U.Va. Graduates Excelled in Scholarship and Research

The University of Virginia’s Class of 2015 has distinguished itself in many ways, earning dozens of prestigious national and University-wide honors and scholarships.

Class members received 37 Harrison Undergraduate Research Awards, six University Awards for Projects in the Arts, eight Double ’Hoo Research Grants, three Community-Based Undergraduate Research Grants, 40 Jefferson Public Citizens awards, two Arnold and Mabel Beckman Foundation Scholarships, an award from the William R. Kenan Endowment Fund of the Academical Village, a Davis Prize for Peace and a Humanity in Action grant.

The class also includes 26 Jefferson Scholars, 294 Echols Scholars and 39 Rodman Scholars.

Arts Awards

The University Award for Projects in the Arts is intended to expand students’ opportunities for creative expression and showcase significant accomplishments in the arts. The program funds outstanding undergraduate projects to be carried out in the summer and following academic year. Applicants propose a project of creative work, including plays or films; poetry or short stories; costume design; choreography; sculpture; painting; music composition or performance; creative design projects; or environmental or other installations.

  • Alex Rafala, 21, of Culpeper, drama major with a minor in film studies, wrote and directed a short film, “Farewell Old Stringy,” examining the suicide of a co-worker.  
  • Brittany Fan, 22, of Blacksburg, a double major with an Echols interdisciplinary major in studio art, art history and arts administration in the College of Arts & Sciences, and an elementary education major in the Curry School of Education, explored photography and painting, how they complement one another or cause tension, in a visual project on the landscape of the American West.
  • Nina Thomas, 22, of Arlington, a studio art and an interdisciplinary distinguished major in arts administration, explored art and community, focusing on understanding the role of art in people’s lives, specifically in Charlottesville.  
  • Nora Toh, 22, of Singapore, a double major in the politics honors program and English department’s Area Program in Poetry Writing, worked on the concept of transitional identities through poetry and accompanying artwork. “Transnationalism is a concept that invokes the idea of fluid identities, emphasizing that it is not something that should be confined to boundaries and false dichotomies,” she said.  
  • Kayla Berne, 22, of Charlottesville, a neuroscience major with a minor in studio art, explored a photography project.
  • Yiqi Cao, 21, of Blacksburg, a biomedical engineering major, traveled to China to explore her family’s food heritage, recording stories related to dishes and recipés and creating a photo journal.

Beckman Scholars

The “Equal Partners in Discovery” Beckman Scholars program at U.Va. provides annually one or more $19,300 scholarships to talented, research-oriented students who work in select mentors’ laboratories for two summers and the intervening academic year. In addition to summer salary and academic year financial support, the scholarships sponsor travel to, and participation in, national scientific meetings, and promote a professional level of research achievement during the undergraduate years. Funded by the Arnold and Mabel Beckman Foundation, the program aims to advance the education, research training and personal development of select students in chemistry, biochemistry and the biological and medical sciences.

• Andrew Lankenau, 22, of Herndon, who is receiving a bachelor’s degree in chemistry, researched the separation of two chemically identical tungsten fragments that activate a group of stable molecules towards non-traditional organic pathways, which then allows his research group to develop alternative ways to synthesize biologically active compounds, such as pharmaceuticals.

“Although the two appear to be chemically identical, the organic products that they create behave differently in biological systems,” he said. “The primary reason why I chose this topic is because it has enormous pharmaceutical potential.” 

He published this research in the Journal of the American Chemical Society in February 2015.

Lankenau will pursue a Ph.D. in inorganic chemistry at Stanford University. “Eventually, I would like to become a professor of chemistry at a large research university where I can both teach and run my own lab,” he said.

• Christopher Waters, 22, of Danville, a biomedical engineering major, researched measuring pulses of insulin within a range of glucose levels.

Under normal circumstances, beta cells in the pancreas secrete pulses of insulin at around five-minute intervals. These pulses are larger after meals and smaller at night or during fasting. There is a range of glucose levels that permit these pulses to occur. When glucose goes too low, beta cells “turn off”; when glucose is too high, insulin is released with tiny irregular pulses. Type 2 diabetes is associated with these tiny and irregular insulin pulses. While most previous therapies sought to increase the size, number or insulin secretion from beta cells in each islet, Waters’ data suggests to get optimal performance, islets in a diabetic environment should be made less responsive to glucose, not more.

