The Deans' Awards for Academic Achievement

Nine Undergraduates Honored with 2015 Deans' Award for Academic Achievement

The nine winners of the 2015 Deans’ Award for Academic Achievement were announced at a luncheon held Monday, April 27 at the Faculty Club. The award, now in its 28th 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, Energy & Environmental 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.”

Brian Thomas, Associate Dean in Research for Undergraduate Advising and Research, offered introductory remarks to award recipients. Brad Osgood, Senior Associate Dean in the School of Engineering, served as master of ceremonies for the awards presentation. Fellow committee members in attendance included Senior Associate Dean in the School of Earth, Energy & Environmental Sciences, Stephan Graham; Dean of the School of Earth, Energy & Environmental Sciences, Pamela Matson; and Dean of the School of Humanities & Sciences, Richard Saller.  

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 nine 2015 Deans’ Award recipients follow:

Rafael Cosman

Rafael Cosman

Rafael Cosman, a senior completing his degree in Computer Science, is recognized for his extraordinary contributions to the Stanford community as a student, scholar, and social entrepreneur.

Professor of Art History and Classics Jody Maxmin, Rafael’s instructor for “Greek Art, In and Out of Contexts” stresses that what truly distinguishes Rafael is his conviction that “individual accomplishment is hollow if it fails to improve the lives of others.”

As co-founder of East Palo Alto-based StreetCode Academy, Rafael has extended his passion for computer science to students in East Palo Alto. StreetCode Academy, which provides instruction in coding, personal and professional development and other essential technological skills, helps East Palo Alto youth to become full participants in the life and work of Silicon Valley. When he graduates in June, Rafael will devote himself to full-time teaching and administering the Academy for the foreseeable future.

This future, writes Professor Maxmin, “is unimaginably bright”. StreetCode Academy is part of a broader program to showcase the creative and talented young people of East Palo Alto by non-profit Live In Peace. This program includes The East Palo Alto Music Academy, with an emphasis on African-American contributions to national and international culture, and a program devoted to college preparation. Of the $10 million needed to fund these initiatives, Rafael and the co-founders in East Palo Alto have raised $3 million.

Professor Jody Maxmin writes, “Rafi’s determination to transform the future of East Palo Alto’s children, and the destiny of East Palo Alto itself, will serve as a model for other cities and for idealists who wish to live their lives in accordance with their ideals. For this Rafael Cosman is deeply deserving of a Dean’s Award for Academic Achievement- his own and that of others.”

 

Jake Kohn

Joshua Landy describes Jake Kohn, a junior in Comparative Literature, as a “highly motivated, powerfully creative, and impressively talented undergraduate.”

Of the many “excellent papers” that Kohn has written for courses with Landy, Landy notes that in his Proust seminar, Kohn “outdid even his own extraordinary achievements; his final paper, offering a way to take Proust’s narrator at face value when he steps outside of time, was of such originality and high quality that I suggested he try to get it published.”

Landy was similarly taken by Kohn’s summer project in which he “undertook two ‘pilgrimages,’ one along a traditionally sacred path (the Camino de Santiago) and one along a secular path (the similarly named Camino Real in Northern California), and wrote a lengthy piece of creative writing based on his experiences.” Landy notes, “He impressed me with his creativity, his thoughtful reflections on the project, his courage, and his follow-through.”

Landy and Kohn engaged in an independent study of David Foster Wallace's long novel Infinite Jest.  Kohn wrote a creative piece for this study: “an absolutely brilliant pastiche of Wallace, complete with the highly erudite footnotes, the oscillation between abstract rumination and concrete detail, the post-ironism, the mixture of closure and open-endedness, the supple prose rhythms, and even the insightful focus on sports.”  Landy finds this work “an engrossing, touching, and thought-provoking story” that once again is “publishable.”

“What is more,” Landy writes, “[Kohn] takes philosophical questions deeply seriously: for him they are of real assistance in thinking about life, which (in my opinion) is just as it should be.”

 

Christopher Kremer

Christopher Kremer

Christopher Kremer is a Geological and Environmental Sciences Major who represents the successful amalgamation of academic excellence, rigorous scholarship, and civic mindedness.

Chris’ Senior Thesis concerns genesis of base-metal mineralization in Eastern Iceland. He conducted field research in this remote region under adverse weather conditions during his sophomore year. His faculty say that the quality of his research involving field observations, petrologic/petrographic analysis, fluid inclusion heating/freezing experiments, oxygen-hydrogen-sulfur stable isotope analysis, electron microprobe chemical analyses and zircon geochronology equals that of our M.S. students. He presented findings at the American Geophysical Union Meeting in San Francisco in December 2014, and will submit them for publication in the journal, Economic Geology.

