Students Honored as 2021 Dean's Scholars

Penn Arts & Sciences

Penn Arts & Sciences has named 20 students from the College of Arts & Sciences, the College of Liberal & Professional Studies, and the Graduate Division as 2021 Dean’s Scholars. This honor is presented annually to students who exhibit exceptional academic performance and intellectual promise.

College of Arts & Sciences

Zoe Belardo (Anthropology) is a senior focusing her studies on Medical Anthropology and Global Health, with a minor in Neuroscience. A member of Penn’s GlobeMed chapter, Belardo has undertaken several research experiences throughout her degree. She was a member of Assistant Professor Morgan Hoke’s Biocultural Anthropology Methods Laboratory Research Group (BAMLab) and also worked as a research assistant in the Mixed Methods Lab at Penn Presbyterian Medical Center where she helped code qualitative data about health care experiences. She expanded this work further as a volunteer clinical assistant in the Department of Emergency Medicine at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, interviewing attending physicians and families involved in the care of children with medically complex disorders. Hoke calls Belardo a “highly skilled, thorough, and thoughtful researcher” and “a true representative of Penn.” Belardo plans to attend medical school after graduating.  

Jean Chapiro (Communication, Cinema & Media Studies, Visual Studies) has been described by faculty as a “truly original” and “exceptionally talented filmmaker and scholar.” She is a triple major with a minor in Consumer Psychology, and is ambitiously completing two theses as part of her degree. Both theses focus on women’s relationships with food and their bodies. In one, she explores how the notion of “hunger” (literally and metaphorically) gets mobilized to frame individual failure and success in contemporary popular media. Through her research, Chapiro combines theory and practice, writing and film, and quantitative and qualitative methodologies. Outside of class, Chapiro applies her interests through film, writing, and photographic work for Penn Appétit magazine, The Daily Pennsylvanian, and t-art magazine, as well as volunteer work with various community organizations and local schools.  

Annah Chollet (Gender & Women’s Studies, Neuroscience) is praised as an inspiring scholar and dexterous thinker whose research interests focus on the intersection of mental health and reproductive health for incarcerated women. Faculty note that her “intelligence, empathy, and drive to be a force for good” is demonstrated through her myriad volunteer efforts, particularly with programs focused on criminal justice reform. She has worked with the Petey Greene Tutoring Program; the Philadelphia Incarcerated Women’s Working Group; as Penn’s campus liaison for Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM); as Student Coordinator of the Cell to Home project; and as a teaching assistant in an Academically Based Community Service (ABCS) course which connects Penn students with incarcerated women at Riverside Correctional Facility. Chollet has been honored with both a Truman Scholarship and Marshall Scholarship and plans to pursue a doctoral degree in evidence-based social intervention and policy evaluation at Oxford.

Carson Eckhard (English, History), a University Scholar, focuses her research on the history of justice and its modern policy implications, with a particular interest in addressing mass incarceration. Eckhard, also a research fellow at the Andrea Mitchell Center for the Study of Democracy and a Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellow, has been a key contributor to the Penn and Slavery Project, uncovering past linkages to slavery and racial science in Penn’s medical school. Her work on this project was recognized with a Pincus-Magaziner Family Undergraduate Research Grant and the Department of History’s Jeanette Nichols Prize. Eckhard is completing two senior theses, one in History on the practice of “convict leasing” in Florida, and one in English on the literature, poetry, and song lyrics of incarcerated individuals across the American South. Professor Margo Crawford calls Eckhard “a visionary scholar who makes her public service inseparable from her scholarship.” Her activism with social justice organizations has been far-reaching and she notably launched the Terrance Lewis Liberation Foundation in support of recent exoneree Terrance Lewis. Eckhard will pursue a J.D./Ph.D. in History upon graduation.  

