman, a senior completing her Bachelor’s degree in Human Biology, is recognized for her stellar contributions to the Stanford community as a student, scholar, and researcher. As Jessica’s mentor, Dr. Natalie Rasgon, Professor of Psychiatry, Behavioral Sciences, and Obstetrics and Gynecology, has had the pleasure of working closely with Jessica in the lab. She writes that Jessica is “very motivated, patient, and has demonstrated the utmost responsibility and resourcefulness with any tasks presented to her” and has proven herself “very talented and instrumental in a variety of clinical research, analytical, and other projects.” “Without a doubt, Jessica is one of the most brilliant undergraduate students that I have ever had the opportunity to know.”

Dr. Paul Fisher, Director of the Program in Human Biology, first met Jessica as a student in his course on Cancer Epidemiology. He reports that her performance in the class “was inspiring. Among close to 400 students in that class over 10 years, Jessica is the only one who ever achieved a perfect score of 100.” And her final essay in the class was “a tour de force of the epidemiologic concepts.” She has gone on to become a teaching assistant in the class, guiding the next group of students through the material she has mastered. Dr. Fisher reports that Jessica is “one of the two or three best undergraduates I have encountered over my past 16 years at Stanford” “exhibiting academic excellence, altruism, and the potential to make a difference in our world.” Jessica Holtzman is, he writes “the very best that Human Biology and Stanford University have to offer.

Maya Sophia Krishnan

Maya Krishnan

Maya Sophia Krishnan is a Philosophy major with minors in Classics and Computer Science. Maya represents the successful amalgamation of academic excellence, rigorous scholarship, and civic mindedness. Maya is interested in what can only be called the metaphysical basis of modern thought about human existence. She has shown an unremitting engagement with some of the most difficult thinkers of modern intellectual history and profound issues of human understanding. Maya spent Fall 2013 in Berlin learning German in order to write an honors essay on Kant, whose work is currently her central interest. On the advice of faculty, Maya recently put together “Modern Illuminations,” a collection of essays that ranged widely through modern intellectual history. These are intellectually probing, profoundly challenging, and skillfully written papers. In many cases, they were experiments in writing as well as intellectual exploration. She writes not only with urgency and intensity — characteristics of the thinkers she has sought to understand — but with intellectual discipline and an amazing level of self-consciousness in someone her age. Her critical work includes essays on philosophers from Montaigne to Kant to Heidegger to Foucault.

Maya has sustained a near perfect 4.0 throughout her four years. Faculty hope that she will go on to pursue her research and expect that she will become a significant humanist scholar. 

Arthur Lau

Arthur Lau

Arthur Lau is an absolutely outstanding student in every way. He is majoring in philosophy and classics, achieving a GPA over 4.0 across this wide range of classes. Arthur’s honors thesis in philosophy tackles epistemic integrity, an understudied problem at the intersection of epistemology, moral psychology, action theory, and philosophy of mind. Arthur’s thesis examines the question of standing by your judgment about what is to be done. Suppose you anticipate being tempted by wine at dinner, judge it best not to drink then, and so resolve not to. Faced with temptation, it might be reasonable for you to trust the evaluative judgment of your past and anticipated future self, rather than the evaluative judgment of your present self. Arthur connects this debate to self-trust, and further develops an important idea of epistemic self-governance. This truly original thesis makes an exciting contribution to multiple subfields of philosophy.Arthur presented this work among professors at a major, peer-reviewed research conference, the Southern Society for Philosophy and Psychology. He has also published five papers in peer-reviewed undergraduate journals.


Emily Liang

Emily LiangEmily Liang, a senior completing her Bachelor’s degree in Human Biology, is recognized for her extraordinary achievements as a scholar, researcher, teacher, and public servant. When Catherine A. Blish, Assistant Professor Department of Medicine and Stanford Immunology, met Emily in the Winter of 2012, Emily had already worked in several laboratories on campus and contributed to three Scientific publications. As a member of Professor Blish’s lab, Emily quickly distinguished herself as “among the most talented molecular biologists” becoming “the primary driving force behind the project’s progress.” She “has consistently operated at the level of a senior graduate student, capable of generating and analyzing complex datasets that have the potential to lead to new approaches for HIV treatment.”