In addition to his outstanding research, he is completing a minor in History and has maintained a 4.0 throughout his four years. Chris is a DJ for a music show, Plumbotectonics, on KZSU Stanford 90.1 FM (2011-2015), and has begun classes and background research for his Co-Terminal MS on sedimentology of petroleum reservoirs in Austria. With his experience in mineral and petroleum deposits, Christopher Kremer is preparing himself to be a leader in the field of Earth Resources. Christopher Kremer possesses the best qualities of the Stanford students: intelligence, integrity, and an untiring drive to learn and understand.

 

Julia Tsai and Arjun Krishnaswami

Julia Tsai

Julia Tsai, a junior majoring in Earth Systems, and Arjun Krishnaswami, a junior pursuing a degree in Civil Engineering, are recognized for their academic leadership and outstanding achievement in independent research.

Project collaborators, Julia and Arjun, were nominated by Professors Peter Vitousek and Tadashi Fukami from the Department of Biology. Professors Vitousek and Fukami praise Julia and Arjun for their leadership, enthusiasm, and exceptional research work during the Wrigley Field Program in Hawaii, which was “inspirational not just to other students, but to instructors” as well.

During a few short weeks towards the end of the field program, Julia and Arjun collaborated on an independent research project to study the effect of forest fragmentation on the abundance and diversity of insects and microorganism that are important to pollination of native trees. They synthesized many disparate pieces of evidence and, most impressively, produced a report that “almost seemed ready to submit as is for peer-reviewed publication.” The study produced several results that are new to science, with implications for how insects and bacteria affect pollination. The research findings “far exceeded” the professors’ expectations “in terms of data quantity, creativity, and rigor.”

For their exceptional achievement in scholarship and research, Julia Tsai and Arjun Krishnaswami are awarded the Deans’ Award for Academic Achievement.

 

Luke Lorentzen

Luke Lorentzen

Luke Lorentzen, a senior completing his degree in Film and Media Studies, is recognized for his extraordinary and wide-ranging excellence in the Humanities as a scholar and filmmaker.

In his letter of nomination, Jamie Meltzer, Associate Professor of Art and Art History and Director of the MFA Program in Documentary Film, describes Luke as, “a student that a professor delights in having” and “an exciting young artist and scholar”. 

Professor Meltzer, currently advising Luke in the Interdisciplinary Honors in the Arts program during this, his senior year, describes Luke’s film Santa Cruz Del Islote as, “the most accomplished film I have ever seen by an undergraduate student.” This film has been recognized with many festival screenings and awards, including a first prize for Best Bay Area short film at the San Francisco International Film Festival, and a President’s Award at the prestigious Full Frame Documentary Film Festival, as well as a nomination for Best Short Documentary at the Cinema Eye Honors.

Jody Maxmin, Associate Professor of Art History and Classics speaks to Luke’s wide-ranging excellence in the Humanities, describing his performance in an upper division lecture class on Archaic Greek Art in 2011, when Luke was a freshman—the only freshman in the course. She recalls his critique of the work of Gisela Richter, a venerable scholar of Greek sculpture and painting as, “forcefully argued, backed up by an ambitious array of evidence – ancient and modern – and culminated in a powerful conclusion, fueled by his personal artistic passions and convictions. His maturity was apparent in his ability to see ancient art in the light of later art, to perceive recurrent patterns in the history of art and to argue his case with tact and respect for the scholars whose approach he found wanting. To have written such a paper in the autumn of his freshman year was a significant achievement.”

For his excellence in the classroom and his creative and accomplished work behind the camera, Luke Lorentzen is deeply deserving of a Deans’ Award for Academic Achievement.

 

Katherine Murphy

Katherine Murphy

Katherine Murphy, a senior completing her Bachelor’s degree in Chemistry with Honors, is recognized for her stellar contributions to the Stanford community as a student, scholar, teacher, peer-advisor and researcher. She is commended not by one faculty member, but by seven.

Assistant Professor Lynette Cegelski writes that “Katie is one of the most talented, productive, passionate, and delightful undergraduate students I have met at Stanford.” She combines “her knowledge and talents in chemistry and quantitative reasoning and problem solving with her love of plant biology and biochemistry.” “She is the total package.”

