Perspectives: Newsletter of the College of Arts & Sciences

Grad Students Join Undergrads
for Top A&S Honor

Eric Beu. Photo by Jacob Lambert.
Dean Ana Mari Cauce, second from left, celebrates with
medalists (from left) Juned Shaikh, Garrett Strain, Eric Beau,
Steffani Bennett, Heather Raikes, and Will Johnson. Not pictured
are Jentery Sayers and Aurelia Honerkamp-Smith. Photo by
Jacob Lambert.

Each year, the College of Arts and Sciences presents the Dean’s Medal to four exceptional graduating seniors, representing the College’s four divisions—arts, humanities, social sciences, and natural sciences. Now the College is celebrating its graduate students as well, with the introduction of an annual Graduate Medal, also with one recipient per division.

“These annual medals are an opportunity to shine a spotlight on some of our very best students,” says Ana Mari Cauce, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. “Our graduate students deserve to share in that spotlight. With so many remarkable students, the challenge is to limit our selection to one undergraduate and one graduate student from each of our divisions.”

The eight 2011 honorees capture the breadth and depth of the College, with interests ranging from digital arts to translation theory to labor rights to lipid membranes. Several have published in journals. One placed in the Putnam Competition—a national mathematics competition renowned for its rigor. Many received scholarship or fellowship support during their years at the University of Washington.

Here’s more about the medalists, including insights from faculty who nominated them and videos in which the students discuss their UW experience:

2011 Dean's Medalists:
Eric Beu, Dean's Medalist in the Humanities
Garrett Strain, Dean's Medalist in the Social Sciences
Steffani Bennett, Dean's Medalist in the Arts
William Johnson, Dean's Medalist in the Natural Sciences

2011 Graduate Medalists:
Heather Raikes, Dean's Medalist in the Arts
Juned Shaikh, Dean's Medalist in the Social Sciences
Jentery Sayers, Dean's Medalist in the Humanities
Aurelia Honerkamp-Smith, Dean's Medalist in the Natural Sciences

Eric Beu. Photo by Jacob Lambert.
Eric Beu. Photo by Jacob

Eric Beu, Dean’s Medalist in the Humanities

When he arrived at the UW, Eric Beu was already a published poet and world traveler. Raised by parents in the Foreign Service, he spent his early childhood living abroad in Portugal, Mexico, India, and other nations.  At the UW, his ongoing fascination with language and literature led to a double major in English and French and an interest in translation theory. During study abroad in Paris, he translated an entire novel from French to English. His own fiction writing earned him the Charlotte Paul Reese Award for Fiction in 2010.

“To hold a conference with Eric on any intellectual topic is to witness the glory and ease with which he moves from insight to insight, to see a mind always searching, yet alighting on remarkably stellar perceptions along the way,” says Pimone Triplett, associate professor of English and director of the Creative Writing Program. “It was immediately clear in both class and in conference that his familiarity with many of the important texts of Western literature and philosophy was not in the least superficial, nor even the product of his immediate education here at UW, but rather the result of deep personal study and analysis.”

Míċeál Vaughan, associate professor of English, adds that Beu’s contributions to his honors seminar “were fresh and original, taking our conversations in new directions…. Modest without being hesitant, sharply intelligent without being a know-it-all, he was a catalyst whose critical insights enlivened our seminar and challenged our views by encouraging careful reflection and fresh considerations.”

Those insights have helped numerous students who visited the Odegaard Writing and Research Center, where Beu served as a tutor for three years. Beu relished tutoring as another opportunity to explore language. “Tutoring has helped me understand that an engagement with language is an engagement not only with literature, but with all forms of ideas,” says Beu. “…It is a medium and a mediator, the force that permanently unites art and science.”

Eric Beu describes his experience tutoring at the UW's
Odegaard Writing and Research Center.
Eric Beu describes the challenges and rewards of
translating texts into English.








Garrett Strain
Garrett Strain. Photo by
Jacob Lambert.

