2018 Penn Arts and Sciences Dean’s Scholars


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

College of Arts and Sciences

Madeleine (Maddie) Andrews (Biology) is a senior who is researching behavioral ecology, with a focus on the evolution of social competence in animals. She has distinguished herself in Assistant Professor Erol Akcay’s laboratory, quickly learning complex mathematical and computational skills in order to formulate and analyze evolutionary game theoretic models. Maddie has pursued local and global field research opportunities in support of her learning, from the Philadelphia Zoo to Argentina, Puerto Rico, and the Galápagos Islands.  

Alexis Ciambotti (Classical Studies and Political Science) is a senior Benjamin Franklin Scholar who has combined her interests in classical studies, international affairs, and cyber-security to create an ambitious cross-disciplinary course of study. Her senior thesis examines the challenges that the advent of autonomous weapons and drones pose for international security in the 21st century. Her work has received support from the Thouron Summer Research Prize, Perry World House, the Andrea Mitchell Center for the Study of Democracy, and the Wolf Humanities Center.   

Christopher D’Urso (International Relations) is a senior and a sub-matriculant in the Master of Public Administration program who was recently awarded a Rhodes Scholarship. The issue that has galvanized Christopher since childhood is consumer protection, and he has already built an impressive record of service, including testimony before Congress, work in the New Jersey state assembly, as a consumer rights investigator for the New Jersey state attorney general, and as founder of a new organization, Penn Consumer Assistance, Support, and Education (Penn CASE).   

Adnan (Zikri) Jaafar (International Studies and Business) is a senior in the Huntsman Program, a coordinated dual degree program. Zikri has participated in an impressive array of research projects including a study with Wharton Professor Christopher Geczy on zakat, the practice of alms-giving in the Islamic faith, and social-impact bonds. Recently awarded a Rhodes Scholarship, he has also served as an ambassador for Penn’s Giving What We Can, an organization that supports effective altruism, and as a volunteer for the PA Refugee Task Force in Philadelphia; Syrian refugee schools in Irbid, Jordan; and McDonald Ranch in Santa Rosa, Calif.  

Claudia Kassner (Ancient History and Classical Studies) is a senior University Scholar with a stellar reputation as an original thinker. Claudia has immersed herself in acquiring the tools to study the lives of ordinary citizens of the ancient world and her research endeavors include several summers of archeological work in the programs of the American Academy in Rome and the American School of Classical Studies in Athens. Professors from several departments praise her language skills, project conception, sensitive analysis of objects, and close reading of texts as being on a par with those of a mature scholar.  

Ivana Kohut (Anthropology) is a senior Benjamin Franklin Scholar. Ivana has conducted summer research on the effectiveness of the Cuban healthcare system’s delivery to women, interviewing and assessing the health outcomes of dozens of participants through a comprehensive survey, despite challenging political structures and roadblocks. She has presented the preliminary results of her work in various forums and published the results in the undergraduate journal In Situ. Ivana also founded a grassroots healthcare movement providing sustainable access to medications, feminine care products, and health care supplies to an underserved community in Cuba. She has received several awards for this work and for her scholarship, including a Hassenfeld Social Impact Research Award, a Kathryn Wasserman Davis 100 Projects for Peace grant, and a Creative Ventures Prize from Penn’s Center for Programs in Contemporary Writing.  

Tiberiu Mihaila (Biochemistry, Biophysics, and Physics) is a junior in the Roy and Diana Vagelos Program in the Molecular Life Sciences. In the laboratory of Professor E. James Petersson, Tiberiu has worked on synuclein, a neuronal protein that aggregates in the brains of Parkinson’s disease patients. He has acquired an impressive array of scientific skills, including how to use the confocal microscope, how to culture mouse primary neurons, and how to contribute to articles and grant proposals. He is the co-author of a paper published in The Journal of Biological Chemistry and a recipient of the Vagelos Science Challenge Award and a Goldwater Award.

Helena von Nagy (Political Science and Theatre Arts) is a senior Benjamin Franklin Scholar engaged in rigorous research in both of her majors, impressing faculty with her ability to cross disciplinary lines effectively to study “global Shakespeare.” Her mentors in Theatre Arts describe her as an actress of unusual sensitivity, as well as a gifted director. They cite her inventive stagings of Shakespeare, notably a production which transformed The Taming of the Shrew into a bilingual parable of the U.S.-Cuba relationship. Helena also studied abroad in Argentina and England and used insights from those experiences to explore diplomacy and cultural exchange programs while an intern in the State Department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs.

Jimin Yoon (Biophysics and Chemistry) is a senior and a Vagelos Science Challenge Awardee.  Her research has involved using fluorescence measurements to determine distances between points on a protein, and using these distances as constraints in computational models of the structure(s) of a dynamic protein. Marveling that it was her interest in art history that brought her to chemistry and biophysics, her science mentors praise Jimin’s self-direction and work ethic. This year, Jimin has developed a project that is entirely her own and her mentor has been so impressed that he made it clear that she will be the first author on the manuscript, making her the first undergraduate from his laboratory to hold this distinction.  

