Log in

Scholarship Recipients 2014

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

Megan Ammirati, UC Davis, Comparative Literature

Megan's dissertation--"Sai Jinhua on the Stage: Acknowledging the Contributions of Female Performers of Male-authored Texts"--argues that the emergence of the Chinese female actor in the 20th century fundamentally affected all subsequent drama and that the professionalization of female performance in Asia differs significantly from the similar process in Restoration England. "This comparative perspective . . . demands a re-evaluation of women's experience of the stage."

In addition to her innovative research, Megan developed five unique courses for an intensive summer course on courtesan literature based on her research and was subsequently asked by the department to design and lead an orientation course for new TAs at the UC Davis Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning. She also served as the graduate student coordinator for the Receptions Conference held in Davis last summer.

Her professors call her work "highly innovative, comparative, and interdisciplinary" and note that she "epitomizes what we want in a future academic: outstanding as a teacher, skilled in administration, and creative and original in her research."

Carissa Chu, UC San Francisco, Medicine, Reed Scholarship

Carissa is examining the structural barriers to hepatitis C treatment and their implications for curing HIV. As she noted in her application, "Biomedical cure does not equal successful implementation. A more comprehensive understanding of the social context" of curing a disease "is fundamental to informing the logistics and implementation of future research and programs." Her research project, therefore, integrates clinical medicine and social science.

She has been a volunteer teacher in the science and health education program at UCSF, designing and teaching bi-weekly science lessons for elementary school children in San Francisco, and a coordinator of the medical Chinese elective at UCSF. She is also a peer reviewer for the journal PLOS ONE and a Doris Duke International Clinical Research Fellow.

Her letters of recommendation note that she is "extremely upbeat and energetic" and able "to work with people from very different cultures." A well-known MD who recommended her wrote that her "focus, energy and determination . . . [make] her ultimate success more probable than [that of] any student I have recently seen."

Emily Cibelli, UC Berkeley, Linguistics

In her dissertation, "Plasticity in the Acquisition of Non-native Phonemes," Emily studies the way that learners "acquire the sound categories, or phonemes, of a new language." As many of us know, learning a new language is often difficult (especially for older students) in part because the sounds of the new language don't "map" to the sounds of our native language. Emily uses two complementary methodologies--a behavioral study and a neural study--to investigate how learners can more efficiently acquire new phonemic categories.

She is a "skilled and dedicated successful teacher, with has extensive classroom experience as reader, grader, researcher, and TA. She has also been mentor and research advisor for graduate students in the department and was the graduate student representative in faculty meeting in the Department of Linguistics.

She has been noted as "an extremely capable and creative researcher, . . . quietly alert" and with "superb work habits," "able to navigate [her wide-ranging] interests while maintaining the highest level of quality in her work."

Alex Djalali, Stanford, Linguistics

Alex is working in linguistics, specifically attempting to give a precise, semantic analysis of adjectival comparatives. As he wrote, "Humans like to make comparisons. Whether it be an argument over the greatest athlete of the twentieth century--Muhammad Ali or Michael Jordan" or which government policy will produce the "best" results--"humans . . . mak[e] comparisons. . . . [And] comparisons are important because they help us . . . either impose structure on the world or discover its preexisting order, if we believe such order exists."

Alex has also participated actively in several formal and informal research groups and played a key role in organizing the department's ongoing Construction of Meaning Workshop. In their evaluations of him as a TA, "students praised his commitment to helping them master the material and his responsiveness to their needs."

His professors called attention to his "formidable analytical skills, inquisitive mind, and ability to generate original ideas." He was also singled out as "a clear and engaging presenter" and "a clear and effective teacher and advisor."

Melissa Eitzel, UC Berkeley, Statistical Ecology, Hendess Scholarship

Melissa's dissertation is titled "A Study of the Population and Community Ecology of California Trees through Remote Sensing, Demography, and Statistical Modeling." Her work focuses on "applying sophisticated quantitative tools to existing data sources for the purpose of reaching better conclusions to guide environmental management." She is in the process of writing a science brief of her first chapter for lay readers. Her goal is to push boundaries and "integrate different kinds of knowledge not usually seen as comparable in order to allow us to make better environmental stewardship decisions."

Melissa's numerous awards include one for outstanding graduate student instructor. She also served as coordinator for "Interdisciplinari-Tea," an interdisciplinary graduate discussion group that became the first Intercampus Workshop on Interdisciplinarity . She has also been a museum interpreter volunteer and interpretive guide at the Lindsay Wildlife Museum.

