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The Scholarship recipients 2021 Information is from the applications

Jerika Barron, UC San Francisco, Biomedical Sciences (Norall award)

View a video of Jerika describing her work

Jerika studies neuroimmune interactions during brain development. The broad goal of her research is to "understand the influence of the immune system on the developing brain." Her interdisciplinary work "brings together neuroscience and immunology and has revealed a novel role for immune cells in synapse development." The hope is to help "understand diverse disorders such as epilepsy, autism, and schizophrenia and . . . help identify ways to harness immune functions in a therapeutic manner to restore synaptic connections."

To quote one of her professors, "Her work has changed our understanding of how immune signals impact the development of the brain, and will shape our lab's studies for years to come." She has also demonstrated "persistence and tenacity" in her lab work.

Gil Breger, UC Berkeley, Near Eastern Studies

Gil's dissertation is titled "The Ziqpu-stars and Cuneiform Knowledge: Meaning, Applications, Contexts."

As he notes, "Time plays a significant role in society. Human activities revolve around time, and the ability to regulate time has been used as a powerful tool of control." His dissertation provides us with "a better understanding of alternative ways of conceptualizing the world."

Among the courses he taught at Cal was "Astronomy before the Telescope: Pre-modern Understanding of the Heavens."

One of his professors noted that "Gil's work provides an exciting addition to the discussions around the origins of our scientific knowledge production and observation in model building, bridging the gap between the technical side [of reading cuneiform] and the humanistic challenge of making sense of a period that is so fundamentally different from our own." 


Tal (Tali) Caspi, UC Davis, Ecology

View a video of Tali describing her work

Tali is studying the diet of urban carnivores--specifically, individual coyotes in San Francisco--to see, among other things, how urbanization affects evolutionary changes in species. She is trying to determine whether urban carnivores "consume human-provided food because of environmental factors . . . or because of individual characteristics." Her research will "provide insights into coexistence and mitigation strategies that may reduce human-wildlife conflict in urban areas."

She previously studied pest damage in the Ethiopian highlands and worked on the Santa Cruz Puma Project out of UCSC [at least one of whose researchers has won a PBKNCA award].

Her professors called her "unusually creative, intellectually curious, and highly motivated."


Lewis Esposito, Stanford, Linguistics (Gilliland award)

Lewis is studying sound variation in spoken English in California. He argues that fluctuations in language, like fluctuations in fashion, are driven by changes in tastes and situations. The form of speech that dies does so "not for linguistic reasons, but because the form 'goes out of fashion.'" Additionally, linguistic features often reflect the ideologies of specific activities (e.g., bodybuilding instructors and yoga instructors use different speech patterns). He is drawing on the recorded speech of 200+ speakers "to examine how a range of phonetic variants . . . pattern both macro-socially and micro-socially."

His professors note his "collaborative spirit and intellectual generosity" and his way of "coming up with completely cutting-edge ideas."


Iris Holzer, UC Davis, Soils and Biogeochemistry

View a video of Iris describing her work

Iris's research focuses on "practical, scalable carbon sequestration approaches in cropland soils." Specifically, she is working on an approach to quantify carbon sequestration from enhanced rock weathering. Where previous studies have looked at proxies for weathering or simply calculated assumed rates of carbon sequestration, Iris has "developed an experimental design to directly measure carbon storage from the rock breakdown." She complements her field studies with greenhouse experiments to examine results under more controlled environmental conditions.

Her professors have called her "self-reflective and thoughtful, . . . an engaged, driven student and a sagacious young scientist." "She has demonstrated her aptitude at identifying critical gaps in research and brilliance at creating experiments to address these gaps."


Jonathan Lear, UC Berkeley, History

View a video of Jonathan describing his work

In his dissertation, "Splitting the Atom, Fusing the Nation: Japan, West Germany, and the Making of the Atomic Age," Jonathan examines how those two countries went about producing nuclear energy for commercial purposes. The large-scale use of commercial atomic energy "was an essential piece of the postwar project of national development." He argues that the nuclear industries of these two countries "need to be seen in the light of their transwar origins and the collective ideological reorientation of elites in a post-fascist world."

One of his professors wrote that "the imaginative, wide-ranging and daring research design for this dissertation indicates what is exceptional" about Jonathan, "who has mastered two very different fields and historiographies." Another noted that "he thinks with a combination of discipline and knowledge and intellectual daring."


