Students Honored as 2022 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 2022 Dean’s Scholars. This honor is presented annually to students who exhibit exceptional academic performance and intellectual promise.

College of Arts & Sciences

Kennedy Crowder (English) is a major in the English Honors program with a minor in East Asian Languages and Civilizations. Her research is focused on understanding the ways in which literature by authors from minoritized groups with minority subjects can play a critical role in driving a more informed and nuanced conversation on race. Kennedy is the founder of Black Penn English, a discussion platform for Black members of the English Department, and an active and dedicated university citizen, having served as a writing tutor, a course-embedded writing fellow, a community service chair, and a teacher for the Robeson High School Initiative. She has also contributed as an editor to Penn’s major student-run publications: the Penn Undergraduate Law Journal, the Penn Review, and the F-Word feminist literary magazine. Kennedy has been named a Marshall Scholar and plans to pursue a master’s in Black Humanities at the University of Bristol and a master’s in English Literary Studies at the University of York.

Nicolas (Nico) Fonseca (Comparative Literature, Latin American and Latinx Studies) explores the subversive possibilities of film and filmmaking, particularly materialist notions of sensation and space-time in Latin American and Indigenous cinemas, as well as decolonial pedagogy and practice. Jean-Michel Rabaté, Professor of English and Comparative Literature, notes that Nico stands out among his peers and engages actively with many different areas of study including literary theory, continental philosophy, world history, film analysis, and comparative anthropology. His current research works to bridge the gap between Marxist assertions regarding revolutionary pedagogy and non-Western traditions of thought, particularly as manifested in contemporary Indigenous cinema of the Americas. Nico is both a Mellon Mays Undergraduate Research Fellow and Wolf Humanities Center Undergraduate Fellow. Jennifer S. Ponce de León, Associate Professor of English, calls Nico an “original and rigorous thinker,” and notes that he is one of only three undergraduates she has accepted into her graduate-level courses.

Arnav Lal (Biophysics, Biology, Philosophy, Physics) is a four-major University Scholar who is also on track to obtain a master’s in Physics while completing his undergraduate degree. A prolific researcher and writer, Arnav has co-authored five peer-reviewed articles, three of which he first-authored. His research at Penn Fertility Care and in Professor Paul Planet’s lab at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia has covered an array of methods, from philosophical analysis of embryo utilization, to biophysical modelling of physiological states in embryology, to pathogenic bioinformatics analysis.  He has presented at numerous national conferences and was a Wolf Humanities Center Undergraduate Fellow for the 2020-2021 Forum on Choice. Arnav has served as a research mentor to undergraduates and medical students, and he is a member of Penn’s Project for Philosophy for the Young (P4Y), through which he provides pre-college philosophy mentoring to high school students.

Michele Caroline Meline (Biochemistry, Biophysics) is a scholar in the Vagelos Molecular Life Sciences program who has been honored with a Vagelos Science Challenge Award, a Goldwater Scholarship, and a Merck American Chemical Society Scholar Award. Alongside her undergraduate degree, Michele is pursuing a master’s in Chemistry. Her current research with Jeremy Wilusz, Associate Professor of Biochemistry and Biophysics, focuses on the biogenesis, functions, and regulations of circular RNAs in Saccharomyces cerevisiae. A member of Phi Beta Kappa, Michele also works as a tutor in chemistry and math, and is an editor for UnEarthed Penn, a publication for underserved youth in Philadelphia. During the pandemic, Michele completed a virtual internship with the American Physician Scientist Association. Upon graduation, Michele intends to pursue an M.D./Ph.D. in biochemistry and research genomic-based therapies for disease.

Sarah Payne (Linguistics, Computer Science) is praised as an inspiring scholar whose research interests lie at the intersection of computational linguistics, language acquisition, psycholinguistics, and cognitive modelling.  An area of focus for Sarah is using algorithmic approaches in the design of more robust Natural Language Processing (NLP) tools. She will present her research this year at the 96th Meeting of the Linguistic Society of America. Outside of her research, Sarah is a member of Phi Beta Kappa and the Chair of Abuse and Sexual Assault Prevention (ASAP), a Penn student group. For the 2021-22 academic year, she was elected to Penn's University Council to represent sexual assault survivors and the anti-violence community. Charles Yang, Professor of Linguistics and Computer Science, lauds Sarah’s efforts to raise awareness about sexual assault, promote student safety, and increase diversity in STEM fields such as computer science and cognitive science. Sarah also serves as a computer science teaching assistant and peer writing tutor.