“Emily’s quiet, modest manner belies an astounding intellect, and equally importantly, a desire to use her amazing gifts to improve society. She is involved in a vast diversity of projects ranging from science to the arts and sports, while excelling in both her coursework and her independent research.” She has completed an “outstanding honors thesis” and will submit a condensed version to the Journal of Virology as first author.

Professor Blish concludes, “In sum, Emily is one of the most remarkable individuals I’ve had the pleasure of working with. She is brilliant, generous, well rounded, and has made exemplary contributions to research and to society. Her current career plan is to pursue both a medical degree and graduate degree in public health, where she feels that she can make the most impact in the world. I have no doubt that she will do so, and that I will be proud one day soon to say that she was my student.”

John Pluvinage

John PluvinageJohn Pluvinage, a senior completing his Bachelor’s degree in BioEngineering with Honors, is recognized for his exceptional scholarly contributions in medicine. When John first joined the laboratory of Irving L Weissman at Stanford’s Institute for Stem Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine, he was still a high school student.  Chosen from among a pool of several hundred Bay Area students for participation in the Stanford Institutes of Medicine Summer Research Program, John quickly found what was to become an intellectual home at Stanford. 

Working at first with MD/PhD student Wendy Pang, and then with Dr. Weissman himself, John made contributions to a number of projects, aimed at improved understanding of myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS), a disease that can lead to acute myelogenous leukemia (AML).  To do this he collaborated on the development of an improved technique for transplanting human stem cells into a mouse model.  Together with colleagues in the Weissman lab, John’s work resulted in two substantial published findings, which Dr. Weissman describes as “a classic in understanding tumor progression”.  John is continuing his work in this area, attempting to elucidate the genetic processes that drive the progression of MDS to AML. 

Dr. Weissman writes that “One of the things that impressed me the most about John was his ability to synthesize and analyze, as opposed to just memorize… he possesses an intellectual curiosity that sets him apart from other students.  He is … equal to the best undergraduate I have seen at Stanford in 40+ years of mentoring”.

Jennifer Schaffer

Jennifer Shaffer

Jennifer Schaffer, a senior completing her Bachelor’s degree with a major in English with an accompanying minor in Anthropology, is recognized for her creative and interdisciplinary research; her remarkable productivity, which displays both the range and depth of her inquiries; her determination and good humor; and her extraordinary accomplishment as a writer and scholar. In her letter of nomination, Professor Elizabeth Tallent writes of Jennifer that, “I regard her as the best formulator of unusual questions I’ve worked with in twenty years at Stanford. Her affinity for interdisciplinary research means that her anthropology minor continually informs the textual investigations of her English major, and vice versa, resulting in published articles of rare complexity.”

These publications include the forthcoming “Memory and Forgetting in Young Lithuania,” in Contexts; “Misconnecting the Dots: Psychological Determinants and Dynamics of Intergroup Paranoia” in Power, Politics, and Paranoia from Cambridge University Press; and “Intergroup Relations” in Wiley Encyclopedia of Management as well as “The Washed Page: Experiences in the Chatwin Archives,” forthcoming in Human.

Of her determination and good humor, Professor Tallent shares that, “while in Lithuania conducting interviews for her ethnography of Lithuania’s post-Soviet generation, Ms. Schaffer suffered a broken ankle that didn’t stop her completing her research. Her email from a chaotic hospital ward in Lithuania, where she was alone, was a marvel of composure and determination, and it was very funny.”