“Diabetic islets overreact to blood sugar levels, and the goal of our research is to identify the mechanism behind the overreaction and produce a therapeutic cure to return the islets to healthy levels,” Waters said.

Waters plans to pursue a Ph.D. in biomedical engineering at U.Va.

Double ’Hoo Research Grants

The Double ’Hoo Research Grant supports pairs of undergraduate and graduate scholars who pursue joint research projects. The award seeks to encourage collaboration between the undergraduate and graduate communities at the University. First-, second-, and third-year undergraduate students and graduate students are eligible. Awards of up to $5,000 are granted to undergrad/grad pairs, to be used within one year. Faculty advisers receive $500 in research funds.

  • Catherine Zucker, 22, of Alexandria, a double major in history and astrophysics, researched star formation and galaxy evolution through the first systematic, high-resolution and high-sensitivity study of dwarf-dwarf galaxy interactions.
  • Rachel Deitch, 21, of Arlington, a government major, used quantitative statistical analysis and qualitative interviews to understand what determines congressional voting on Alzheimer's legislation.
  • Rahim Islam, 22, of Tappahannock, a computer engineering major, worked on developing sensing technology to detect the occupancy of rooms in a commercial building by tracking the number of people entering and exiting the room.
  • Molly Booth, 22, of Ashburn, a neuroscience distinguished major, with a minor in bioethics, studied the interaction of glial cells, which help form a functional peripheral nerve, during induced cell death.
  • Brian Shin, 21, of Chantilly, a biomedical engineering major, researched developing a blood clot removal device for interventional stroke care through the use of microbubbles.
  • Jing Shi, 22, of Tongling, China, a double-major in psychology and economics, and Thomas Talhelm, 29, of East Lansing, Michigan, a Ph.D. candidate in cross-cultural psychology, researched distinct cultural differences between northern and southern residents of China.
  • Sarah Hansen, 22, of Pittsford, New York, a biomedical engineering major, researched cardiac gene therapy. She will continue her research next year at the Swiss Institute of Experimental Cancer Research at École polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne as a Fulbright grant recipient.

Davis Prize for Peace

Anna Cait Wade, 21, of Suffolk, received a $10,000 Davis Projects for Peace award to spend her summer working with the Mariposa DR Foundation, a non-governmental organization working to end generational poverty in the Dominican Republic by empowering adolescent girls. She plans to implement a leadership development and mentoring component to the foundation’s day program for girls.

“The aim of my project is to equip the young women of Mariposa with the tools they need to lead confident, autonomous and purposeful lives,” said Wade, who is majoring in women, gender and sexuality. “These young women face an array of challenges in their everyday lives, including the risk of abduction, sex trafficking, early pregnancy and child marriage. Despite all this, Mariposa believes in their ability to become leaders of their community and of their own lives.

“These resilient, bright, passionate young women are eager to rise up to the expectations that have been set before them, but in light of all these challenges, they need guidance and tools to do so.”

The Davis United World College Scholars Program invites undergraduates at participating colleges and universities to design and propose grassroots projects they can implement during a summer. The 100 “most promising and doable” proposals each receive $10,000 grants, which were funded by the late Kathryn W. Davis, a lifelong internationalist and philanthropist who died in 2013 at the age of 106.

Sky Alland Scholarship

Alexandra Griswold, a finance and marketing major, garnered a $55,000 scholarship from the Sky Alland Scholarship Committee for 2014-15.

Griswold, 21, of Collegeville, Pennsylvania, was selected from about 50 candidates from across the University who had been nominated for the scholarship, awarded to a student who exemplifies leadership, achievement, enterprising spirit, humility and devotion to the University – traits attributed to J. Schulyer “Sky” Alland, a 1979 alumnus of the McIntire School of Commerce.

Alland developed a successful company around customer satisfaction surveys for automobile dealerships. He was killed in 1992 during a carjacking in the Washington, D.C area, where he had moved his company. Several of his friends and fellow alumni formed the Sky Alland Scholarship Committee in his memory and have been presenting this scholarship for 20 years.

Griswold said finance and marketing are fundamental components to any business.

Blackwell Graduates with a Pair of Fellowships

A pair of fellowships will help Ashley Blackwell fight hunger and discrimination this summer.

Blackwell, 21, of Charlottesville, a fourth-year urban and environmental planning major, received the Humanity in Action fellowship and the Congressional Hunger Center’s Bill Emerson National Hunger fellowship.

