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Scholarship Recipients 2012

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(a PBK key indicates awardees who weren't able to attend the award dinner)

Elizabeth (Liz) Boatman, UC Berkeley, Materials Science & Engineering

(Reed Scholarship)

Liz is a materials scientist who is studying fossil bones. Her work is extraordinarily interdisciplinary, sitting between the lines of inquiry of the modern scientific and medical communities and the inquiries of paleontologists.
She researches the chemical and structural changes that occur within dinosaur compact bone as a result of fossilization. Careful analysis of the hierarchical structure of bone has the potential to elucidate critical elements of vertebrate evolutionary pathways. Further, developing methods for characterizing fossil bones and interpreting the consequences of fossilization has the potential to provide the engineering community with an entirely new expanse of unique, functionally optimized bone tissues that may provide critical insight for bio-inspired fabrication of high-strength, high-toughness composite materials.

But she has not confined herself to the lab; she has led a five-week project-based research curriculum with high school students and has given homework help for elementary-school children at a local women's shelter. She was also elected by the Graduate Assembly as the student representative to the Graduate Council of the Academic Senate, where she votes side by side with deans and faculty on student-related issues and policies.

Samuel Bockenhauer, Stanford, Physics

Sam's bachelor's degree from Wisconsin included a double major in physics and English literature, for which he earned the highest possible distinction of comprehensive honors. Fascinated by science throughout his life, he is working on his Ph.D. in physics at Stanford.
Sam is examining G Protein-Coupled Receptors, whose sensitivity makes them critical drug targets for a host of human ailments, ranging from heart disease and diabetes to bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. GPCRs are dynamic, complex actors, not simple on-off switches. Therefore it is important that he is watching them in real time through the ABEL trap.

He has also made important contributions to a large effort at Stanford to improve the pedagogy in introductory physics courses, has worked building houses for Habitat for Humanity, and played first violin in the University of Bristol chamber orchestra and in the University of Wisconsin-Madison Symphony Orchestra.

His professors note that he has "a high level of creativity and new ideas" and a "corresponding gift for communicating his work."

Jocelyn Chin, Stanford, Medicine

Jocelyn is investigating how to make heart transplants safer in the long term for patients and in developing preventive therapies for aortic root aneurysm and novel non-invasive imaging technologies. The work promises to revolutionize how we care for patients with Marfan syndrome and other aneurismal diseases. In one of her research projects, she found that the commonly used diabetes drug Metformin could potentially have a new use in making heart transplants safer for patients. Her engineering background has given her an understanding of cutting-edge technology, allowing her to translate advances in engineering to patient care.

Using Mandarin and Spanish, Jocelyn has been able to speak to many immigrants at the free clinics where she volunteers about the importance of getting early testing for cancer and receiving life-saving vaccines. She has also been creating networks and partnerships with faculty and students from the Harvard Institute of Lifestyle Medicine, UC Davis, and UCLA to increase awareness of lifestyle medicine at top medical institutions.

Her letters of recommendation note that she is an "intelligent, motivated, and charismatic individual, mature and confident without being arrogant. . . . She also has an excellent sense of humor."

Brooke Gardner, UC San Francisco, Molecular Biology

Brooke is working on her Ph.D. in Molecular Biology at UCSF. Her research focuses on unfolded proteins. Its primary goal is to understand how a particular unfolded protein response (UPR) sensor protein, Ire1, is activated in response to endoplasmic reticulum (ER) stress and to use this knowledge to identify small molecule modulators of the UPR that could have therapeutic value for treating such diseases as cancer, inherited forms of diabetes, and neurodegenerative diseases. Thus far, her work has elucidated a novel mechanism for Ire1 activation by direct binding to misfolded proteins. She hopes/expects that the research will facilitate studies of the UPR's role in those diseases and potentially found a new class of pharmaceuticals designed to modulate the UPR pathway.

Her personal goal, as she wrote in her application, is "to bring science within everyone's reach. Science is not elitist; it is an approach and an exploration, and it can be done by anyone." Consequently, Brooke has worked to make science accessible by participating in community outreach programs. The classes she taught in the Science and Health Education Partnership program (UCSF and San Francisco School District) "not only improved the clarity of my teaching and thinking, but also allowed me to share my knowledge and enthusiasm with two third-grade classes that normally wouldn't have a chance to see cells through a microscope, set up a chemical reaction, or extract DNA from strawberries. . . . I look forward to helping create a world where everyone sees him or herself as a scientist."

