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The Scholarship recipients 2016 Information is from the applications

Sarah Ackley, UC San Francisco, Epidemiology and Translational Science

Sarah's work is on measles outbreaks. They cost us $100,000 per case--money diverted from other public health programs. The goal of her dissertation research is to determine why some outbreaks are larger than others. She also aims to determine whether there is evidence that the B3 measles strain (think Disneyland) is more transmissible than other streams and whether clustering of unvaccinated individuals explains why unexpectedly large measles outbreaks occur. The results of this work will contribute to making evidence-based decisions to improve policy decisions.

Her professors call her "the most mathematically gifted, quickest thinker, and most technically formidable student with whom I have ever worked . . . remarkable [and] . . . formidable," "a very talented researcher with great potential" and "a pleasure to work with."

Thinh Chau, UC Davis, Medicine (Norall Grant)

Thinh is unable to be here tonight because he has a mandatory clinical clerkship scheduled. He sends sincere thanks to the selection committee members and to PBKNCA for their support of [his] academic and research pursuits.

Since he can't be here to explain his research, I'll read from his application: "An organism's genome encompasses all the genetic material [that] encodes the biological information required to generate and sustain life. Thus, careful preservation of genomic integrity throughout an organism's lifespan and its faithful transmission to the subsequent offspring generation are essential. In humans, errors in either of these crucial biological processes can result in severe consequences including malignant transformation of normal cells into cancerous ones and aberrant genetic inheritance [e.g., Down syndrome]."

His current research investigates the role of orphan nuclear receptor Nur77 in determining cell fate following genotoxic stress--important because findings from work in this area "may serve as a clinically relevant predictor of cancer aggressiveness and response to therapy"(especially with regard to liver and colon cancers).

Thinh is a first-generation immigrant and the "first in [his] family to obtain a bachelor degree and pursue a doctorate. He wrote, "I am immensely grateful to have been afforded the numerous opportunities that have enabled and guided my path toward medicine.

I quote from his letters of recommendation: "Thinh's background demonstrates immense resilience which is conveyed through his history of perseverance in the face of overwhelming family conditions. Born in Vietnam, Thinh's family came to California as refugees. His family of five lived in a one-bedroom apartment. [Because his parents did not speak English, Thinh, the oldest son] became the caretaker for his siblings while his parents worked at labor jobs in order to support the family. These challenges made Thinh realize the struggles that families and individuals face along with instilling in him a sense of obligation to assist vulnerable families and communities and to address inequities."

"Thinh is an excellent student, a leader in the student-run clinics and actively involved in events sponsored by the Asian community to increase awareness of medical problems facing this population. He possesses qualities seen in truly great physicians."


Jacob Habinek, UC Berkeley, Sociology

Jacob begins one section of his application with the following: "In the eighteenth century, biology did not exist." Naturally, the committee had to read further to find the support for this provocative statement.

Jacob's research is "broadly concerned with processes of change within organizational fields: groups of organizations that orient their actions toward one another because they compete for clients, patrons, suppliers, or other audiences." His dissertation analyzes three very different episodes of institutional innovation within such fields: the contemporary global market for asset-backed securities, alternative medicine in the early United States, and laboratory biology in nineteenth-century Germany." He took on the first of these in 2013 in a co-authored paper "Swapping Our Future: How Students and Taxpayers Are Funding Risky UC Borrowing and Wall Street Profits."

According to his professors, Jacob "is capable of doing almost anything. He is an intellectual omnivore." He is "one of the most methodologically versatile, well-read, and analytically sophisticated students" at Berkeley. "In sum, Habinek is a truly rare specimen, as a biologist might say."


Molly King, Stanford, Sociology

Molly studies "the way knowledge is socially structured. The bulk of [her] research investigates who 'owns' knowledge and the implications of that for inequality. [Her] dissertation work focuses on what people know, across all domains of knowledge, and how class, gender, and race structure that knowledge. [She is] interested in inequalities in what [she calls] 'information capital' between groups."

One of her working papers is titled "Men set their own cites higher: Gender and self-citation across fields and over time."

One of her professors notes that he is "[very] bullish on Molly" because she always gets things done and never has an excuse. He also notes that she is "highly analytical, has a great capacity for clear-headed deductive reasoning, and thus writes papers that are ruthlessly logical." Another notes that she "is a warm, thoughtful person who believes in and is skilled at working in interdisciplinary teams . . . a creative scholar who has the ability and the ambition to improve our social world by reducing inequalities."


Jasmine Mote, UC Berkeley, Psychology/Clinical Science

Jasmine is studying incongruent emotion in schizophrenia with the aim of understanding the potential contributing factors to such experiences. Too often, a patient diagnosed with schizophrenia reports feeling an abundance of negative emotion in daily life; such negative emotions seem to persist even in the face of putatively very positive experiences. Jasmine intends to find out why.