Claire Magnani, UC Berkeley, Chemistry (Hendess award)

View a video of Claire describing her work

To quote Claire, "As a synthetic chemist my work in the laboratory is to build molecules, and my doctoral research is focused on the synthesis of two compounds--altemicidin and harringtonolide. These natural products, isolated from marine bacteria and yew tree seeds, respectively, have garnered attention for their reported activity against cancer cell proliferation and their unique structures, which provide a vast territory for chemical exploration." Claire is exploring this vast territory. Her aim is to "use chemistry to study the intersection of immunology and cancer biology to better understand tumor proliferation as cancer moves from localized to metastatic disease."

One of her professors called her "both a natural leader and an outstanding steward of Science . . . someone you want alongside you in the trenches." Another noted, "In short, she was stellar."


Julia Melin, Stanford, Sociology

Julia's research "is broadly focused on gender, organizations, and labor market inequality." Regarding the first, she investigates how perceptions of gender influence both hiring and the practices involved in assessing talent. A second stream evaluates "technology-based interventions designed to improve women's organizational advance." The third stream examines "how gender and the use of career re-entry assistance shapes workplace outcomes." To bring all these streams together she is conducting a large-scale randomized control trial with "a leading healthcare certification platform." "Overall," she writes, "my research projects are designed to examine and solve real-world problems as they relate to gender inequality in the workplace."

Her professors called her "creatively brilliant" with a "bias toward action."


Joseph Passman, UC Berkeley, History (Hardardt award)

View a video of Joseph describing his work

In "Schools of Violence: Chinese Military Academy Students in the Contest for the Modern Nation, 1885-1954," Joseph uses military academies--"a unique institution providing systematic education for the explicit purpose of creating agents of state-directed violence--as a lens to view a diverse, little-understood group of students and teachers who collectively played central roles in China's turbulent transition from a dynastic empire to the nation-state we see today." The Qing military academies provide "a key matrix of continuity between empire and nation." He shows that classical education did not irretrievably decline under the weight of Western modernity.

The professors who recommended him speak of his "depth of commitment and native intelligence" and his "promise as a dedicated teacher."


Ashley Perez, UCSF, Sociology

View a video of Ashley describing her work

Ashley's dissertation "examines the sexual healthcare experiences of LGBTQ+ people assigned female at birth from diverse racial/ethnic backgrounds in order to identify suggested program, practice, and policy recommendations to improve their care experiences." Whereas previous studies have recruited mostly white participants, Ashley's research "intentionally recruits a racially/ethnically diverse sample of individuals and uses intersectionality . . . in combination with other critical approaches." She also examines how stereotypes about sexual risk spill over into patient-provider interactions and may lead to incorrect or incomplete health advice. The goal of her research is to undo the stereotypes and "create a more inclusive clinic environment."

Her professors recommended her as "conscientious, hard-working, and incredibly perceptive and insightful."


Kathryn Pribble, UC Berkeley, Slavic Languages and Literature

View a video of Kit describing her work

Kit's dissertation, "Sideshadows of Literary History: Alternative Forms and Aesthetic Thought in Late Russian Romanticism," asserts that Russian literary culture of the 1830s and '40s "was driven by a unique impulse to create new forms in literature." She examines whether art is capable of representing extra-artistic truths and, if so, what mode or genre is best suited for the task.  She centers on "the interconnectedness between literary art . . . and philosophical and political theory in nineteenth-century Russia." The texts she analyzes are not usually read together, and her analysis suggests new aesthetic possibilities and alternative visions of Russian literary history.

Her professors call her "a top-notch researcher" and "a strikingly original thinker."


Nina Venuti, UC Davis, Ecology (Reed award)

View a video of Nina describing her work

Nina's research focuses on understanding the direct effects of fire on the reproductive capacity of the mixed conifer forests of California's Sierra Nevada region. To get answers, she surveys Jeffrey pines and white firs in the 2019 Caples Fire footprint in the Eldorado National Forest, where she collects information on tree size, fire injury, and stand density. She uses high-powered spotting scopes "to meticulously count maturing cones in tree canopies." She will also collect a handful of cones in order to quantify the number of viable seeds per cone. This work will both "enrich our understanding of the effects of fire injury on conifer reproduction" and provide insight into how "more frequent, severe fire might affect trees' ability to recover and adjust to a changing climate."

One of her professors noted that she is "a creative and integrative thinker who notices and synthesizes details . . . and then [translates them] into clear language and prescriptions for action."


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