Garrett Strain, Dean’s Medalist in the Social Sciences

Garrett Strain, a double major in international studies and economics, is passionate about fair labor. He credits his parents, both former union members, with instilling an appreciation for workers’ rights; he credits the UW student group “Students Against Sweatshops” with turning that appreciation to action. As part of that group, Garrett has delved tirelessly into the questionable labor practices of companies, including some UW contractors.

An international studies major who’d never been abroad, Strain quickly rectified the situation by studying in Argentina during his sophomore year. Later on, his connection with Argentina continued as he focused on urban upheaval and national identity in contemporary Buenos Aires for his honors thesis.

“What has impressed me most about Garrett is his deep commitment to getting the social science right,” says Matthew Sparke, professor of international studies and geography. “He is a constant critic of his own arguments, but he never lets this paralyze his work.”

Deborah Porter, associate professor of international studies, describes Strain’s written work as “nothing short of brilliant” and says his attitude has earned “universal respect” from his peers and mentors. “Committed to professional excellence and equipped with the intellectual and social skills to realize his goals, he applies intellectual brilliance, sensitivity, and extraordinary energy and verve to all of his endeavors,” she says. “I joked with him recently that he had my vote for ‘most likely to change the world.’”

Garrett Strain discusses how academic theory and
real-life practice complement one aother.
Garrett Strain talks about his path toward activism.








Steffani Bennett
Steffani Bennett. Photo by
Jacob Lambert.

Steffani Bennett, Dean’s Medalist in the Arts

Like Beu, Steffani Bennett spent her childhood traveling the world. Her parents—both UW alumni—worked for the State Department, primarily in Asia.  As a child living in China and Taiwan, Bennett recalls, “I was surrounded by Chinese civilization and history. My earliest awareness of this was through the medium of visual art.”

At the UW, Bennett majored in art history, with a minor in Japanese language. Her wanderlust intact, she spent a year studying in Kyoto, Japan—not among the countries she had lived in as a child—and also participated in a UW Exploration Seminar in London.

“Steffani is the type of undergraduate one encounters only occasionally at any university: highly motivated, articulate, focused on specific goals and preparations, a sparkling intellect, respectful, and willing to devote a healthy balance of time and energy to her studies,” writes Cynthea Bogel, associate professor of art history and Bennett's primary advisor at the UW. Adds Susan Casteras, professor of art history, “Steffani’s larger-than-life talents are contrasted with a personal style that is superbly understated and humble yet powerful. In her quiet voice, she would say truly brilliant things, outshining even the graduate students who were my advisees.”

Bennett will spend the coming year at the Inter-University Program in Beijing to strengthen her Chinese language skills before embarking on graduate studies in art history, in preparation for a career as a curator. “I predict astonishing and impressive things for her in the future and believe she will be an extraordinary ‘ambassador’ of the UW,” says Casteras. Adds Bogel, "I can easily imagine one day in the near future, as I make my way to the office of 'Curator of Japanese Art ' at the Metropolitan Museum, that Steffani's name will be on the door!"

Steffani Bennett was abroad prior to graduation. In lieu of a videotaped interview, she answered several questions posed by Perspectives via email. Read here.


Will Johnson. PHoto by Jacob Lambert.
Will Johnson. Photo by
Jacob Lambert.

William Johnson, Dean’s Medalist in the Natural Sciences

“Brilliant.”  “A natural.” “Extraordinary.” Such superlatives are par for the course when faculty describe  Will Johnson, a double major in mathematics and computer science. Johnson was in the spotlight in 2009 after scoring in the top five nationally in the notoriously rigorous Putnam Competition in mathematics—the first UW student to accomplish this feat.

“Will Johnson is the best student,  graduate or undergraduate, that I have met in my over 45 years of teaching,” says James Morrow, Kauffman and Rebassoo Professor of Mathematics.  “He will certainly be one of the best mathematicians of his generation.”