As a child, Jasmine dreamed of becoming a writer. She became fascinated with writing dialog. "What people think, say, and do, and the disconnect between these behaviors, is not only the basis of any good fictional story but also of any interesting research question," she wrote. She continued, "I realized that what I enjoyed the most about writing was the same as what fascinated me about psychology: I wanted to understand the minds of others."

According to her professors, "Jasmine possesses that rare combination of critical intelligence and staying power that is needed to identify and then follow through with tough and important research questions. . . . [Her work] is important, innovative, and relevant across disciplines." She is "'a triple threat' future clinical psychologist, with sheer excellence as a research investigator, clinician, and instructor." And "she is a simply wonderful teacher."


Kerry Persen, Stanford, Political Science (Gilliland Grant)

Kerry is studying religious identity and political violence in Southeast Asia. She is exploring the conditions under which mobilization against extremist groups and ideologies flourishes--in particular, how moderates respond to violence perpetrated in their religion's name, how social and political mobilization against violent groups comes about, and the political and economic obstacles to coordinated opposition to violent groups and their messages. The ability to employ moderates against radicals could be an effective alternative to military and other costly interventions.

One of her professors calls her "a deep and sophisticated thinker . . . an outstanding written and oral communicator . . . [and] a highly original and serious scholar." Another notes "her talent and her potential as well as her personal integrity and warmth" and continues, "I am also encouraged by the fact that Kerry actually wants a career as a teacher of undergraduates as well as a researcher."

Kerry cannot be here tonight because she is in Indonesia conducting dissertation fieldwork. She asked me to accept this award on her behalf and to read this description of her work.

Kerry sent this thank you note...


Elan Portner, Stanford, Biology

In studying open ocean ecosystems, Elan focuses on the Humboldt squid, "which supports the twelfth largest single-species fishery in the world and plays central trophic roles in pelagic ecosystems of the eastern Pacific as both a voracious predator and an abundant prey." His study "will be some of the first work to use remotely sensed data to describe the behavior of midtrophic mesopelagic organisms."

His "passion for marine ecology and specifically an interest in understanding oceanic food webs" has been noted by those recommending him for this award. They also note that he has "the independence, drive, work ethic, and intellectual capacity to become a great scientist" and is "a bright and creative thinker." ​


Jesse Cordes Selbin, UC Berkeley, English

Jesse's dissertation is titled "The Social Life of Reading: Literary Attention and Mass Culture in Nineteenth-Century Britain." Her thesis is that Victorians envisioned literature as the backbone of broad civic education and sought to activate political engagement through literature. "Employing formal devices designed to solicit close attention and collaborative discussion, novelists, poets, and journalists shared a simultaneous commitment to the cultivation of individual self-improvement and the fostering of thick social ties."

The first section of her dissertation "uncovers the work of prominent figures who sought to conjoin mass education and literary' attention"; the second part "traces the contributions of major literary authors to the promotion of mass-scale critical reading." [E.g., in '"Mind Your Stops," readers are cautioned, enjoined to parse variants in punctuation."--my parents, Ayn Rand and God; Merle Haggard's ex-wives, KrisKristopherson and Willie Nelson]

Her efforts to develop new methods for conveying the importance of humanistic inquiry have earned departmental, university-wide, and national teaching awards.

Her professors call her "a resourceful, imaginative, [and] at the same time scrupulous and accurate thinker and writer. . . . Her work has a great deal to say to current debates about the social mission of education in the humanities."'


Bronwen Stanford, UC Santa Cruz, Environmental Studies (William and Adeline Hendess Scholarship)

Bronwen's research focus is on environmental management, a subject that began to interest her on her family's circumnavigation when she was a teenager. She notes that "one of the most pressing challenges facing humankind is striking a balance between human resource use and the protection of ecological function. . . . We need to learn how to support as much ecological function as possible within human-dominated landscapes." 

At this time she is particularly interested in aquatic ecosystems, which are "both unusually vulnerable and unusually valuable." What works and what doesn't in watershed restoration? In conjunction with her research, she is particularly committed to mentoring undergraduates.
According to her professors, 
"Bronwen is extremely hard working . . . an excellent writer . . . and an engaging mentor." She is set on "developing research that bridges ecological theory and contributions to effective ecosystem stewardship."


Racheli Wercberger, UC San Francisco, Neuroscience (Elizabeth B. Reed Scholarship)

Racheli's research focuses on the importance of brain circuitry in the experience of pain. Thus, the objective of her research is "to characterize the molecular signature of pain-relevant projection neurons and then to use that information to grant access to pain circuits in the brain."The results of her research should enhance our ability to treat chronic pain.

In addition to her research project, the committee were particularly interested in these comments from her application: "Having grown up in an insular community, I know that scientific illiteracy is often the root of intolerance and misunderstanding. The great divide between scientists and the public can--and must be--bridged by science communication and education. . . . Since enrolling at UCSF, I have been committed to finding ways to spread science to communities that it might otherwise not reach." Examples followed.

Her professors noted her dedication to science writing and called her "disciplined, well-organized, independent, and very articulate. She is creative and capable of finding unique solutions to interesting problems. She is charismatic and well-liked and respected by her peers."

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