Menu Phi Beta Kappa PBK Northern California Association Honor Society
PBK Key logo

Scholarship Recipients 2009

Go to the awardees or

Esther Cole, Ecology, UC Davis 

"Landscape Control of Disease Dynamics in a High Alpine System" 

Esther is studying how changing climate may be affecting disease dynamics as snowmelt comes earlier and minimum temperatures rise. She has done extensive work in Ecuador, where her work generated several important discoveries, including the discovery of a new species of frog, genus Cochranella. She will complete her fieldwork in the Trinity Alps here in California. As she writes, "This research will generate novel insights into how changing climate will influence natural disease regimes, potentially resulting in the extinction of native species." 

Her professors called her "smart, articulate, self-confident," "a wonderful field biologist, incredibly well-organized," "intellectually nimble," and a woman with "a sense of humor and irony." 


Jordan Gans-Morse, Political Science, UC Berkeley

"Out of Chaos? Business Elites and Property Rights in Russia" 

"The collapse of the Soviet Union presented social scientists with a daunting set of challenges. . . . Comparativists . . . sought to develop theories capable of explaining transitions from tradition to modernity, underdevelopment to development, and authoritarianism to democracy." Jordan's dissertation research analyzes why institutions that protect property develop in some countries but not others, why some laws and regulations remain mere scraps of paper. He focuses on the interest-group politics underlying institutional formation. He hopes to uncover valuable insights into the institutional foundations of economic prosperity. He was in Russia at the time of the Awards Banquet, testing the preliminary predictions of his model. 

His professors noted his "extraordinary potential" and his "quiet determination and commitment" and they think that "his research holds the promise of improving the foundations on which policy prescriptions can be made." "He is a rising star in the field." 


Emily Jacobs, Neuroscience, UC Berkeley

Emily is determined to pursue science in combination with humanitarian values. Her research centers on how dopamine functions in the prefrontal cortex. As she put it, it's a Goldilocks and the three bears scenario: you don't want too much or too little dopamine – just enough. The key goal of her project is to understand how individual differences in baseline dopamine levels in adolescents lead to greater susceptibility to depression, early-onset schizophrenia, and ADHD. Being committed to sharing her work with the public ("secret knowledge . . . is less than science"), she helped found S.E.E. (Science Everyone Everywhere), a nonprofit organization aimed at bringing science and the public a step closer together. She also works with a "brain fitness" campaign in San Francisco geared toward raising awareness about the health benefits of staying mentally and physically active as we age. 

Her professors commended her "maturity and curiosity," "dedication to service," and "boundless energy" ("bottle it and we could solve the worldwide energy crisis!"). Everyone noted that she is more like a colleague than a student. 


Mariangela Lisanti, Physics, Stanford (Norall Family Scholarship)

As Mariangela noted in her application, the Standard Model of particle physics cannot explain dark matter and dark energy in the universe, and says nothing about the gravitational force or how elementary particles obtain their mass. She works on building and studying extensions of the Standard Model that address these fundamental issues. "Whether scientists explore the unimaginably large or the inconceivably small, they strive to comprehend some aspect of the unknown. The fact that the same fundamental laws of physics can explain dramatically different scenarios is nothing short of amazing; for instance, the same forces that explain how an ant is able to lift a crumb off the ground can also explain the interactions of particles a few seconds after the Big Bang." Mariangela worked at the Tevatron collider at Fermilab, outside Chicago. That work resulted in "a sea change in how to design searches for new physics." 

She is "a role model for women students," "an effective mentor," and "a clear and organized speaker who can lay out the most complex arguments in a way her audience can grasp." 


Laurel Seely, Literature, UC Santa Cruz (Elizabeth B. Reed Scholarship)

Laurel's title is standard academese. The first paragraph of her application is not. "In winter 2008, the city of Sarajevo coated its sidewalks with a substance designed to prevent people from slipping on ice, an event that provoked outrage among some of Bosnia's Serb and Croat politicians. The problem: the coating was green, a color associated with Islam." In her work, Laurel uses an interdisciplinary approach to examine the intersection of culture and politics in transformations of identity in postsocialist Bosnia. Her dissertation examines transformations of Bosnian identity effected through key cultural products. By presenting and analyzing materials that are lesser known or difficult to access (she has also translated Bosnian literary works into English), she aims to make a variety of texts available for the first time to English-speaking scholars. 

Her letters of recommendation cite her "personal independence, perseverance, originality of thought, and her no-nonsense hard work." She is "critically innovative," "a model of the best kind of contemporary literary and cultural studies." 


Amelia Wolf, Biology, Stanford

"Can a tree emulate James Dean, or bear a resemblance to George Burns? . . . James Dean famously lived fast and died young; Burns persisted in the limelight for years and years. Different trees, too, follow these divergent life trajectories," burning out after a short and productive life or fading away after persisting and reproducing for many years. Amelia works on ant-plant mutualisms that occur in tropical regions worldwide, including the neotropics. Her work in Costa Rica is yielding information similar to what she found in Kenya. Such cross-continental comparisons are rare and valuable, because they can help determine the degree to which ecological processes are generalizable. She is also an avid photographer and last year had a photograph (of giraffes in Kenya) published on the cover of Science (11 January 2008). 

She was recommended for her "endurance, creativity, and imagination, and a willingness to take risks." She is a "broad, creative, synthetic thinker, and highly motivated." Her "wholly original research has already yielded amazing results."