About the IDTea, one of her professors concluded that without her leadership, "the event would not have taken place. Her vision and persistence and willingness to do almost all the heavy lifting made it happen." Her "defining intellectual characteristic is the willingness to do the hard work of moving beyond her comfort zone. . . . I don't think I have ever seen anyone else hurl herself across such wide divides and land on her feet on the other side." In addition, she is "brilliant, curious, and enthusiastic."

Her website is

Dorothy Kronick, Stanford, Political Science

Dorothy's dissertation, "Crime and Electoral Punishment," asks "why--in the face of all apparent incentives--governments in Latin America so often fail to police poor neighborhoods." She hypothesizes that "many governments . . . make a deal: gangs help politicians at the polls, politicians help gangs by removing the police." She aims to show a causal relationship through "descriptive regressions that investigate the extent to which changes in local crime incidence predict changes changes in local vote shares." Her interest is in a career bridging academia and policy.

Dorothy has been a research assistant at the World Bank and the IMF--and maintains working relationships with colleagues there--and has written for The New Republic and Al Jazeera English, among others. She also distinguished herself as one of the best teaching fellows in the political science department.

One of her professors began his letter of recommendation with his conclusion: "Dorothy Kronick is an incredibly bright, creative, and hard-working young scholar who is proposing a project that will have a big scholarly payoff and . . . real-world implications." Another noted that she is "the rare political science student who combines advanced technical knowledge with extensive substantive knowledge of a substantive topic."

Serena Le, UC Berkeley, English

Serena's dissertation, "Bigger Than the Sound: The Acoustic Space of Modern Poetry," examines how our relationship to hearing affects the way we read, write, and teach literature. (One of our committee said, "I started to get lost when reading the application. Then I began to read it aloud, and it came clear.") The larger stakes of her project are pedagogical, but she is also "interested in what modernist texts can teach us about the importance of early education reform. . . . In this regard, literary scholarship trails far behind current research in science, psychology, and education." Through her work, she hopes to close that gap.

Serena has been a course instructor, TA, reader, and guest lecturer. "Students uniformly adored her, both because of her vibrant classroom presence and because she took such care in grading papers and making them better writers." Her undergraduate experience included volunteering as "a music educator in elementary schools with no resources for music or art programs" and participating in a weekly program that brought children from those schools to the Swarthmore campus, "paired them with undergraduate tutors, and provided them with choral lessons."

One of her professors noted that she "demands answers to precise and telling questions that I had not even imagined were significant issues before encountering her inquisitive and capacious mind"; she is "a multi-talented, dedicated, organized and joyful scholar" (and an accomplished musician).

Alison Leaf, UC San Francisco, Cell Biology

Alison is working in cell biology, studying communication between cells. She has developed a project "based on a specialized structure present on the surface of almost all vertebrate cells, the primary cilium." Her careful work on the D1 dopaminergic receptor "has begun to reveal the molecular machinery that transports this receptor to cilia." Part of her goal is to make her research accessible to non-scientists. As she wrote in her application, "It's 7pm on a Saturday night as I jump in a cab and direct the driver towards the other side of San Francisco. However, the conversation never ends with directions. I inevitably reveal that I am a scientist at UCSF, inviting further questions. . . . My first mission is to dispel the notion that science is only for the brilliant academics who lock their knowledge in ivory towers. Science is in fact for everyone. . . .These conversations are also a chance to demonstrate that science is not too complex for non-scientists to grasp. . . . I emphasize that basic science research has the potential to lead to major medical advances and scientific breakthroughs because it is not limited by the goal of curing only one disease."

She was awarded a UCSF Discovery Fellows award (for demonstrating the potential to become an inspirational leader in her field) and a UCSF Tetrad Program Outstanding Teaching Assistant Award.

According to her professors, "Alison is generous and enthusiastic, . . . [with a] combination of passion, drive, intelligence and concern for others." She is "an absolutely stellar graduate student who has already made a significant original discovery." "She could become a successful and respected laboratory scientist, but her rare personal qualities--infectious enthusiasm, intense energy, tenacious curiosity, and indomitable drive--allow her to take the risk of entering a different and immensely important arena."