Mathematics Professor William McGovern admitted Johnson into his first-year graduate algebra sequence despite Johnson’s lack of prerequisites. He was worried that Johnson might not be ready for the course, but quickly found that “Will has been the star of the course, constantly keeping me (and everyone else) on their toes with his penetrating and insightful questions. He has an amazing ability to grasp and engage with complex arguments very quickly.”

Will Johnson discusses the Putnam Competition.

During his time at the UW, Johnson has pursued research projects in both computer science and mathematics, including participation in the Mathematics Department’s Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) program. “He creatively found a solution to a problem that I had no idea how to solve,” recalls Richard Ladner, Boeing Professor in Computer Science and Engineering, in whose computer science lab Johnson worked last year. “After that experience, I suddenly realized that Will was no ordinary student, he was extraordinary.”

After being admitted to all the top mathematics PhD programs, including MIT and Princeton, Johnson has chosen to attend University of California, Berkeley. He has been awarded a National Science Foundation Graduate Fellowship.


Heather Raikes. Photo by Jacob Lambert.
Heather Raikes. Photo by
Jacob Lambert.

Heather Raikes, Graduate Medalist in the Arts

Heather Raikes has spent most of the past 13 years on college campuses—first as an undergraduate and master’s student, then as a teacher and specialist in new media, and finally as a PhD student in the UW’s Digital Arts and Experimental Media (DXARTS) program. Along the way she found time to dance professionally, start a media design firm, and have a baby, but she never lost her determination to push the artistic boundaries of digital media—which is why she enrolled in DXARTS’s PhD program.

“I had become increasingly aware of what a serious research practice is, and the way that people establish research practices that sustain them over a lifetime,” explains Raikes. “I realized that I hadn’t had the opportunity to really establish those foundations and lay out those root systems and ask those big questions in a formal way. That’s what motivated my coming here.”

At the UW, Heather asked those big questions, immersing herself in experimental work that tapped both her dance and technology expertise.  “Her most recent work has shown real artistic maturity, originality, and a mastery of technique, technology, and critical/theoretical thinking,” says Richard Karpen, director of the School of Music and co-director of DXARTS. “She has the knowledge and capability to become a real leader in one of the most challenging new disciplines in the arts.”

In the coming year, Raikes will join the Planetary Collegium as an advanced research associate of the Centre for Advanced Inquiry in the Interactive Arts at the University of Plymouth in the United Kingdom. She says that her postdoctoral work “will focus on artistic explorations of technoetic mythos, and articulating a new poetics for physical/media composition.”

Heather Raikes discusses how having a child has
changed her approach to her work.
Heather Raikes describes her thesis project.








Juned Shaikh. Photo by Jacob Lambert.
Juned Shaikh. Photo by
Jacob Lambert.

Juned Shaikh, Graduate Medalist in the Social Sciences

He holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Pune in India, but for his doctoral work on the evolution of dalit (“untouchable”) identity in Mumbai, Juned Shaikh chose to leave India and study in the U.S., earning a PhD in history at the UW.

With degrees in history and communication/journalism, Shaikh worked as a journalist for two major Indian newspapers, The Indian Express and The Asian Age, before deciding that he preferred to delve more deeply into questions of class than a journalism career would allow.  His research is ambitious in scope, covering 100 years of caste identity in Mumbai, bringing in the perspectives of numerous disciplines.

“I am both excited and dejected to see Juned finish up,” says Anand Yang, professor of international studies.  “Excited because his dissertation promises to be a highly original piece of work and dejected because his departure to the next stage of his career will mean the loss of someone many of us in the faculty consider to be one of our peers.” Adds Jordanna Bailkin, Costigan Professor of European History, “His intellectual originality and maturity have enabled him to produce an outstanding dissertation that I believe will speedily become a deeply influential book.”