Her professors note that she is "bright, curious, thoughtful, and perceptive, allowing her to zero in on the key questions and ignore the peripheral issues and details that distract so many students." She has made "truly remarkable discoveries . . . as a student." Her efforts illustrate the "two great strengths of Brooke as a scientist: her ability to identify critical questions and the energy and resourcefulness she shows in pursuing her goals."

Robert Judson, UC San Francisco, Biomedical Sciences

Rob is working on understanding the mechanisms by which each cell type, or cell fate, is woven, and further, how to manipulate these. His interests are in "functional systems" biology--using current technologies to take a snapshot of these complex systems (genomes, transcriptomes, proteomes, etc.) and developing new technologies to manipulate entire networks of genes at once in a controlled fashion. His research has so far exploited the evolutionary advantages of microRNA to this end. Understanding these systems is the technological key for fulfilling the promise of regenerative medicine.

In addition to his laboratory research, he has developed an interest in studying the methods with which academic researchers discuss and critique published data and has co-founded an organization, The Journal Lab, focused on researching these interactions. One of his professors wrote that The Journal Lab "has the potential to be a disruptive technology; it could fundamentally alter the way scientists interact, form collaborations, and present findings."

Another noted that he is "remarkably independent in conceiving, designing, executing, and interpreting his experiments. Indeed, . . . Rob is one of those rare students whom it is best to leave alone and let them define where they want their science to take them."

Abigail (Abby) Kirchofer, Stanford, Earth Energy & Environmental Sciences

As Abby noted in her application, the need to reduce carbon dioxide emissions is one of the most significant environmental challenges facing society. The long-term solution involves transitioning from carbon-based to renewable energy sources. In the short term, effective carbon capture and storage will be needed. Abby is working on CO2 capture via gas-solid adsorption as a potentially viable CO2 separation technique for CO2 capture.

Abby's aim is to apply environmental sciences toward the protection of our natural resources by working to prevent and mitigate the spread of contaminants from energy production. Her career goal stems from both her long-term commitment to work toward sustainability and environmental justice and her aptitude for applying mathematics and science to real-world problem solving. She left Stanford with her B.A. and a determination not to return to school to focus on environmental studies until she had better defined her career goals. She worked with a major philanthropic foundation and then taught high school mathematics for two years. She left teaching to become an environmental scientist in order to gain hands-on experience in environmental consulting. This work anchored her idealistic goals in reality, giving her practical experience in engineering solutions to pollution mitigation.

As an oceanography intern, she spent six weeks at sea, sailing, conducting oceanographic research, and studying nautical science and oceanography and working as assistant ship engineer. Working for the Fish and Wildlife Research Unit as a field researcher in Colorado, she surveyed high-altitude regions for potential butterfly habitat, spending the summer backpacking and conducting field surveys above tree line to find and map suitable habitat.

According to her professors, "for her, course material is not simply to be learned and then forgotten, but is meant to be applied to real-world problems." She has "impressive research capabilities" and "sets high standards for herself."

John Lambert, UC Davis, Anthropology

John is examining late Paleoindian mobility and settlement-subsistence in the western Great Lakes. His data are gleaned from reanalysis of extant archaeological collections, a regional survey, and excavation of a number of intact sites. The project combines research from several different fields, including geology, geochemistry, palynology, and archaeology. Insights gleaned from this research may shed light on the adaptive strategies employed by foragers faced with similar environments and will flesh out our understanding of the spatial patterning in lithic toolkit variability and the human behavior that underlies it. His study can also serve as an important testbed for hypotheses about the behavior of colonizing populations in other regions and more generally will help reveal the ways in which human groups cope with the type of extreme environmental change witnessed at the end of the last ice age. While an empty continent was advantageous in some ways, it was challenging in others.

In addition to his studies, John served as co-instructor of the Davis archaeological field school in 2010 and is directing the K-12 archaeological outreach and co-organizing the archaeological monograph series.

His professors note that he is "a promising young scholar" who is "very organized" and "highly motivated" and "an astounding teaching assistant."

Rebecca Munson, UC Berkeley, English

Rebecca's dissertation--"Shakespeare Offstage: The Reception and Appropriation of Shakespeare, 1590-1660"--traces the process by which Shakespeare's plays created foundational historical models that shaped England's developing sense of its own past and provided a medium for exploring questions of government. It reclaims the years 1642-1660, when the theaters were closed, and shows that Shakespeare's "death" during that period is nothing more than a convenient fiction inasmuch as the plays were circulating within a community of readers and sometimes being performed privately. It also studies the influence, both immediate and lasting, of Shakespeare's plays on the drama of his successors.
Her thesis challenges the entrenched view of Shakespeare's earliest reception and illustrates that the received belief has obscured an important area of influence. The dissertation spans several periods of historical study and proposes a literary-historical narrative based on continuity rather than rupture. Her research is distinguished not only by its unusual critical framework and its broad historical span, but by a strong basis in bibliographic evidence.