College of Liberal and Professional Studies – Undergraduate Program

Emily Walters (Mathematics) is a senior who has pursued a rigorous course of study including graduate level work in mathematics. Through an internship at the NASA Glenn Research Center, Emily performed independent research to develop a method to augment neural networks using a mathematical technique called persistent homology. Along the way, Emily created a new set of high-speed software for computing persistent homology, which she hopes to release under an open-source license, as well as publish a paper on her results. Post-graduation, Emily plans to pursue a Ph.D. in Mathematics and a career in research.

Professional Master’s Programs

John Miller (Master of Environmental Studies) brings his expertise in storm water management to his coursework in risk analysis and environmental management, energy systems and policy, and land conservation, enhancing the learning experience of his fellow students and instructors alike in the process. He has worked hard to maintain the highest quality of course work while participating in a wide range of projects and activities that benefit floodplain residents. John presented the preliminary results of his capstone research on the threat of credit downgrading as a non-regulatory driver for flood risk mitigation at the annual conference of the New Jersey Association for Floodplain Management. He plans to continue his work in the field of floodplain management policy after graduation.

Graduate Division – Doctoral Programs

Benjamin Chin (Psychology) is a third-year doctoral student whose research is focused on modeling various aspects of human vision such as motion and object detection. In the laboratory of Assistant Professor Johannes Burge, Ben serves as the lead on a project developing optimal models of motion estimation and characterizing human motion estimation performance with real-world image movies. Burge lauds Ben’s many contributions to the project, noting that “he has become an expert on display measurement and calibration, he has spearheaded the collection of a large corpus of psychophysical data, and he has developed an impressive suite of analysis tools.”  

Allauren Forbes (Philosophy) is completing her dissertation, which examines theories of friendship and other relations in the works of early modern women philosophers. Possessed of what one professor calls an “intellectual fearlessness,” Allauren is forging into new and largely unexplored territory in her dissertation, while still connecting her work with canonical figures and central philosophical themes.  

Sumiko Hatakeyama (History and Sociology of Science) came to Penn having worked for several years for the Japan-based Peace Boat alongside atomic bomb survivors who travel to present testimony about their experiences. Now a third-year Ph.D. student, Sumiko's research explores the complex process, over more than 70 years, of establishing radiation dose estimates for each atomic bomb survivor. As a study of "science in action" with broad relevance to human environmental risk, her project will be a significant contribution to our understanding of the atomic bombings themselves and of epidemiology and disaster risk as scientific and policy problems.  

Shichun (Asminet) Ling (Criminology) brings her background in psychology and social behavior to bear on her current research on the biopsychosocial bases of criminal behavior. Asminet uses brain imaging to study the brain mechanisms underlying both callous-unemotional traits and social adversity in children, as well as the role of emotional intelligence in explaining the link between physiological under-arousal and psychopathic behavior. From her years as an undergraduate, she brought with her a successful record of publication which she continues at Penn, with six publications in leading journals and five more under review.  

Esteban Andres Paduro Williamson (Mathematics) came to Penn through the Fulbright Foreign Student Program.  His research aims to understand the physical situation when oil mixes with sand and water, and involves a very difficult, highly non-local and non-linear partial differential equation called the Muskat problem. Esteban has made several important discoveries and is expected to finish two very difficult proofs in the Spring 2018 semester, which his advisor, Professor Robert Strain, calls "phenomenal progress for a mid-third year student."

Gabriel Raeburn (Religious Studies and History) completed a master’s in 20th-century American history from Oxford University before coming to Penn, and is now studying the history of the Religious Right in 20th-century America. According his dissertation advisor, Professor Anthea Butler, “So far, Gabriel’s archival work and writing is recasting the narrative about evangelical political activity and action.” He has already presented his work at two major international conferences. In addition to his promising scholarly research, Gabriel is known as an exceptional teacher who is able to “get the best out of students.”

Rovel Sequeira (English) has distinguished himself as an outstanding scholar and “a generous and prominent departmental citizen." Rovel came to Penn from Mumbai, India, with formidable skills in six languages (English, Hindi, French, Spanish, Marathi, and Urdu) as well as a master’s degree in English Literature from the University of Delhi. His doctoral thesis, which the graduate chair of English describes as “breaking new ground,” is a cultural history of global and local sexual knowledge systems in India in the 20th century as they converged with Indian nationalist projects of modernization.  

Lacey Wade (Linguistics) maintains a high quality of work while successfully navigating her research on language variation and change and her role in the laboratory of Professor Meredith Tamminga, where she coordinates research assistants, designs experiments, writes and troubleshoots computer scripts, and carries out a vast amount of technical work. While she is clearly indispensable in the lab, Lacey is also a highly motivated scholar who has published one first-authored paper in Laboratory Phonology and plans to submit another to the prestigious Journal of Phonetics.

Sarah Wolf (Chemistry) possesses what faculty describe as “the vision to become a leader in her field” as a researcher and teacher. Sarah initiated and is leading a new interdisciplinary project in the laboratory of Associate Professor Zahra Fakhraai aimed at exploring mechanical properties of stable glasses. Her research already has resulted in three first-author publications and one second-author publication in highly regarded chemical journals, and her excellence as a teacher earned her the Penn Prize for Excellence in Teaching by Graduate Students.  


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