2009 Phi Beta Kappa Citations

Tuesday, February 10, 2009 - 15:55

Danti Chen '09
Danti Chen is a physics major, seemingly equally fascinated with imaging the dynamics of defects in striped systems (observing the annihilation of disclinations and dislocations), patterning self-assembled monolayers, and spending a semester in her junior year in France. Last fall, while working on her senior thesis in physics, she also took eight credits of German. Why? Because, as she notes, “It is fun.” As one of her professors notes, “She is enthusiastic and overcommitted … yet she is always cheerful and somehow manages to get everything done on time. Sometimes early, even.”

Zoë Gibbons '09
Zoë Gibbons, as a sophomore, submitted entries for prizes given by the English department. Typically these are awarded to graduating seniors, but that year most of them went to her. At the prize meeting, a faculty member urged his colleagues to have her in their classes soon, while, as he put it, "there is still something you know that she does not." A little later, Joe Ellis's American Creation appeared. Ellis thanks four experts who read the manuscript, including the most revered historian of the period. But no one gets more recognition than Zoë Gibbons, who provided "pages of hand-written critical commentary that I could not afford to ignore." Zoë is equally devoted to Restoration Comedy, the subject of her honors thesis, and Alexander Hamilton. Her attention to nuance, historical context, and brilliantly deployed language would burnish the repute of any work--though rakes and bastards are particularly welcome.

Kathryn Greenberg '09
Kathryn Greenberg likes physics … a lot. She has been doing independent research since the summer after her first year and has in the words of one of her advisors “a spectacular senior thesis in the works.” But we don’t have to wait for the future to see some of Kathryn’s work. The inevitable eventual publication of her senior thesis results will be her second published research paper; she already has a published research journal article based on work she did in her first two years at Mount Holyoke. Along the way, she has also presented research at three, yes three, international conferences. Not surprisingly, in addition to being elected into Phi Beta Kappa, Kathryn has already won a Goldwater Scholarship and a Churchill Scholarship.

Emily Harcourt '09
Emily Harcourt began research in organic chemistry in her first year of college. To do the research, she taught herself the subject. The chemistry department, of course, made her take organic, anyway. That research has been published in the leading journal of organometallic chemistry. Her second college summer was devoted to a new and difficult problem, which she pursued in a lab at Cambridge University. Her third problem, the subject of her thesis, is new, again, and is getting close to being publishable. Her advisor, Darren Hamilton, describes her as one of the most reflective and thoughtful students he has known. She comes into his office with "results, explanations, and smarter ideas than mine." She is also a passionate student of Latin, and a cellist. She is given to sorting her thoughts on train trips to her home in Vermont. Let us hope that there are interesting routes near the graduate school that she chooses to attend.

Yunnan Jiang '09
Yunnan Jiang joined Lilian Hsu's lab two years ago, as the lab began a new approach to a problem that has been under study for years. One way that bacteria regulate the use of genetic information is for the enzyme that produces the RNA transcript of a gene to abort before a functional transcript is produced. Yunnan has been pinpointing what puts on the brakes, thus protecting the cell from the consequences of a protein that could be doing things that would not be useful at that moment. Since life, to a first approximation, is bacterial, and bacteria, basically, run their lives by turning on or off genes, this is fundamental work. She is planning to present her findings in June, at a meeting on "Mechanism and Regulation of Prokaryotic Transcription." Yunnan has excelled in thinking about the implications of particular molecular mechanisms for large-scale phenomena of medical importance, and she has demonstrated leadership in providing a forum for students with research experience to mentor students who have not yet worked in a lab. Yunnan's bright future is in medicine and medical research.

Maria Marcantonio '09
Maria Marcantonio is quite interested in mixing church and state, at least in academic study. Her primary interest is the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church on labor and justice, a matter that, not surprisingly, has previously generated not only massive volumes of writings, but also a not inconsiderable number of Papal Encyclicals. So, what does Maria have to say to the Pope on the matter? Presumably quite a bit, but in her honors thesis work, instead of wading into yet another abstract discussion of the matter, she is taking up a particular case and asking what Roman Catholics should have to say about it. And it is the case she has chosen that makes the matter particularly intriguing. There is a kosher food plant in Iowa that U.S. Immigration officials have found to be employing immigrant workers, many illegal and working under conditions which violate US labor laws. So, here is the question: in a matter like this, involving different religions, U.S. labor law, U.S. immigration law, what does Roman Catholic social teaching have to say? What are our moral obligations in a case like that? That’s the sort of problem that Maria, treading in places Thomas Aquinas might fear to go, is tackling.

