Up Close with Student Award Winners: March 2018
In this issue, we're excited to spotlight the winners of the Fall quarter Boothe Prizes and Lunsford Awards. They will be honored in person in a ceremony in May 2018.
Syd Westley: Boothe Prize Winner (Fall 2017)
Syd Westley won the Boothe Prize for her essay, "Conversing with Silence: Destabilizing Understandings of the Linguistic Reverberations of the Japanese Internment Camps," an essay she wrote for Tesla Schaeffer's PWR 1 class, "Academic Identity/ies: Culture and Politics in Higher Education."
Originally from Tiburon, California, Syd is an English major minoring in Comparative Studies in Race and Ethnicity (CSRE). Her project is the natural culmination of work she had already been doing related to the internment camps, in part because of her family's own connection with that experience:
I have been conducting research on Japanese Internment for about a year now (interviewing my grandparents and friends, visiting two internment camps and multiple museums, and reading as much as I can), and I've written a 54 page poetry manuscript exploring how internment has worked trans-generationally through my family and myself (which I'm hoping to get published once I'm finished). I really believe that the Asian American literary canon needs expanding, and I hope that one day I can contribute to it.
Tesla writes of Syd's project:
Sydney’s paper is extraordinary in the questions it asks about the capacities of academic study, especially with regard to representing historical trauma and its transgenerational resonances. She asks us to go beyond traditional meaning-making practices to consider embodied communication, interpersonal silence, and love as sources of knowledge about human experience. I am so proud to have had the chance to work with her last quarter!
In a further reflection on her work in PWR, Syd elaborates on this resonance between her academic work and her personal investment in writing, reading, and reflection:
The work that I did for my PWR class and final essay was really a prosaic continuation of the research that I've been doing and a lot of the poetry that I've been writing. I feel so blessed that Stanford values the powers of writing and rhetoric as much as I do; I really believe that writing allows us to reach each other in ways that can enable solidarity, social critique, and even perhaps social change. I feel so lucky that PWR allowed me the space to enter into an academic conversation and speak back to all who came before me.
Lucas Sato: Boothe Prize Honorable Mention (Fall 2017)
Lucas Sato received the Boothe Honorable Mention for his essay, "Not with a bang but a computer: An investigation in promoting safe AI research," which he wrote for Jennifer Johnson's PWR 1 class, "The Language of Thought and Power." The project reflects Lucas's interests; although he is undeclared, he plans to pursue Computer Science as his major. Jennifer notes the way in this intellectual focus informed his project from the very first days of the quarter:
From the start of the class, Lucas was determined to write about the current AI conversation, but he wanted to take a new spin on the “optimists” vs. “doomsayers” discourses. The rigor of his comparative historical approach is impressive and the interweaving of patho and logos immediately draws the reader into his paper. The historical depth alongside the contemporary analyses allows Lucas the ability to distill an understanding of the AI conversation from a new angle. He leaves the reader with a sense of urgency and anticipation for what comes next.
When asked to comment further on Lucas's achievement, Jennifer shared the following:
It was an absolute delight to watch Lucas grow as a writer and researcher throughout the quarter, building on his passion for studying AI and his contagious intellectual curiosity. We often tell our students to write about topics they are invested in or want to learn more about. Lucas did just that. He once commented during the research process, “this has long ceased to be just ‘a PWR assignment’ and has taken up a lot of meaning in my life!”
For his part, Lucas had this to say when reflecting on his experience in PWR:
My experience in PWR was very intense and passion-driven. My research topic was regarding the existential risks from artificial intelligence, which is what I hopefully might be working with or doing further academic research on. It was definitely a lot of work, but extremely enjoyable - even after I was done, I still kept going through the sources I had collected and reading them, as it was all so fascinating for me. My professor, Dr. Johnson, was also extremely helpful and supportive throughout the whole process, and it was very clear how her sole intent was for us to be producing our best work possible.