Rebecca has also made her mark as an organizer and supporters of others' work, reviving and coordinating the Townsend Humanities Center's Early Modern Working Group. She was also short-listed for the 2011 Paris Literary Prize for her novella _Lafayette Square_ and was one of thirteen finalists for an international competition held by the Shakespeare and Company bookstore in Paris.

Her professors note that she goes "beyond the call of duty in her reading" and that "everything she touches ends up looking refreshed and new"; she "combines the skills of the most rigorous historian with the sensitivity to language associated with the best critics."

Jason Nagata, UC San Francisco, Medicine

Jason's research focuses on global undernutrition, food insecurity, and obesity. Working in Guatemala and Kenya, he is using mixed anthropological and epidemiological methodology. He plans to work toward the attainment of the first UN Millennium Development Goal: the eradication of extreme hunger on this planet.

In an earlier essay he wrote that "biomedical innovations often target individual problems with specific drugs and technologies but fail to appreciate the interconnectedness of health and society, of illness and environment. In order to improve the health of all, we must shift away from individualism and work collaboratively to address human health in the broadest context." It is this thesis that informs his work.

Locally, Jason has demonstrated his commitment to underserved care and his passion for public health nutrition through service to the San Francisco Unified School District and related research through the UCSF Department of Pediatrics. His research demonstrated that a free fresh fruit distribution program at an underserved, ethnically diverse San Francisco high school was associated with a decrease in soft drink consumption over a two-year period compared to a similar school without such a program.

His professors call him a natural-born leader, a remarkable researcher, and a genuine community partner. "He is amazing."

Micha Rahder, UC Santa Cruz, Anthropology

Micha's research investigates the creation of scientific knowledge enabled by remote sensing technologies and geographic information systems and the ways in which this knowledge is used and transformed in application by conservationists. Her work straddles the disciplinary borders of anthropology, science and technology studies, critical geography, and environmental studies. In her dissertation, she focuses on the Maya Biosphere Reserve in Guatemala, where conservationists' excitement about remote sensing stands in stark contrast to their fears about the destruction of the region's forests. Remote sensing and GIS are changing how people see and protect forested landscapes; but the ecological, social, and political effects of these technologies remain unexamined.
Her work addresses the following questions: What political and material effects do remote sensing and GIS have in the reserve, and how do the people producing, using, or being described by these sciences grapple with these effects? How do these technologies figure into the production of "natural" landscapes and social difference? What new possibilities for contestation or collaboration are emerging along with the rise of remote sensing and GIS technologies in Guatemalan conservation? Her hope is that the project will in some way aid Guatemalans in their daily struggles to protect their forests and improve the lives of their communities.

Her professors note that she is quick to gain technical mastery, knows how to seize on key problems (as well as potential solutions), and is an adept field worker. She is "an intensely curious and creative thinker who devours new ideas and uses them insightfully and imaginatively" and is "very smart, self-motivated, astute, driven, and caring." She is also a rugby coach.

Noel Bakhtian
Noël Bakhtian, Stanford, Aeronautics and Astronautics

(Reed Scholarship)

Nöel has always wanted to be an astronaut. As she wrote in her application, "I see the exploration of space as an attempt to answer the ultimate questions concerning our origins and significance in the universe while laying down a framework for our future." She has a B.S.E., Engineering, from Duke; a M. Phil. from the University of Cambridge; and a M.S., Aeronautics and Astronautics, from Stanford.

One of her professors called her "highly motivated, hardworking, uniquely gifted, and a natural organ­izer." Another noted that Nöel "challenged me good-naturedly when I glossed over important details." Still another noted her "irrepressible and endearing enthusiasm" and her "coherent vision of purpose for her career the likes of which I have never observed in a student."

At the 2011 Asilomr, Noel delivered a most entertaining and informative presentation about the universe (Mars in particular) and our progress in exploring and understanding it. She even brought a remote control explorer vehicle that had been produced at Stanford, along with a video of it working its way over rocks and things. Truly a delightful example of what great things our scholarships can produce. More here...