Regina Fairbanks (Biology) is a Benjamin Franklin Scholar whose research focuses on the study of ancient life at the molecular level. Assistant Professor Mia Levine credits Fairbanks’ innovative scholarship for leading to a breakthrough in understanding seasonal variations in the lifespan of female fruit flies. As a Penn Museum Fellow, Fairbanks worked in the Center for the Analysis of Archaeological Materials analyzing botanical remains from an archaeological site in Israel to understand agricultural practices in the Early Bronze Age. She was a National Science Foundation intern at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History, where she was selected to present her research at a poster session. Throughout her undergraduate career, her activism has been aimed at expanding inclusion and diversity in science. As a leader of both Penn’s Geology Society and the campus chapter of Out in Stem (oSTEM), she organizes recruiting and networking events for LGBTQ+ students. Fairbanks also organized a Women in Red ‘Wiki-thon’ at Penn that added Wikipedia entries on notable women affiliated with the Penn Museum. Elected to Phi Beta Kappa as a junior, she has been honored with a Goldwater Scholarship and intends to pursue a Ph.D. in biology.

Adam Konkol (Biochemistry, Biophysics, Mathematics, and Physics) is a scholar in the Vagelos Molecular Life Sciences program who is also pursuing a master’s in physics. He has received a Vagelos Science Challenge Award and been honored with both a Goldwater Scholarship and Churchill Scholarship. Associate Professor Eleni Katifori describes Konkol as “a phenomenal student researcher, one that comes by once every several years.” Katifori has supervised Konkol’s interdisciplinary network science research, which has ranged from studying blood vessels in the brain to modelling tidal effects on river deltas to analyzing the spread of COVID-19 through studying county-level data. He has a growing list of high-impact publications across several fields as co-author or co-first author. Elected to Phi Beta Kappa in his junior year, Konkol is also a tireless teacher who works as a tutor, peer advisor, physics teaching assistant, and chemistry workshop leader.

Danielle Miles-Langaigne (Political Science) is a senior whose passion for dismantling the systemic oppression of marginalized identities led her to create an individualized concentration in Intersectionality Studies within her major. Professor Herman Beavers calls Miles-Langaigne the kind of scholar “that transforms disciplines, shakes them out of their lethargy and gives them social resonance.” Her senior thesis examines the disproportionate discipline meted out to high-school girls of color in the American education system, compared with white girls and boys, or even boys of color. Miles-Langaigne has studied abroad in Australia, doing research on indigenous studies. Her civic engagement and social justice efforts are wide-ranging; she mentors adolescent students of color through the Ase Academy and was selected as a Humanity in Action John Lewis Fellow. Miles-Langaigne also interned in the office of a Philadelphia City Council member, contributing to a bill to secure fair scheduling and predictable pay for service workers.

Varun Sudunagunta (Neuroscience) is a University Scholar and research assistant in the Mortimer Poncz Lab in the Division of Hematology at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP). Sudunagunta’s biomedical research with Brian Estevez, Penn-PORT Fellow at the Perelman School of Medicine, uses in vitro disease models to study the molecular mechanisms of the RUNX1 haploinsufficiency, with the goal of developing therapies for patients with associated conditions. Estevez says that Sudunagunta’s research “advances our understanding of the association between the platelet defects and leukemia propensity in these patients.” Prior to his work at the Poncz Lab, Sudunagunta was an Endocrinology Clinical Assistant in the Diabetes Research Center at CHOP, where he led patient recruitment for multiple clinical trials. He serves as the Operations Coordinator for Camp Kesem, and is also recognized in his program as being an exceptional teaching assistant with a “contagious energy.” Following graduation, Sudunagunta will attend medical school.

Abigail Timmel (Physics) has been recognized by faculty as one of Penn’s most outstanding young scientists. Honored with a Churchill scholarship, Timmel graduated in Fall 2020 on an accelerated timeline, with a bachelor’s and a master’s degree in physics. She works as a technical assistant in the laboratory of Professor Eugene Mele, who calls her “a truly exceptional talent” and “one of the best two students” he has encountered. Her research with Mele focuses on theoretical condensed matter, specifically on developing a theory for electronic phenomena in one-dimensional moiré heterostructures.  With Mele, Timmel has published a paper in Physical Review Letters as co-first author, with more publications to follow. During her degree, she served on the board of Women in Physics at Penn for two years.