Mira Potter-Schwartz (Economics) excels in two very different areas of the School, mathematical economics and music. She was selected for the Integrated Studies Program (ISP) and has worked as a researcher on a major National Science Foundation (NSF) project, “Using New Longitudinal Linked Data to Investigate the Determinants of Educational Attainment and Achievement in Mexico.” Mira’s senior thesis uses data from this project to investigate gender differences between objective and subjective teacher evaluation measures, answering questions such as: “How do student evaluations of teachers vary based on the gender of the teacher,” and “Do students perform better when their teacher is of the same gender?” Jere Behrman, William R. Kenan, Jr. Professor of Economics, notes that no such studies exist and that Mira’s thesis will make an important contribution to the “the applied economics and educational literature on teacher effectiveness.” Mira serves as Vice President of External Affairs at Penn Hillel, tutors for the West Philadelphia Tutoring Project, and is an accomplished violinist in the Department of Music’s Penn Chamber.

Jonathan Szeto (Earth Sciences, Political Science) is a senior recognized for his deep commitment to environmental public service and addressing the impact of air pollution on human health. A 2021 Udall Scholar, Jonathan has conducted extensive research on the effects of air pollution in Philadelphia’s subway system, advocating for the installation of air quality monitors on subway platforms. Jonathan is a member of the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA) Youth Advisory Council, and has completed internships at both the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of State. At Penn, Jonathan founded the Public Transportation Initiative to promote the use of public transportation among students and co-founded The Environmental Exchange, a journal highlighting local environmental news. He is a blogger for the Kleinman Center for Energy Policy’s Seminar Series, and an Environmental Equity Fellow through Penn’s Netter Center for Community Partnerships.

Nicholas Thomas-Lewis (Cognitive Science, Health and Societies) is a double major with a minor in Neuroscience. His professors note his intellectual tenacity and deep conviction towards interrogating and evaluating issues of adolescent addiction, including studying the multifactorial reasons that lead adolescents to addiction and the ways in which we can dismantle the social, cultural, medical, and environmental conditions that contribute to this issue. Nicholas’ strong commitment to community engagement is demonstrated through his myriad volunteer efforts, which include working with high school students as a speech coach, mentoring schoolchildren in literacy through Penn’s Netter Center for Community Partnerships, and serving as a Penn campus tour guide and co-chair of the Admissions Dean’s Advisory Board. Nicholas is also an accomplished varsity athlete and Captain of Penn’s varsity cheer team. Nicholas has been named a Rhodes Scholar and plans to pursue master’s degrees in evidence-based social intervention and policy evaluation and in medical anthropology at Oxford University.

Adam Zheleznyak (Mathematics) is a University Scholar who is also pursuing a master’s in Mathematics. Adam’s research centers around algebraic topology with a particular focus on how to apply novel computational methods to the dynamics of biological regulatory networks. With a reputation as a highly sophisticated thinker, Adam has been selected twice for the prestigious University of Chicago’s Mathematics Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU). His most recent work in this program involved studying connections between discrete Morse theory and finite topological spaces. Adam has also worked as a researcher on projects administered through Imperial College London and Rutgers University. An active departmental citizen in Penn Mathematics, Adam is a teaching assistant and Co-President of Penn Undergraduate Math Society, and a member of Pi Kappa Alpha.

College of Liberal & Professional Studies – Undergraduate Program

Nancy Makale (Political Science), an immigrant from Kenya, is completing research with Lee Cassanelli, Associate Professor of History, related to advocacy and support for legal immigrants in the United States as they transition into new communities. Nancy was awarded a Gelfman International Summer Grant through which she led a small team on a trip to Kenya to distribute reusable sanitary pads to teenage girls. In 2021, she participated in the Penn in Washington program and interned at the U.S. Senate, working on foreign relations in the office of Senator Bob Casey. During this internship, Nancy was involved in writing the decision memo for the BURMA Act, which Senator Casey agreed to co-sponsor.  Nancy is the founder of the Dada Safarini Club, a club that strives to support and educate women in Kenya about menstrual health.