In addition to researching and writing his dissertation, Shaikh has been an enthusiastic teacher and organizer of high profile activities and events related to South Asia, including a lecture series that brought specialists from far-flung locations to the UW. He will spend next year as a postdoctoral fellow at Yale and then join the faculty of Xavier University as an assistant professor in Autumn 2012. “Without a doubt, he is well positioned to emerge as one of the top younger scholars in the fields of history and South Asian studies,” says Yang. “He will always make us proud.”

Juned Shaikh discusses the pleasures of teaching
undergraduate courses.
Juned Shaikh explains why he chose to study Indian
history at the University of Washington.







Jentery Sayers
Jentery Sayers. Photo by
Jacob Lambert.

Jentery Sayers, Graduate Medalist in the Humanities

Jentery Sayers, earning his PhD in English, is fascinated by the intersection of the humanities with computing and new media. He explores the field of digital humanities in his research; it also influences his teaching and service. He co-organized two "unconferences" on new technologies and the humanities and served on the steering committee of the international organization HASTAC (Humanities, Arts, Science, and Technology Advanced Collaboratory)—the first graduate student ever to do so.

“This is my sixty-first year of teaching, in diverse fields and periods, and while I’ve worked with many impressive graduate students, Jentery Sayers is rare among them for his encompassing imagination and disposition to the new, while in no way disclaiming an informed sense of the past,” says Herbert Blau, Byron W. and Alice L. Lockwood Professor in the Humanities, professor of English and comparative literature and adjunct professor of drama. “He learns with remarkable dispatch, and absorbs ideas with a dialectical responsiveness that is almost naturally pedagogical, and that is not only true with his students at any level, but with faculty as well, with whom he has collaborated.” 

Phillip Thurtle, director of the Comparative History of Ideas program and associate professor of history, believes that Sayers’ skills as an instructor deserve special comment.  “Jentery loves what he does and it shows. I’ve seen students infected by Jentery’s enthusiasm and, then, allow that enthusiasm to transform their work. Students working with Jentery in the Summer Institute [for the Arts and Humanities] spent long hours putting their ideas into practice. Jentery was often working next to them, offering them the feedback and guidance creative teaching demands. Students were so enthused by working with Jentery that many took his class [the next quarter] to continue the experience.”

Sayers has won numerous awards and honors, including a National Endowment for the Humanities Fellowship, a Huckabay Teaching Fellowship, and a K. Patricia Cross Future Leaders Award. 

Jentery Sayers describes his experience designing an
undergraduate course with a colleague in geography.
Jentery Sayers discusses how the digital humanities
can enrich one's experience with a text.







Aurelia Honerkamp-Smith
Aurelia Honerkamp-Smith

Aurelia Honerkamp-Smith, Graduate Medalist in the Natural Sciences

Aurelia Honerkamp-Smith is off and running. Since earning her UW PhD in chemistry in 2010, she has been at the University of Cambridge, working as a postdoctoral fellow.  She already has had four significant works published in peer-reviewed journals from her dissertation, one manuscript submitted, another manuscript in preparation, and an additional publication from her undergraduate research. She also has garnered nearly a dozen awards, including the national Anna Louise Hoffman Award for Outstanding Achievement in Graduate Research.

“Aurelia is fearless in her intellectual endeavors,” says Sarah Keller, professor of chemistry and associate dean for research activities in the College of Arts and Sciences. “She is willing to take ambitious risks in order to find the answers to challenging questions.”

At the UW, Honerkamp-Smith worked with Keller on an investigation of critical fluctuations in lipid membranes.  Along the way, she produced the first successful systematic measurement for the exponent she was studying.  “All previous attempts by other researchers, using a variety of systems, were unsuccessful,” says Keller. “In the midst of answering a biophysical question, Aurelia found herself at the forefront of a long-standing problem in fundamental physics. As a result, her results will have a high impact across a range of scientific communities.”

After completing her postdoctoral position in Cambridge, Aurelia will seek a faculty position at a top-tier research university in the U.S. “I am confident that she will succeed,” says Keller. “I look forward to interacting with her as a professional colleague in the years to come.”

Return to Table of Contents, June 2011 issue