Undergraduate and Graduate Students Honored as 2024 Dean’s Scholars

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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. The students will be recognized at the Stephen A. Levin Family Dean’s Forum on April 17.

 

Deans Scholars
Top row (L to R): Adwaita Banerjee; Natascha Barac, C’23; Joe Barreto, Rema Bhat, C’24; and Abigail Blyler. Bottom row (L to R): Charlie Cummings, Sophie Faircloth, C’24; Andreas Ghosh, C’24; Cianna Jackson, and Sophie Mwaisela, C’24.

 

Deans Scholars
Top row (L to R): Zijian Niu, C’24; Ryann Perez, Liam Phillips, C’24; Rashi Sabherwal, and William Stewart, C’25. Bottom row (L to R): Timmy Straw, Elena Van Stee, Christine Yue, Qin Zheng, and Yijian Zhou, C’24.

COLLEGE OF ARTS & SCIENCES

Natascha Barac, C’23, English and Physics
Natascha is a double major in English and Physics. In both fields, she has earned high praise for being a fast learner, a deep thinker, and a careful researcher. When not on Penn’s campus, she has notably conducted astronomy research in Australia. Natascha’s physics research on machine-learning as it relates to astronomy is now being tested on the supercomputer system at Lawrence Berkeley Labs.

Rema Bhat, C’24, Political Science
Rema is majoring in Political Science with a concentration in comparative politics and minoring in South Asia Studies. She is an emerging scholar of Kashmir, with a focus on the historical and political dynamics that drive conflict and change there. She has served as the president of the South Asian Collective and organized Kashmir Week, which brought internationally renowned scholars and artists to Penn’s campus. Rema is a Civic Scholar and a two-time recipient of the U.S. Department of Education’s Foreign Language and Area Studies Fellowship to learn Koshur (Kashmiri). She has interned with the Center for International Policy and Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. Rema was the recipient of the 2023 Penn Board of Trustees Women’s Leadership Award.

Sophie Faircloth, C’24, Linguistics, submatriculation in Linguistics
Sophie is a Linguistics major and a submatriculant in the Linguistics master’s program. Her research is situated at the intersection of semantics, pragmatics, sociolinguistics, and psycholinguistics, and she plans to enroll in a Ph.D. program to continue her studies. Sophie has worked in Professor Gareth Roberts’ lab as part of the Center for Undergraduate Research and Fellowships’ Penn Undergraduate Research Mentoring program.

Andreas Ghosh, C’24, ENG'24, VIPER: Physics, Chemical and Biochemical Engineering
Andreas is a Vagelos Integrated Program in Energy Research (VIPER) student, double majoring in Physics and Chemical and Biochemical Engineering with a minor in Chemistry. For three years he has conducted research with Andrew Rappe’s research laboratory in the Departments of Chemistry and Material Sciences and Engineering, where he has been studying novel material and methods for creating electricity from light. There he developed a quantum-mechanical model to better understand the bulk photovoltaic effect in MoS2 under the influence of a magnetic field. Andreas is a 2023 Goldwater Scholar.

Sophie Mwaisela, C’24, History
Sophie is a History major with a concentration in world history and a minor in English. In the summer of 2023, Sophie traveled to Geneva to conduct research for her honors thesis on Switzerland’s involvement in colonial Congo. Her research was funded by a Gelfman International Summer Grant from Penn’s Center for Undergraduate Research and Fellowships. Sophie has worked as an intern at Penn’s Kislak Center for Rare Books and Manuscripts and has twice been elected as the band director for Bloomers Comedy Troupe at Penn. She has also served as vice president and treasurer of the Penn Democrats.

William (Zijian) Niu, C’24, Biochemistry, Chemistry, and Biophysics
William is majoring in Biochemistry, Physics, and Biophysics, and is a recipient of the Roy and Diana Vagelos Science Challenge Award. Since 2021, he has conducted research with the Arjun Raj group, where he has developed new computational tools for the automated analysis of microscopic images that identify messenger RNA transcripts and gene expression in cells. He is also involved in the Project Lucid initiative, which promotes clear and effective science communication. He served on the operations committee for the Science Olympiad at Penn. William is a 2023 Goldwater Scholar.

Liam Phillips, C’24, Russian and East European Studies and Comparative Literature
Liam is a double major in Russian and East European Studies (REES) and Comparative Literature. At the Wolf Humanities Center, Liam has pursued research on the Russian novel Wings (1906) by Mikhail Kuzmin, which is best known as the first Russian novel to treat the theme of same-sex desire. His exploration of this text encompasses issues of community-building and tensions between individual and collective amid the political upheaval of the revolutionary period. REES recognized Liam’s research with the annual Best Paper award at the regional conference for undergraduate and master’s students held at Penn in April 2023.

William StewartC’25, Music
William is a Music major whose compositions have been performed in concerts hosted by the Penn Sound Collective and Penn’s annual Ensemble Residency Program, for which he has a composition premiere performance scheduled this spring. A gifted composer and researcher, wonderful student, and intrepid performer on saxophone, William is poised to make an important contribution to scholarly literature concerning the philosophical and historical workings of 20th century music.

Yijian (Davie) Zhou, C’24, Philosophy and Psychology, submatriculant in Philosophy
Davie is a double major in Philosophy and Psychology and a submatriculant for a master’s degree in Philosophy. As a Wolf Humanities Center fellow, he conducted research on French philosopher Michel Foucault with Professor Siarhei Biareishyk. As an undergraduate researcher at the Hong Kierkegaard Library, he wrote a paper on Kierkegaard’s view of aesthetics with Professor Gordon Marino. His current projects center on the work of the revolutionary Black psychiatrist Frantz Fanon. Davie presented a paper on Fanon at the 2023 Greater Philadelphia Philosophy Consortium Undergraduate Conference at Swarthmore College that won the Best Paper prize.


COLLEGE OF LIBERAL & PROFESSIONAL STUDIES – UNDERGRADUATE PROGRAM

Joe Daniel Barreto, LPS’23, Bachelor of Applied Arts and Sciences
Joe received his Bachelor of Applied Arts and Sciences degree in December 2023. He completed a Physical and Life Sciences concentration and earned four Certificates: Science Foundations, Advanced Neuroscience, Data Analytics, and Leadership and Communication. While at Penn, he participated in a summer research program through MindCORE and worked full time as a research specialist in the Department of Neuroscience. In January 2024, Joe moved from Philadelphia to Denver, Colorado, to take a position as a neuroscience research specialist. He is applying to Ph.D. programs in neuroscience for Fall 2024.


PROFESSIONAL MASTER’S PROGRAMS

Abigail P. Blyler, Master of Applied Positive Psychology
Abigail is pursuing her Master of Applied Positive Psychology. Under the mentorship of Professor Martin Seligman, Abigail has taken a pioneering role in integrating artificial intelligence with psychological research. Her work in developing highly accurate and detailed AI-generated personal narratives from an individual’s stream-of-consciousness led to two first-author publications in the Journal of Positive Psychology and continues to be investigated at scale in collaboration with an organization that provides workplace coaching solutions in more than 60 countries. Abigail is currently applying to Ph.D. programs in psychology and seeking a National Science Foundation fellowship.


GRADUATE DIVISION – DOCTORAL PROGRAMS

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.

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