An Academic Dream Team

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Nancy Joseph 07/01/2008 July 2008 Perspectives

Forget the superhero with the ability to leap tall buildings. Or the one who can read minds. To really get things done, just tap the talents of this year’s Dean’s Medalists. 

Each year, the College of Arts and Sciences awards the Dean’s Medal to a handful of graduating seniors based on grade point average, the difficulty of their chosen courses, and faculty recommendations. This year five students were selected: Ben Cowin, Jeff Eaton, Joshua Fincher, Alice Gosti, and Graham Griffiths. Their combined brain power, curiosity, and determination make them a dream team to rival any superheroes. 

2008 Dean's Medalists for the College of Arts and Sciences include (from left) Josh Fincher, Ben Cowin, Graham Griffiths, Alice Gosti, and Jeff Eaton.

Some, like Jeff Eaton, are already tackling challenging real-world problems. Working with Sociology Professor Sam Clark, Eaton spent a year in South Africa studying the spread of HIV—more specifically, the impact of male circumcision on HIV infection rates.

For his research, Eaton used all that he had learned while pursuing degrees in mathematics, sociology, and statistics. He went on to earn bachelor’s degrees in mathematics and sociology and a master’s degree in statistics, with a minor in music thrown in for good measure.

“In South Africa, Jeff’s contributions impressed his hosts so much that he has been invited back to spend as much time as he wants at their expense,” says Clark.

Like Eaton, Graham Griffiths is thinking globally. With a double major in philosophy and economics and a minor in international studies, he is intrigued and troubled by the gap between rich and poor countries and the difficulty of moving from a state-dominated economy to a market-dominated one.

Griffiths has interned in Washington, D.C. and spent six months in Egypt, learning Arabic along with his other studies. “He travels a lot, not as a tourist, but as a social scientist and philosopher eager to learn about and understand the deep economic, political, and religious problems faced by many societies in the Middle East,” says Michelle Turnovsky, senior lecturer in economics.

Alice Gosti, another world traveler, found inspiration in the most unlikely of places: airports. A dance major who has performed with the UW’s Chamber Dance Company and On the Boards, Gosti designed a research project that involved choreographing, and then performing, a dance at airports around the world.

“In my 25 years as a professional dance artist, I know of nothing comparable to the project she envisioned,” says Mark Haim, Dance Program senior artist-in-residence. “It was a bold and innovative venture.”

Of course no dream team would be complete without one scientist who is well versed in quantum physics. Enter Ben Cowin. A double major in astronomy and physics headed toward a career in astrophysics research, Cowin so impressed his UW professors that one recalls adding more difficult problems to a final exam just to challenge him. (The other students must have been thrilled.) Of course Cowin wasn’t stumped.

Cowin has pursued numerous research projects, most related to the structure and evolution of galaxies. At the same time, he has served as section leader in the Husky Marching Band and will play with the Olympic Orchestra, an international marching band, at the Olympics in Beijing.

The final member of this year’s dream team? Josh Fincher, a classicist with an astonishing mastery of ancient languages including Greek, Latin, Sanskrit, Biblical Hebrew, and Ugaritic (as well as French and German), and a fascination with ancient literature and culture.

“This is no information geek,” says Stephen Hinds, professor of classics and Lockwood Professor of the Humanities. “Everything he adds to his expertise is considered in a big-picture way. He is a seeker of nuance and complication.”

With their varied expertise and shared passion for learning, this is a group of graduates to be reckoned with. Fortunately, they plan to use their powers for the greater good. We can all look forward to hearing more from them in the years to come.

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