“I feel deeply honored and shocked to receive these fellowship opportunities,” Blackwell said. “When I found out about receiving the Humanity in Action Fellowship, I burst into tears because this will be my first time abroad and I cannot imagine a better orientation to another country. … The Emerson Hunger Fellowship is an incredible opportunity to learn how to bridge the gap between community-based efforts and national policy surrounding issues of poverty, hunger and social inequality.”

The Humanity in Action Fellowship explores the social and political roots of discrimination and provides a forum for potential solutions. It is a monthlong fellowship in Warsaw, Poland.

The Emerson National Hunger Fellows Program offers students leadership training, providing field experience with poverty and hunger through placements in community-based organizations across the country, as well as policy experience in Washington, D.C. Blackwell does not know where she will be working for this fellowship, valued at between $40,000 and $50,000.

The program bridges community-based efforts and national public policy, so fellows develop as effective leaders in a movement to end hunger and poverty.

Critical Language Scholars

The Critical Language Scholarship Program is part of a U.S. government effort, through the Department of State, to expand dramatically the number of Americans studying and mastering critical foreign languages. It provides fully funded, group-based intensive language instruction and structured cultural enrichment experiences. Program participants are expected to continue their language study beyond the scholarship and apply their critical language skills in their future professional careers

  • Sumra Ahmad, 21, of Alexandria, a foreign affairs major concentrating on the Middle East, studied Arabic in Morocco and wants to work in international development in the Middle East. He received a Critical Language Scholarship in 2014.
  • Jillian Carrigan, 21, of Leesburg, a graduating fourth-year majoring in South Asian languages and literatures, will study Urdu in Lucknow, India, this summer for the second time. She received a previous Critical Language Scholarship to study Urdu in 2013.
  • James Duke, 22, of Sterling, a graduating distinguished majors program student in South Asian studies, will study Urdu in Lucknow, India, for the second time. He had received a previous Critical Language Scholarship in 2012.
  • Daniel Ng, 22, of West Windsor, New Jersey, graduating from the distinguished majors program in anthropology and global development studies double major, will study Bangla in Dhaka, Bangladesh, for the second time. He received a previous Critical Language Scholarship in 2012.

Community-Based Undergraduate Research Grant

Community-based research seeks to foster collaborative partnerships between University researchers and the community, sharing knowledge among key stakeholders and addressing social inequities. Community-Based Research Awards for Undergraduates, funded by the Center for Undergraduate Excellence, provide opportunities for students to apply academic rigor to addressing documented problems.

  • Christina Leas, 22, of Vienna, an anthropology major, and Yutong Li, 21, of China, majoring in philosophy and minoring in East Asian studies, completed a project to research tourism and waste management in relationship to the Tibetan community of Lhamo, China, with an eye to seeing how visitors contribute to the area’s waste situation.
  • Ishaan Dharia, 22, of Fairfax, an economics major, worked with the Social Outreach Foundation, a school for underprivileged children from the slums of Delhi, to create a culturally and regionally customized general health course to be incorporated into the school’s curriculum.
  • Rosa Waters, 22, of Richmond, a student in the political and social thought distinguished majors program and Latin American Studies double major, studied how high school students experience critical pedagogy and community-based service learning in a global citizenship course that combines a group of graduate and undergraduate students from U.Va. with students from Charlottesville High School.

William R. Kenan Endowment Fund of the Academical Village

The William R. Kenan Endowment Fund of the Academical Village established an endowment to fund educational outreach programs that further the educational mission of Jefferson’s Academical Village. The fund supports five awards of $5,000 ($4,000 for students, $1,000 for faculty advisers) for full-time research to be conducted during the summer. The awards are open to all U.Va. undergraduate and graduate students.

Karsten Coates, 21, of Colonial Beach, received a Kenan Fellowship in 2014. He wrote a poetry collection portraying the Academical Village as a socio-educational community, highlighting its unique features and the community’s commitment to learning in action.

Coates is receiving bachelor’s degrees in psychology and cognitive science with a philosophy concentration, and a minor in global culture and commerce. She will enter the Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy to pursue an accelerated master’s of public policy.

“This scholarship has reassured me that there will always be value in the pursuit of artistic expression, and it has helped me more fully appreciate the Academical Village,” Coates said.

Media Contact

Matt Kelly

Office of University Communications