Professional Master’s Programs

Akshay Venkatesh (Chemical Sciences) is a second-year student with a passion for clean energy. He works in the laboratory of Thomas Mallouk, Vagelos Professor in Energy Research. As part of his capstone research project, Akshay is investigating the mass transport mechanisms in alkaline fuel cells. This research involves developing simulation models, assessing the suitability of silver and its alloys as an alternative to platinum, and investigating the origin of a unique ion conduction mechanism in silver catalyst systems.      In his first year, Akshay participated in the master’s program from his home in India, due to pandemic-related travel restrictions. Despite this obstacle, Professor Mallouk notes that Askhay was an outstanding student who excelled in coursework and research. Askhay is also involved in community service projects in his hometown of Chennai that aim to help high schools adapt to evolving social attitudes by incorporating social and emotional learning into the curriculum.

Graduate Division – Doctoral Programs

Véronique Charles (Comparative Literature) is a sixth-year doctoral student completing a path-breaking dissertation on an entirely neglected feature of the “circum-oceanic” slave economy in Africa—the African experience. Véronique brings to the project her linguistic skills in French and Haitian Creole and uses a ground-breaking mixture of archival historical records alongside close readings of 21st-century fiction to generate new insights into the possible experiences of enslaved people at the time of the Atlantic slave trade. She has been recognized for her academic excellence with dissertation completion fellowships from the School and the Mellon Foundation/American Council of Learned Societies. Emily Wilson, Program Chair, College for Women Class of 1963 Term Professor in the Humanities, and Professor of Classical Studies, also credits Véronique with being an excellent teacher and notes the creative ways in which she engages students in historical and literary materials and problems.

Max Johnson Dugan (Religious Studies) is a fifth-year doctoral student whose dissertation uses a combination of ethnographic methods and digital humanities to explore modern understandings of halal among American Muslims, especially in urban settings like Philadelphia. Most research on halal in modern societies explores Muslim dietary rules or focuses on specific cases of production and consumption. Max is one of the first researchers not only to examine halal’s operation as a broad category of ethics and identity in relationship to urban societies, but also to connect halal to embodiment and affect. Max held a fellowship at the Price Lab for Digital Humanities and served as lead Digital Designer for the John Fell Fund-supported digital archive project “Unstable Archives.” He has been honored with the Mellon Humanities+Urbanism+Design Initiative Research Award, the Department of Religious Studies’s Israel Goldstein Prize, and a School of Arts and Sciences Dissertation Research Award. Among his publications, Max has co-authored a forthcoming book chapter with Megan Robb, Franklin Assistant Professor of Religious Studies, drawing on fieldwork conducted among Black Muslims in Philadelphia.
Allison Nicole Dunatchik (Demography, Sociology) is a fourth-year dual-program doctoral student deeply interested in topics of gender, work, and family, with a particular focus on how social policies affect gender inequalities inside and outside of the household. Allison uses large-scale, cross-national data to offer a new, dynamic perspective on how gender inequality is reproduced within different-sex couples across high-income countries. She has already published four solo-authored or first-authored papers in high-impact sociological journals such as Gender and Society and Sociological Science. Her paper “Re-examining How Partner Co-Presence and Multitasking Affect Parents’ Enjoyment of Childcare and Housework” was nominated for a 2021 Kanter International Award for Research Excellence in Work and Family. Her recent work includes a project examining how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected the gender division of labor among American parents.

Mehrafshan G. Jafari (Chemistry) is a fifth-year doctoral student and research assistant in Professor Daniel José Mindiola’s research group. Mehrafshan studies the coordination chemistry of metal complexes bearing metal-ligand multiple bonds, their reactivity, and potential application. She has established synthetic routes for the isolation of homogenous mononuclear and multinuclear vanadium nitrides in various oxidation states and has probed their reactivity toward inert molecules and strong bonds. This constitutes a novel and complete series of homogenous mimics for vanadium nitride surfaces, important materials salient to the industrial nitrogen fixation processes. Mehrafshan has also developed a new synthetic pathway for cyclic polymerization of terminal alkynes using catalysts with metal-carbon multiple bonding motifs accompanied by in-depth research on how the polymers actually grow. Her collaborative research efforts have resulted in multiple publications in outstanding journals such as Angewandte Chemie and the Journal of Organometallic Chemistry, with more publications to follow.