Jennifer’s current research at Oxford’s Bodleian Library delves into the writer Bruce Chatwin’s manuscript, The Nomadic Alternative. Of this scholarship, Professor Tallent writes, “We need literary criticism like hers is precisely because, faced with prevailing views, it doesn’t hesitate to dissent—to say We need to look again. We need to look more closely. In losing Chatwin to the shadows, who exactly have English and global literature lost? If we don’t yet know the answer, we do know the brilliance of the young scholar asking the question: Ms. Schaffer embodies the highest ideals of the Dean’s Award for Academic Achievement.”

Ruoke Yang

Ruoke YangRuoke Yang, a senior in Mathematical and Computational Science, is recognized for his research in the emerging areas of virtual worlds and virtual currencies. Professor David L. Donoho notes that Ruoke’s work shows a mastery of research techniques in a wide array of disciplines including economics, computer science, statistics, and intellectual property and securities law, and “a thorough understanding of the emerging phenomena of virtual worlds, gaming, and social interactions within them.”

Already, Ruoke has produced several papers of publishable quality. His first paper, “The Personal and Economic Utility of Virtual World Bots: A defense of fair use,” supervised by Professor Mark A. Lemley, appears in the Arizona State University Sports and Entertainment Law Journal. Another paper on the regulatory treatment of Bitcoin under the federal securities laws has been accepted for publication in the Journal of Technology Law and Policy. Professor Joseph A. Grundfest considers this paper to be “the best scholarship on the topic in the legal literature.”

Professor J. Darrell Duffie points to Ruoke’s “unusual passion for intellectual discovery,” and his ability to think broadly and deeply to bring new methods and approaches to bear on his ideas. For a young scholar, Ruoke shows remarkable research momentum, producing studies that have the potential, according to Professor Lemley, “to change the way we think about economics in the digital world.”

Lynnelle Ye

Lynnelle YeLynnelle Ye astonished and impressed her math professors even before arriving at Stanford. She completed much of the undergraduate math sequence during high school, and excelled in graduate math classes from her sophomore year. She has maintained over a 4.0 GPA, doing honors in the math major and a minor in computer science.

However, it is Lynnelle's success in research that is truly impressive. During her freshman and sophomore summers, she was admitted to the two most competitive math summer research programs in the country. The research she did there has led to four published papers in algebra and number theory, not in student journals but in full-fledged research journals that publish PhD-level work. This includes an article in Journal of Algebra, about which the referee wrote “This result is sensational and important in the theory of Weierstrass points on algebraic curves.”

Lynnelle’s senior thesis examines cancellation in the Mobius function along arithmetic progressions, and should be her strongest research yet. She has proved theorems that will supersede recently published work. Lynnelle's results are not just impressive given her age, they are of genuine interest to mathematicians. She will earn a PhD in math and is currently debating attending Princeton, Harvard, or MIT.

ZiXiang Zhang

ZiXiang ZhangZiXiang Zhang, a senior completing his Bachelor’s degree in Geological and Environmental Sciences with honors, is recognized for his extraordinary breadth and depth as a member of the Stanford community.

ZiXiang started his work as a research in Jonathan Payne’s laboratory in Geological and Environmental Sciences as a freshman.  He progressed quickly from measuring fossil brachiopods as an assistant to leading the compilation of a far more ambitious dataset spanning all 500 million years of the brachiopod fossil record.  His efforts resulted in the first comprehensive body size dataset spanning an entire animal phylum and the entire history of animal life.  Leveraging this dataset, he has completed a detailed and sophisticated analysis of brachiopod size evolution, to be submitted to the journal Paleobiology.   

Separately, ZiXiang has also pursued his interests in vertebrate paleontology with Elizabeth Hadly’s research group in Biology.  His honors thesis is based on work with a remarkable fossil deposit in the Rocky Mountains, and sheds considerable light on the relationships between amphibian development and this site’s paleoenvironment. 

His mentors write that he “… has accomplished more research in the past three years than many of our graduate students, done this in two different labs, two different departments, and two different schools, and managed to maintain a high GPA and a diverse set of interests unrelated to his scientific research.  He is a model of the Renaissance scholar that Stanford aspires to develop, and few students in our experience have matched his intellect, his enthusiasm or his breadth of interests”.