2015 SAS Dean’s Forum Scholars
Penn Arts & Sciences has named 20 students from the College of Arts & Sciences, the College of Liberal & Professional Studies and the Graduate Division as 2015 Dean’s Scholars. This honor is presented annually to students who exhibit exceptional academic performance and intellectual promise. The 2015 Dean’s Scholars were formally recognized as part of the Levin Family Dean’s Forum on February 19.
College of Arts & Sciences
Deqa Farah (international relations) is a senior who, in pursuit of her studies in political science and Africana studies, has conducted research on traditional microfinance systems in Somalia, the economics of Somali refugee camps, the impact of the “Arab Awakening” on peripheral Middle Eastern states and modes of transitional justice in post-conflict African states. She served as a research intern for her major’s Think Tanks and Civil Societies Program, and she is currently writing her senior thesis on the impact of the Somali diaspora on reconciliation efforts in post-conflict Somalia.
Xingting Gong (mathematics and physics) is a senior in the Roy and Diana Vagelos Program in the Molecular Life Sciences and a recipient of a Roy and Diana Vagelos Science Challenge Award. She is a member of Randall Kamien’s Theoretical Condensed Matter Physics research group, where she is participating in theoretical and experimental investigations into the topological defects in graphene and graphene-like materials. She has already co-authored original research papers that have been published in the journals Physical Review and Physical Review Letters.
Vanessa Koh (anthropology) is a junior whose work displays what one of her professors in the anthropology department calls her “maturity as a researcher and scholar.” Her senior thesis, which includes an investigation of migrant labor and housing policy in Singapore, is an ambitious project in which she is working to create new understandings of complex human phenomena of migration, its legal rules, social norming, economic impossibilities and political and social inequities.
Kimberly Kolor (religious studies and South Asian studies) is a senior who has combined her interests in religion, Asian culture and social justice to create an ambitious cross-disciplinary course of study. She has spent semesters in India and Sri Lanka, honing her language skills in Tamil and Sinhala while also researching street temples in India and public space and beautification in Sri Lanka. Her independent ethnographic work has received support from the Gelfman International Summer Research Grant, the South Asia studies department, the Penn Program for Democracy, Citizenship and Constitutionalism and the Penn Undergraduate Humanities Forum.
Elana Stern (political science) is a senior who has received praise from across the political science department not only for taking a demanding array of courses—including several graduate seminars—but also for her poised and professional approach to a highly challenging field of scholarship. In her senior thesis, she investigates why the Arab Spring had an uneven impact on the Middle East and North Africa, effectively hypothesizing that there is a link between the presence of South Asian migrant worker populations and the occurrence of uprising.
Allison Siegenfeld (biochemistry and biophysics) is a junior in the Roy and Diana Vagelos Program in the Molecular Life Sciences and a recipient of a Roy and Diana Vagelos Science Challenge Award. Passionate about her work in the lab, she has worked on non-coding RNA in Professor Kazuko Nishikura’s lab at the Wistar Institute, and she is now doing organic synthesis in Gary Molander’s lab. Her professors recognize her as someone who “will be making big discoveries of the future.”
Stefan Torborg (biochemistry, biophysics and physics) is a junior in the Roy and Diana Vagelos Program in the Molecular Life Sciences who is well on his way to submatriculating into the master’s program in chemistry. The recipient of a Roy and Diana Vagelos Science Challenge Award, he has been recognized by faculty in the Schools of Arts & Sciences and Engineering for the breadth and challenging nature of his research and the deft skill with which he takes on projects that are technically and conceptually complex.
Emmett Wynn (comparative literature, English and history) is a senior who is both a University Scholar and a Benjamin Franklin Scholar. He has excelled in the College’s Integrated Studies Program, as evidenced by faculty in three departments praising his “analytic rigor” and “remarkable intellectual clarity.” He traveled to the University of Texas to use the primary sources at the Ransom Library as part of his research on the works of J.M. Coetzee, which his professors recognize as graduate-level work that enriches the fields of intellectual history and comparative literature.
Aisling Zhao (biochemistry and biology) is a senior in the Roy and Diana Vagelos Program in the Molecular Life Sciences. As part of Timothy Linksvayer’s research group, she studies the genetics, behavior and evolution of complex social systems among insects such as ants and honey bees. The approach she takes to her work in genotyping ants for subsequent population genetic analysis and analyzing the molecular basis of caste differentiations has been characterized as enthusiastic, creative and dedicated.
College of Liberal & Professional Studies–Undergraduate Program
Donald Antenen (classical studies) researches literary themes in the writings of Plato. Approaching Plato as a literary rather than strictly philosophical writer, he is reading closely—in both English and Greek—areas in the dramatic dialogue the Symposium for moments where Socrates is engaged in silent contemplation, in order to better understand both the author’s dramatic technique and the goals of the work. In addition to convening a reading group to share and argue over interpretations of ancient texts, he is a scholar of Biblical Hebrew.