College of Liberal & Professional Studies – Undergraduate Program

Emily Davis (Biology) is an accomplished senior conducting research at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia on pediatric neuromotor rehabilitation for children with cerebral palsy. A passionate advocate for integrating dance and health, Davis was selected as a 2021 Thouron Scholar and will pursue a Ph.D. exploring the biosocial benefits of participatory dancing, with the goal of legitimizing the role of evidence-based dance interventions in improving health. Outside of Penn, Davis is a full-time professional ballet dancer in her sixth season with the Pennsylvania Ballet. She has also developed and taught customized dance programs through partnerships with Art-Reach, Puentes de Salud, Magee Rehabilitation Hospital, and Nemours Children’s Hospital. She serves as the director of Shut Up and Dance, an annual benefit performance that raises money for Philadelphia’s Metropolitan Area Neighborhood Nutrition Alliance (MANNA).

Professional Master’s Programs

Haley Zeliff (Master of Environmental Studies) focuses her research on environmental biology. She is working with the Penn School of Veterinary Medicine’s New Bolton Center Molecular Diagnostics Laboratory as part of Penn Vet’s One Health Initiative, a transdisciplinary approach to health recognizing the intersection of humans, animals, and the environment. Zeliff’s research includes the development of a diagnostic COVID-19 test to use on bat samples collected throughout Pennsylvania. She will present the results of her research at the Pennsylvania Wildlife Rehabilitation Conference this year. Zellif has served as a teaching assistant for two Academically Based Community Service (ABCS) courses, organizing teaching engagements at West Philadelphia elementary schools on the topics of air pollution and preventing tobacco addiction. She also interned at the Philadelphia Zoo, where she educated guests on wildlife and conservation topics and designed a research study observing family dynamics of captive orangutans. She plans to attend veterinary school after graduation.

Graduate Division – Doctoral Programs

Ajay Kumar Batra (English), a sixth-year student, is writing a dissertation, “Radiant Ephemera: Abolition in the Archives of Atlantic Slavery, 1785-1865,” that addresses some of the thorniest theoretical problems in the historiography of Atlantic slavery. As he closely examines both archival material and theoretical problems, Batra argues that Black subjects who lived under chattel slavery generated vibrant, heterodox visions of abolition in their writing and their everyday lives. His analysis traces the creative efforts by Black subjects to conduct a “fugitive world-making” that helped imagine alternatives to the role of peasant and exploited wage-earner that awaited them on the other side of legal emancipation. Batra has received a Francis Hopkinson Fellowship and a fellowship from the McNeil Center for Early American Studies. His recently published essay, “Reading with Conviction: Abraham Johnstone and the Poetics of the Dead End,” was awarded the American Literature Society’s 1921 Prize for the “best article in American literary studies” by an untenured scholar.

Thomas Brazelton (Mathematics), a third-year student, is a specialist in algebraic topology. His projects have focused on topics such as A1-enumerative geometry and the algebraic K-theory of G-rings. Most recently, he began working on a program that combines motivic and equivariant homotopy theory. Brazelton was awarded a prestigious fellowship through the National Science Foundation’s Graduate Research Fellowships Program and has already published several papers.  His contributions extend far beyond the academy.  He teaches at South Woods Prison through the Prison Teaching Initiative and volunteers at the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia, exploring STEM topics with public audiences. This summer, he will teach a course on voting theory in Penn’s Summer Prep Program for high school students.

Elizabeth Bynum (Anthropology, Music) is a fifth-year student pursuing a joint Ph.D. in Anthropology and Music. Her work explores the politics of sound, urban space, gentrification, archives, and governmentality in Mexico City.  Her dissertation focuses on what she terms “sound management” in Mexico City, one of the loudest cities in the world. Bynum explores numerous debates over noise, showing how issues pertaining to noise reveal claims of belonging to different neighborhoods and specific spaces in the city. She has also conducted fieldwork on music festivals in Morocco. During the pandemic, she collaborated with another researcher to develop a “Quarantine Sound Diary,” which surveyed changes in sound and noise due to COVID-19. Bynum also designed an important CTL workshop on issues pertaining to diversity and teaching in music studies.