Maya de Vries, UC Berkeley, Integrative Biology

The title of Maya's dissertation explains her investi­gation: "Testing Form and Function: Ecological and Morphological Specialization in Mantis Shrimp." Her early results already run counter to the expecta­tion that form follows function in suggesting that "smashers" actually consume a wider range of prey types than "spearers" do. Much of her research is done in Panama at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute's Galeta Marine Lab.

Letters of recommendation note that Maya is "bright, creative, resourceful, dedicated, and unusu­ally hard-working," "curious and inquisitive with outstanding interpersonal skills" (she was adept at involving local Panamanian students and support staff in her research program), and that she "was fearless . . . in conducting her field experiments in crocodile-laden waters and in truly challenging liv­ing conditions."

Jenny Lane, UC Santa Cruz, Ocean Sciences

Jenny is studying algae blooms (i.e., "red tides"), which seem to be expanding globally and causing more economic losses than had been thought.

Her research shows that both ocean upwelling and river flow are influential in causing the algae blooms. The research has primed a ground-breaking statewide effort at a time of significant funding shortfalls, with the California Ocean Protection Council awarding $792,000 for implementation of her models as part of a California-wide effort to de­velop a harmful algal bloom forecast system.

According to her professors, Jenny is "constantly asking What is the big picture?" She is doing "truly interdisciplinary work at the interface between pol­icy, management, and science." She is "a dream student."

Michael Levien, UC Berkeley, Sociology

Michael is investigating "The Land Question: Special Economic Zones and Accumulation by Dis­possession in India." His study contrasts two strate­gies of development: state-led high modernization revolving around massive projects (e.g., dams) and market-driven projects associated with Special Economic Zones. Basi­cally, this is a study of conflicts over land, land use, and government policies, dispossession with and without develop-ment that benefits the original land­owners.

His professors call him a "consummate, intrepid, imaginative ethnographer," a "tireless researcher and devoted theorist," and a person who "weds in­tellectual sophistication and civic idealism with economic and political realism."

Feng-Yen Li, UC San Francisco, Biomedical Sciences (M.D./Ph.D.)

Feng-Yen's dissertation is "The Etiologies of Primary Immunodeficiencies," in which she defines the molecular basis of immunodeficiency in chil­dren with congenital abnormalities of the immune system. Her research has led to the discovery of a second messenger role for magnesium in biology that is particularly important for T-cell activation and the development and function of a normal im­mune system in humans.

As her professors note, she is a "tenacious, creative researcher" and is "flexible in her thinking." Even more important, she has made "one of the most im­portant discoveries in the past several years" in this area. "Her work will lead to a revision of the text­books."

Shane Morrison, Stanford, Medicine

In his opening statement, Shane noted that "the ini­tial impetus for my career in medicine . . . [came from] the death of the man who raised me: my grandfather. In fact, a five-gallon metal pail became my primary inspiration." This pail, which held his grandfather’s catheter bag, served as a physical re­minder of his prostate cancer.

Shane's current work is on treating diabetic wounds through gene therapy. He combines a passion for scientific research with an interest in public health, often volunteering in public health clinics.

His professors call him "clear thinking, energetic, and enthusiastic," with "great initiative and creativ­ity," "impeccable integrity," and "extraordinary en­ergy and enthusiasm." There are "not enough superlatives to describe Shane."

Wei-chun Wang, UC Davis, Psychology

His focus is on the physical components of be-havior: using neuroimaging and neuropsychologi­cal methods to test the hypothesis that the perirhinal cortex contributes to conceptual priming. "His research has challenged strongly held beliefs in our field."

His professors note that he combines "drive, mental horsepower, and creative spirit." He is "modest, friendly, easy-going" and an "independent thinker [yet a] team player" who is "an exceptionally clear communicator" "liked by everyone in the lab."

Chelsea Wood, Stanford, Biology

Chelsea is studying the impacts of fishing on tropi­cal marine ecosystems. As she noted in her applica­tion, "Fishing is among the most economically important human uses of the world's oceans, but it may come with costs [we haven't] accounted for." Her research takes advantage of the presence of a pristine, unexploited fish community on Palmyra Atoll, where she is monitoring experimental treat­ments that simulate "pristine" and "fished-out" con­ditions on the atoll. She hopes that her work will permit the development of baselines for ecosystem function and service provision throughout the U.S. Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument, the Republic of Kiribati, and other Pacific island groups.

"Exceptional" was often used in her letters of rec­ommendation: "exceptionally talented," "exception­ally motivated," "simply exceptional." Her "logical and technical rigor" was also commended