SAS Graduate Students Honored as 2024 Dean's Scholars

Pictures of 9 Graduate Dean's 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 2024 Dean’s Scholars. This honor is presented annually to students who exhibit exceptional academic performance and intellectual promise. Congratulations to our SAS doctoral scholars!


Adwaita Banerjee, Anthropology
Adwaita is a fourth-year Ph.D. candidate in Anthropology whose work focuses on plastics and their relationship with humans within urban ecologies. As part of his doctoral research, he studies the flows of materials in the city of Mumbai, India. Adwaita is particularly interested in the ways in which ongoing efforts to discourage the circulation of plastics in the city affect the lives of plastic waste workers whose livelihoods depend on labor in the city’s municipal dumps. He has conducted extensive ethnographic research with waste workers, planners, and city officials in Mumbai. Collaborating with oceanographers, architects, and filmmakers, Adwaita produced a photo and video installation, titled PlastiCity, that explores the afterlives of plastic waste in the city’s infrastructures.

Charlie Cummings, Physics and Astronomy
Charlie is a second-year Physics Ph.D. student and a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellow. He is pursuing work in string theory, a field that explores the quantum theory of gravity, space, and time. He is interested in extending the insights about quantum gravity gained from holographic models of quantum gravity to spacetimes more closely resembling our own universe. To this end, he has conducted research computing the entropy of finite regions of space when both gravity and quantum mechanics must be treated on equal footing. The research that he conducted for his first submitted paper, titled “The entropy of Finite Gravitating Regions,” contains genuinely novel ideas and calculations that have already attracted the interest of leading scientists.

Cianna Z. Jackson, Classical Studies
Cianna is in her third year in the Classical Studies graduate program, where her research interests include Greek poetry and visual culture, gender and girlhood studies, and classical receptions, including Black classicisms. Her dissertation in progress offers innovative contributions to the study of Greek tragedy, myth, and gender studies. Cianna’s work offers insights into the typology of female characters and the nature of “girlhood” in the ancient world. She has displayed impressive intellectual breadth, earning graduate certificates in Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies as well as Museum Teaching and Learning.

Ryann Michael Perez, Chemistry
A fourth-year Ph.D. student in Chemistry, Ryann is a National Institutes of Health Chemical Biology Interface Fellow who works at the forefront of integrating machine learning and computer science in biochemistry research. His innovative work focuses on Parkinson’s disease, particularly on the misfolding of the protein alpha-synuclein. Ryann’s scientific contributions include co-authoring several publications, where he explores topics ranging from complex protein system simulations to innovative deep learning approaches for understanding peptide aggregation. He is also delving into molecule-protein aggregate interactions with collaborators through mass spectrometry and computer science.

Rashi Sabherwal, Political Science
Rashi is a fourth-year doctoral student in Political Science. A recipient of the Rodin Fellowship in the Social Sciences in 2022, Rashi is interested in studying how growing employment opportunities can politically empower women in India. Her research tackles the important question of what factors facilitate or impede women’s political participation in developing democracies like India, focusing on the extent to which labor force participation in the Global South might (or might not) facilitate greater political engagement, as has been the case in post-industrial societies of Europe and North America. She has been actively collaborating with leading specialists on pathways to women’s political participation in the developing world.

Timmy Straw, Comparative Literature and Literary Theory
Timmy is a second-year doctoral student in the Program in Comparative Literature and Literary Theory.  Their work combines 20th-century and contemporary Russian and American poetry and poetics with translation studies. Timmy arrived at Penn having completed an M.F.A. at the prestigious Iowa Writers’ Workshop. They had already published widely in leading poetry journals, and since coming to Penn, their poetry has continued to appear in prestigious venues such as the Paris Review and The Yale Review. They have published several translations from contemporary Russian poetry and have participated in translation symposia sponsored by PEN America. Most recently, their first book of poetry, titled The Thomas Salto, was published by Fonograf editions. Their highly promising scholarship contributes to a new generation of inquiry into global avant-garde poetics, cultural exchange, and translation.

Elena Gayle van Stee, Sociology
Elena is a fifth-year Ph.D. candidate in Sociology and a 2021-2023 Institute of Education Sciences Predoctoral Fellow. In 2021, she was honored with the Penn Prize for Excellence in Teaching by Graduate Students. Elena’s research investigates inequality in the transition to adulthood, focusing on families and educational institutions as sites of social stratification. Her dissertation explores how social class shapes young adults’ relationships with their parents, particularly in terms of their understanding of authority, entitlement, and obligation, as well as how these processes vary by race and ethnicity. In 2024, Elena received the Coser Dissertation Proposal Award from the Eastern Sociological Society.

Christine Soh Yue, Linguistics
Christine, a fourth-year Ph.D. student in Linguistics, combines theoretical, experimental, and computational approaches to explore the mechanisms of language and language learning. A National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellow, she has developed a state-of-the-art computational model of word learning that is simpler, but capable of covering a much wider range of data than previous efforts. The model is leading to new understandings of the role of memory in word learning. In her ongoing dissertation research, Christine has launched an ambitious set of studies to investigate how children and adults learn linguistic rules. The carefully designed experiments, and the precise computational models she brings to the task, may finally provide a mechanistic account for the apparent ease with which children learn languages while adults struggle. In addition, she has carefully investigated a syntactic phenomenon in Sakha, a Turkic language, disentangling several constructions to shed light on the underlying mechanisms of case assignment.

Oscar Qiu Jun Zheng, East Asian Languages and Civilizations
Oscar is a third-year graduate student in ancient and medieval Chinese intellectual history in the Department of East Asian Languages and Civilizations. He was selected as a Mellon Humanities Graduate Fellow in 2023-24. Oscar possesses a particular gift for textual analysis, working primarily on early Chinese excavated manuscripts, textual history, paleography, and funerary culture. At this early stage in his career, he has already authored or co-authored numerous articles—some already published and others forthcoming—in prestigious journals and anthologies. He has great philological expertise, which he shares with fellow students in scholarly workshops.