Christopher Miller, UC Berkeley, English

Christopher's dissertation--"Public Enemies: Vagrancy, Experience, and Lyric in American Poetry"--tracks the "implications of Whitman's lyrical experiments . . . and analyzes figures of migrant labor, wayward love, and immigrant experience in the poetry of Robert Frost, Hart Crane, and William Carlos Williams." As he notes, "How vagrancy has been represented in popular imagination or sociological analysis--as tramps, hobos, homeless, etc.--has always been tied up with defining who gets to move, what they are moving for, and who is responsible for their inclusion/retribution."

Christopher is also an accomplished poet--he won the Eisner Prize in Poetry at Cal in 2011 and 2012--and has served as editor, co-curator, and co-editor for several poetry journals. He has also served as an instructor, TA, and reader in numerous courses and is "probably the only member of the department to have taught the full range of our three basic survey courses in English and American literature."

One of his professors wrote that he is "a superb thinker and critic, amazingly well-read, [and with] a sharp critical mind. . . . His analysis is unfailingly subtle and intense [as well as] unfailingly rich. . . . When I visited his section that he taught in conjunction with a lecture course I was teaching on Shakespeare, he seemed to me among the very best student teachers I have seen. He was very imaginative in presenting the materials and very patient in facing the difficulties students had with the language and situations of the plays." His orals committee had a one-word evaluation: "Wow!"

Allison Rhines, Stanford, Biology

Allison's research focus "is in modeling the transmission and control of infectious respiratory disease, [using] these methods to study major infectious threats to global health and biosecurity." Coming into infectious disease epidemiology from a background in demography placed her "in a position to work on topics in infectious disease transmission from an interdisciplinary perspective."

Allison served as a summer intern as a member of the Integrated Delivery team of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. At Stanford she has been a student representative to the Stanford University Committee on Graduate Studies, the Stanford Board of Judicial Affairs, and the Stanford Committee on University Honors and was on the Stanford Graduate Student Advisory Panel to the Biology Faculty Hiring Committee. She has also been a student co-instructor for a student-initiated course in global health where, according to her professor, "she showed a remarkable level of initiative and innovation in planning academic content, recruiting guest speakers, and managing the course. She also showed remarkable insight into the material that needed to be presented . . . and recruited a diverse and complementary range of speakers."

According to another of her professors, "Allison Rhines is unique. . . . She is the only student I have seen who is completely at home with the natural scientific, social scientific, and humanities-based divisions of scholarship."

Hernan Sanchez Casalongue, Stanford, Chemistry

Hernan's field is chemistry. His research focuses on "the use of advanced spectroscopic techniques . . . to understand the underlying mechanisms of catalytic processes for renewable energy." His aim is to "create better materials to achieve cheap, clean, renewable energy." His passion lies in "understanding how things work." He has worked to gain knowledge in other areas that might complement his education and has learned "the joy of facilitating and participating in collaborative research."

He is an experienced scientist with chemistry, materials science, and mathematics background. In addition to his research experience, he has been a TA, a trainer of Stanford chemistry TAs, and a MINT (Mentors in Teaching) Fellow.

One professor wrote that Hernan "has impressed me with his diligence, work ethic, creativity, and attention to detail. . . . [His] Ph.D. project is challenging, to say the least [, . . . and] he is successfully bridging two very different fields." Another noted that "he is strong in both experimental work and analysis of the data."

Sarah Selvidge, UC Berkeley, Latin America, Gilliland Grant

Sarah's dissertation--"Modernism, Modernization, and Miracles: Architecture, Housing, and the State in Mexico, 1940-1970"--centers on the argument that "through the development of national housing policy, architectural modernism became central to the political culture of Mexico's long-ruling Institutionalized Revolutionary Party." She explains "the changing role of the government in the lives of urban citizens after WWII by focusing on the character of political institutions." She shows "how modernist urbanism led the federal government to play a more important role in providing for the basic needs of the urban labor force."

Sarah has "established strong connections with the academic, cultural, and museum world in Mexico, as well as demonstrating great initiative in organizing speaker series, workshops, and other spaces of intellectual exchange between U.S. and Mexican scholars." She also designed and taught an undergraduate history seminar.

Her professors note the "superiority of her intellect, project, and energy" and note that "her dissertation will not only knock down walls between disciplines and literatures, but also contribute greatly to our understanding of what the Mexican state and Mexican intellectuals were up to during this pivotal but understudied period." Her approach to her material is "incredibly sophisticated," and she also has "an unusual capacity, for a historian, to deal with visual culture."

Quick links

Follow our activities

© Phi Beta Kappa Northern California Association

Powered by Wild Apricot Membership Software