When he's not writing award-winning essays on AI, Lucas also enjoys dabbling in psychology, math, economics, and architecture. Outside the classroom, Lucas is a part of Students for a Sustainable Stanford and the International Undergraduate Community (he is originally from Brazil). He also is a research assistant at Stanford's Center for Spatial and Textual Analysis (CESTA), where, as he says, he gets "to apply [his] programming skills to meaningful questions in the humanities."
Lucas's essay will be available online here in late May 2018. You can congratulate Lucas (and Syd) in person at the Boothe Award Ceremony on May 16.
Michelle Chang: Lunsford Award Winner (Fall 2017)
A psychology major originally from Walnut Creek, California, Michelle won the Lunsford award for her presentation, "The Death Cafe Movement." She originally created her presentation for Selby Schwartz's PWR 2 class, "Are We There Yet? The Rhetoric of Mobility." Selby's comments on Michelle's presentation offer a helpful gloss for engaging with the award-winning talk:
It's clear from Michelle's presentation that she's thought deeply about how we can confront our mortality with more intention and more collective compassion--and even with more humor. But I also notice how she continually thinks about how to encounter her audiences. She employs strategies of auto-ethnography and storytelling to situate herself in her work, and thereby to draw us into this exploration with her. I recognize in Michelle's work the kind of writerly moves made by Michelle Alexander and Atul Gawande; she begins with us where we are, by letting us know that she began there, too. In my class, we often talk about "the ethos of not knowing." I appreciate Michelle's willingness to embody that ethos: to dive into what is most difficult to ask, to teach us what she is still learning, and to speak from a place of empathetic curiosity.
For her part, Michelle found the class "transformative": "In my PWR 2 class, our philosophy to view 'making as giving' was transformative in my growth as a writer and presenter. Moving beyond rhetoric with the intent to gain or persuade, the rhetoric of giving encouraged me to view my project as a gift to my classmates and ultimately clarified the heart of the project."
In her life beyond PWR, Michelle is heavily involved in social psychology research, working on a project in empathy denial. She invests her "free" time in trying to create spaces for people "to connect deeply with each other and acknowledge each other's unique contexts and histories." She serves as a peer counselor on campus and a volunteer for a local youth crisis hotline and is also in the process of organizing a collaborative zine between incarcerated artists and Stanford students through the Prison Renaissance Project.
Won Gi Jung: Lunsford Award Winner (Fall 2017)
Won Gi received the Lunsford award for his presentation, "Tale of Two Cities: Portrayal of Reality in Colonial Detective Literature," which represented the culmination of a research project that he completed for Irena Yamboliev's PWR 2 class, "The Many Faces of Sherlock: Race, Gender, Power, and the Rhetoric of the Detective." Irena writes of Won Gi's work in her class:
It was a joy to work with Won Gi. He was sensitive from the start to the world-making force of detective fiction, and to the particularly acute stakes the genre can have in a colonial context. And, as a scholar, he was attentive to the fact that his findings about the novel Ma-in could form real bridges between robust and influential academic traditions, including post-colonial studies, Korean literary studies, history, and the digital humanities. But he also never lost sight of the immediate power his subject has for all of us as readers of stories, whether fictional or non-fictional. Attending to the particular social structures that create obstacles for the characters in Ma-in—and those that created obstacles for Ma-in’s author, Kim Nae-sŏng—Won Gi reminded our class that imaginatively confronting the adventures, villains, and triumphs that our fellow humans face can be profoundly eye-opening. Can be an education. At every stage, Won Gi’s enthusiasm and intellectual curiosity were infectious.
A sophomore majoring in history, Won Gi comes to Stanford from Busan, a coastal city in southernmost South Korea. He spent two years on leave for military service and initially found transitioning back to life on the Farm challenging; however, he found an intellectual home in Irena's class. "I became more confident in speaking and writing through my PWR 2 course with Irena," he writes. "She has been one of the most supportive and helpful instructors I've met at Stanford." Won Gi plans to develop a portion of his research from the class into a long-term project. Elaborating on his academic interests, he explains, "I'm interested in modernization in a colonial context, and how it continues to influence politics in post-colonial states. For now, I aspire to become a documentary journalist, using creative narratives and multimedia to engage with diverse communities." (Photo credit: Liam McGregor)