Professional Master’s Programs
Christine Loveland Klein (master of liberal arts) has combined classes in religion and public life, film studies and urban studies in pursuit of her program’s writing, literature and society concentration. Her impressively creative capstone project, a memoir with an accompanying analytical paper, deals critically with central questions of memory—both reliable and unreliable—and conflict. According to the primary reviewer, her project is “remarkable, gorgeous, inspiring and a model in every way,” and demonstrates her talent for choosing and rising to the challenge of a demanding course of study.
Graduate Division—Doctoral Programs
Iggy Cortez (history of art) is completing his dissertation, which examines the impact of nocturnal filming on the aesthetic, narrative, political and psychological possibilities of cinema among an international group of contemporary filmmakers. He has curated two film series and planned a dual-site art exhibition, Itinerant Belongings, which explored states of homelessness, itinerancy and displacement through a mixture of photography, video and drawn imagery from several major artists. His excellence as a teacher earned him an SAS Dean’s Award for Distinguished Teaching by a Graduate Student in 2014.
Johannes Eichstaedt (psychology) came to Penn with master’s degrees in particle physics and positive psychology. Identified by the American Association for the Advancement of Science as an Emerging Leader in Science and Society, he uses machine learning and language analysis of social media to track the psychological states of large populations. His lab’s findings, which to date include demonstrating that Twitter contains more information about spatial variation in heart disease mortality than gold-standard models, are expected to be a breakthrough in psychological epidemiology research.
Omar Foda (Near Eastern languages and civilizations) takes an interdisciplinary approach to investigate the history of the beer industry in Egypt. Using Egyptian Arabic novels, periodicals, songs and films and documents from the Egyptian national archives and the archives of the Heineken company, his research—which has already been published in a leading journal—addresses interactions between Egypt’s emerging beer-drinking culture and Muslim sensibilities regarding alcohol consumption, as well as nationalist politicians’ use of the Egyptian beer industry to assert “Egyptian” ethnic and brand identities.
Amy Goodwin Davies (linguistics) maintains a high quality of work while moving with ease between her research on the syntax and semantics of Swedish determiners and experiments on whether rhyme facilitates lexical access and on the mental representation of inflectional allomorphy. While she is “clearly on track to be a first-rate linguist,” as one professor notes, she is also dedicated to outreach and clinical applications of linguistics, as evidenced by her work in Please Touch Museum’s Living Lab, where children will participate as investigators in real research studies.
Alex Moshkin (comparative literature and theory) is described by one of his professors as “a deep intellectual who is attuned to the social and political realities of the world.” His research, which focuses on the cultural, political and social life of the sizable Russian-speaking community in Israel, addresses broader questions of diasporic identities. Possessed of what has been called a “scholarly fearlessness,” he has already presented his work to local and international academic audiences, and is poised to bring new insights into a complex and contested study of global social life.
Jordan Pickett (art and archaeology of the Mediterranean world) is internationally recognized for his expertise in ancient water systems. Innovatively drawing on both textual and archaeological reports, his dissertation, which is “filled with new information and remarkable insights,” according to one of his professors, reflects the range and impact of Roman hydraulic technology in the Mediterranean world after the decline of Roman authority. He also researches ancient and medieval architecture from the perspectives of social and environmental history, early modern conflicts at the Holy Places in Palestine and Byzantine iconoclasm.
Carlos Santana (philosophy) brings his background in cognitive science and the philosophy of science to bear on his current research on the nature of evidence in linguistics, exploring questions of evidentiary standards, justification of idealizations, appropriate smoothing of data and potential loss of signal. Recognized by his professors as a future leader in the philosophy of cognitive science and linguistics, he has published two major papers on biodiversity and the evolution of ambiguity in signaling games, as well as several smaller commentaries.
Daniel Snelson (English) is an emerging scholar whose prominence is confirmed by his stellar publication record and his growing prominence as a poet, editor and archivist. He has published three books of poetry and numerous peer-reviewed essays and has edited several prominent poetry journals, in addition to serving as an exhibition advisor for the Poetry will be made by all! exhibition in Zürich. His dissertation, which his advisor calls a “groundbreaking work,” explores artifacts of 20th-century art and literature in the wake of widespread digitization.
Anru Zhang (applied mathematics and computational science) works, as one professor notes, at the intellectual level of top researchers in the field on problems such as semi-supervised and statistical machine learning, high-dimensional interference with missing data, noisy structured matrix completion and applications in genomics. He has completed nine papers during his graduate studies, all published in top-ranked journals. Recognition of his accomplishments by the wider community is evidenced by the fact that he has been invited to review submissions to several leading publications.