Nikola Golubović (Classical Studies) is currently in the fifth year of his doctoral studies.  His current work focuses on a Latin rhetorical text of unknown authorship from the early Roman empire, known as the Minor Declamations, attributed to the educator Quintilian. In his dissertation, Nikola demonstrates how scholars can use the Minor Declamations as a window into the ways that Romans of the imperial period taught and learned the rhetorical skills that would dominate their future as speakers, writers, and thinkers. While previous scholars have undervalued the text because its author cannot be identified, Nikola’s research opens up new and exciting possibilities for understanding this ancient work. Nikola has presented at five international scholarly conferences during his doctoral studies and is recognized in his department for his “unusually advanced technical skills,” which include the ability to read Greek and Latin authors fluidly.

Kate Nicole Hoffman (Philosophy) is a fourth-year doctoral student with strong research interests in environmental ethics, philosophy of science, climate change, and animal cognition. Her dissertation tackles broad questions of nature and the concept of the natural.  She received the Marjorie Grene Prize from the International Society for the History, Philosophy, and Social Studies of Biology for her paper “Subjective Experiences in Explanations of Animal PTSD Behavior.” This paper, published in a special issue of Philosophical Topics, argues that criteria used to diagnose humans with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) are met by animals, who also suffer from such symptoms. Kate Nicole serves as the Climate Change Project Manager for the GalápagosEducation and Research Alliance, run by Michael Weisberg, Bess W. Heyman President's Distinguished Professor and Chair of Philosophy. She and Weisberg also co-designed a course on philosophy of climate change that was taught for the first time in Fall 2021.

Amber Gabrielle Mackey (Political Science) is a fourth-year doctoral student and a Fontaine Fellow whose innovative, timely, and impactful research addresses some of the most complicated and problematic racial issues of our time.  Her dissertation, titled "Policy Wildfires: The Rapid Diffusion of State Racial Policies," seeks to place the literature on policy diffusion in conversation with the literature on race and ethnic policies. It is focused on analyzing the processes through which criminal justice and human services policies enacted by certain states gradually spread across many other states.  Amber is also an outstanding teacher who is widely praised by her students for her effective, encouraging, and compassionate approach in the classroom. Mackey has partnered with numerous non-profit organizations to gather and analyze data on mass incarceration, protests, and public opinion. She was an Urban Leaders Fellow in New Orleans and Intern at EMIDA (Elimination de la Maltraitance Infantile Domestique Africaine) in Cameroon.

Brigid Prial (History and Sociology of Science) is a third-year doctoral student who serves as an editorial member of the History of Anthropology Review. In her highly original dissertation project, Brigid draws on the history of psychology, primatology, and animal rights activism to investigate how chimpanzees were first made into subjects of laboratory research in the 20th century. Then, partly as a result of that research, they were recognized as animals whose social and cognitive capacities were so complex, sophisticated, and humanlike that using them in this way became ethically untenable. Brigid’s research expertly weaves together the history of U.S.-based researchers’ troubled and often exploitative relationships with the colonial and postcolonial African states where chimpanzees are found in the wild, and the present-day labor of care that takes place at sanctuaries where retired research chimpanzees live out their remaining days.

Xincheng Qiu (Economics) is a fifth-year doctoral student whose research focuses on macroeconomics and labor economics. Xincheng received a Xinmei Zhang Fellowship and was awarded the Lawrence Robbins Prize for the best first-year student in Economics at Penn. He is now producing original, cutting-edge research on labor markets in China, the United States, and elsewhere, examining topics of public finance, firm dynamics, and spatial economics. The high caliber of his work earned him the 2021 Hiram C. Haney Fellowship Award in Economics for the best third-year research paper. He has now produced five additional research papers, one of which has been submitted to the distinguished Journal of Political Economy. Xincheng’s work reflects a coherent and innovative research agenda devoted to understanding various inter-related and policy-relevant aspects of economic inequality. In addition to his scholarship, Xincheng is an exemplary teacher and was honored with the Joel Popkin Graduate Student Teaching Prize.



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