Nicholas Foretek (History), a fourth-year doctoral student, is praised by faculty as a versatile and “intellectually bold and creative” scholar. Foretek is studying the role of British spies in Egypt during the Egyptian financial crisis of the 1870s. Through a detailed study of sovereign debt markets, as well as state mechanisms that gathered information on British and Egyptian financial institutions, his research promises to unearth valuable insights about Egypt’s (in)solvency that precipitated Britain’s consequential shareholder purchase in the Suez Canal Company. Foretek began his graduate career as a student of British history, but developed a keen interest in Arab communities in the Middle East, particularly in Egypt and Syria. As he shifted specialties, he learned Arabic and spent time living in Egypt before the pandemic. In 2018, he made international news when he discovered the first documented bill of sale for Jane Austen’s first novel Sense and Sensibility.

Briana Last (Psychology) is a fifth-year student whose research centers on how socioeconomic disadvantage and other structural factors affect the degree to which children can benefit from treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder. Last has focused on demonstrating barriers and facilitators involved in the implementation of evidence-based treatments for mental health problems and in designing implementation strategies grounded in behavioral decision science. Her work has the potential to transform the delivery of mental health services, with the goal of closing the research-to-practice gap. She trained as a clinical psychologist, working primarily with children and adolescents, some of whom were victims of abuse and growing up in contexts of socioeconomic disadvantage. Last has published several papers in peer-reviewed journals and her research has been recognized with funding from the National Institute of Mental Health ALACRITY Research Centers and with a Graduate Research Fellowship from the National Science Foundation.

William Neuhaus (Chemistry) is a fourth-year doctoral student working in the research group led by Professor Marisa Kozlowski. Through his research, Neuhaus has developed methods to regioselectivity homocouple alkenyl phenols, which he is applying to the oxidative degradation of lignin to useful products.  He has already accumulated three first-author scientific publications in some of the highest-profile chemical journals such as ACS Catalysis and Angewandte Chemie International Edition. Neuhaus earned the Excellence in Graduate Research Award in Organic Chemistry in 2020 and was selected for a Vagelos Institute for Energy Science and Technology (VIEST) Fellowship.  In 2018, he was recognized by the National Science Foundation’s Graduate Research Program with an Honorable Mention.

Ian Peebles (Philosophy) is a fourth-year doctoral student whose work in philosophy is combined with studies in social, cognitive, and affective neuroscience in Penn's Center for Neuroscience and Society. His research interests center on normative ethics, applied ethics (particularly bioethics and neuroethics), and the philosophy of race. Peebles is writing a dissertation at the intersection of ethics, philosophy of medicine, and philosophy of race. In it, he explores the role of race in medicine as well as the ethics of bioenhancements. He is a leader in the Philosophy for the Young program, developing curricula and facilitating philosophical discussions for elementary-aged and middle school students. Peebles is a Fontaine fellow and served this year as a Wolf Humanities Center Graduate Fellow.

Rebecca Schut (Demography and Sociology) is a third-year joint Ph.D. student in Demography and Sociology.  Her research interests span the areas of social demography, race, immigration, and health services, with a particular focus on understanding how structural racism produces inequalities in the structure and delivery of health services. Schut’s approach to scholarship is both quantitatively rigorous and focused on timely issues of race, ethnicity and the criminal justice system, as well as how inequality is produced in institutional settings. Her recent work includes a project that explores the practice and geographic outcomes of foreign-trained physicians in the United States. She is also engaged in a project that aims to understand whether state and local immigration policies in the U.S. produce inequalities in healthcare access and health outcomes among immigrant agricultural workers. Schut has nine scholarly papers in progress or under review.

Tyler Shine (History of Art) is a third-year doctoral student with special interests in 20th-century art, architecture, and the history of photography. Before coming to Penn, Shine was the Constance E. Clayton Fellow in the Department of Prints, Drawings, and Photographs at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, where he began a university-community literary arts group, “Writers Room,” in collaboration with Drexel. His M.A. paper, “Black Abstractionisms in Photography,” was awarded Best Graduate Student Essay Award by the Penn Cinema and Media Studies Program in 2020. He has been called a “transformative presence” in the field, and he is deeply engaged in exploring how art history meets lived history and in innovating new ways to integrate photography and writing. In addition to his scholarship, Shine is also credited with being a talented and dedicated teaching assistant.


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