Reflecting on Katie’s work as Teaching Assistant for the Leland Scholars Program, Jennifer Schwartz-Poehlmann notes “her passion and enthusiasm for research and science truly inspired and excited these students… by the end of the three weeks they had affectionately nicknamed her the ‘Corn Goddess’, based on her current research project.”

Her principal research mentor Professor Virginia Walbot, singles out Katie as “the best Stanford undergrad to do research in my lab in 33 years,” further noting how she “combines excellence in research, in the classroom, in teaching, and in service.” She writes that “the exceptional laboratory aptitude and experimental daring [Katie] exhibits mark her as a once in a professor's lifetime undergraduate research student.”

In essence, the department of Chemistry univocally rises to recognize Katie Murphy as truly extraordinary.

 

Sarah Sadlier

Sarah Sadlier

Sarah Sadlier is a junior majoring in American Studies, History, Iberian and Latin American Cultures. Sarah represents the successful amalgamation of academic excellence, rigorous scholarship, and civic mindedness.

As a Research Intern with the Chinese Railroad Workers of North America Project, Sarah indelibly shaped the Project’s research agenda by uncovering Central Pacific payroll records, by mining census records in fresh ways, and by writing superb annotations that are models of excellence for all involved in the Project. Faculty describe Sarah as astute, motivated, enterprising, and accomplished—a dazzling and indefatigable researcher and fine writer who, in addition to having a cumulative GPA for four majors of 4.0. has an impressive record of publication as well.

Sarah has published articles on colonial history in national publications, in national undergraduate research journals at the University of Michigan, Cornell, UC-Berkeley, The University of Pennsylvania, and Stanford on topics such as 20th-century agricultural labor and historical memory; Méndez v. Westminster as a prelude to Brown v. Board; the depiction of Native American women Libbie Custer’s memoirs; the development of Israel’s nuclear weapons; and Latin American perceptions of the American Revolution between 1808 and 1830. At Stanford as Editor of Herodotus (Stanford’s History Journal) and Leland Quarterly and as Section Editor of Stanford Political Journal, Stanford Journal of International Relations and Stanford Education Research Journal, she has fostered high-quality research and writing among her peers. A proud member of Stanford’s Native Community, Sarah is the Contesting Chair of Stanford Powwow publicity committee. A brilliant and perennially curious polymath who pursues research in multiple fields with energy and excitement, Sarah richly merits a Dean’s Award.

 

Alexandra Welch

Alexandra Welch

Alexandra Welch, a junior completing her degree in Engineering, is recognized for her extraordinary contributions to the Stanford community as both a student and researcher.

In his nomination of Alexandra, Associate Professor of Materials Science and Engineering Yi Cui writes that, “Alex has the stunningly high quality perfect for the Deans’ Award.”

Since joining Professor Cui’s research group during the first quarter of her freshman year, Alexandra has been working on different methods to synthesize transparent metallic nanowires, playing an active role in developing these techniques as well as integrating the material into various functional devices.

Professor Cui emphasizes Alexandra’s incredible research productivity. This includes her recent co-authored publication in Nano Letters (2014) presenting her contribution to the fabrication of a new type of thermal textile with silver nanowires. This work made a significant impact and was highlighted by news media around the world.

Additionally, Alex is a co-author on paper entitled “Electrolessly Deposited Electrospun Metal Nanowire Transparent Electrodes” in the Journal of the American Chemical Society (2014). In this work, Alex demonstrates the development of a synthesis process and the fabrication of transparent conducting electrodes. The resulting nanowire transparent electrodes can potentially replace expensive indium tin oxide for applications in touch screen, display, and solar cells.

For her outstanding achievements in scholarship and research, Alexandra Welch is awarded the Deans’ Award for Academic Achievement.

 

About the Dean's Award

The Deans' Award for Academic Achievement, inaugurated in Spring 1988, is given each year to between five and ten extraordinary undergraduate students. These students deserve campus recognition for academic endeavors that might not otherwise be celebrated.

The Deans' Award honors students for exceptional, tangible accomplishments in the following areas:

  • Independent research
  • National academic competitions
  • A presentation or publication for a regional or national audience
  • Superior performance in the creative arts

Students selected for the awards have more than a high grade point average or success in coursework. Outstanding transcripts are usually recognized by honorary societies (Phi Beta Kappa, for example, or Tau Beta Pi). Also excellent honors theses are rewarded with prizes, such as the Firestone or Golden Medals.

Faculty nominate students for the Deans' Award. The award recipients are honored at a ceremony and receive a gift card.

Past Awardees