Sanam Nader-Esfahani '09
There are those who argue that the study of languages is dead. If Sanam Nader-Esfahani is any indication, the study of Romance languages at least will be alive as long as she is. To take just the small example of our own little corner of the world, Sanam has single-handedly breathed life into such studies here, reviving not only the moribund French Club, but also the European Cinema Club. These parochial concerns, though, are just part of the enormous project Sanam seems to have tackled; her senior thesis studies the baroque aesthetic in the works of two modernist writers, Hubert Aquin (from Quebec) and Carlo Emilio Gadda (from Italy)--note not only is this crossing national boundaries, but boundaries of time and artistic period, in the service of demonstrating the life of the Romance languages--and the whole thing is being written in impeccable French. As is fitting for someone of such interests, she is an avid reader of novels in three different languages, not only to analyze them, but to relish the pleasure to be found in real, paper books.

Genevieve Noyce '09
Genevieve Noyce faced an academic problem her sophomore year. The environmental studies major did not allow her to take as much advanced biology, chemistry, geology, mathematics, and statistics as she felt she should have, if she was going to do justice to the complexity of environmental problems. So she designed her own major, environmental science, and that, along with the 48 extra credits she will have at graduation, got her to where she wanted to be. Gennie is not afraid to get her feet wet; indeed, she has turned into a creature of bogs and fens--on Cape Cod and in New Hampshire. Her sedges have edges that cut into the biochemistry of methane production, plant physiology, soil science, and atmospheric chemistry. She presented her thesis work at the December 2008 meeting of the American Geophysical Union. Gennie is also a director of a charitable organization that provides an online place for adolescent women to encounter female role models: Sheroes (see link below). Gennie's practice is also what she preaches.

Marcia Schenck '09
Marcia Schenck’s thesis traces the creation of the “Bushman myth.” In the 1930s academics and activists who wanted to preserve the Bushmen in order to study them created a romanticized Bushman culture, in which, for example, people stopped wearing clothing and donned provided skins in order to participate in organized exhibitions of Bushmen. To do this project, Marcia learned Afrikaans; conducted more than 22 interviews on the course of two visits, six months apart, to the area; made substantial use of documents she found in five archives located in four different cities; and gained access to unpublished documents from a related court case. Not surprisingly, Marcia is off to graduate school at Oxford next year.

Yana Stainova '09
In an age of disciplinary specialization, Yana Stainova is an anomaly. She is majoring in international relations, and yet her senior thesis is looking at poetry. The research was motivated by Yana’s observation that there is a striking similarity between the poetry written by the youth of Chile and the poetry written by the youth of her native Bulgaria. Her thesis investigates the place of poetry in articulating historical memory in Chile by examining the three generations of poets since 1973. To do this, she spent time in Chile interviewing some of the most prominent Chilean poets. But, Yana’s abilities are not merely limited to the study of the written word; she is also a masterful pianist, playing with a passion that hovers over the music, drawing the sounds of the instrument upwards. That hovering passion permeates everything which Yana does, bringing a remarkable energy to the life of the mind.

Tamar Wilson '09
Tamar Wilson intended to study the intersection of applied mathematics and biology. But she found pure mathematics to be more satisfying than the diluted forms to which biologists often resort. Tamar has taken just about everything that Mount Holyoke mathematics has to offer, and her course work has now shifted to graduate classes at the University of Massachusetts. Her thesis advisor, Jillian McLeod, says, “Tamar has provided one of my most rewarding learning experiences as a teacher.” She noted that Tamar always seems to do spectacular work, and then knows just how to present it. These gifts extend to her ability to connect with students having difficulty in mathematics--she is attentive, responsive, creative, and truly caring. Her exceptional success as a teacher has earned her more responsibility than the mathematics department usually permits. In Tamar, learning and teaching feed each other, and the result enriches everyone she encounters.

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