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Prescription for a Bright Future: 2009 Dean's Medalists

Story by
Nancy Joseph
2009 Dean's Medalists (from left) Laura Hinton, Ada da Silva, Pavan Vaswani, and Mike McCrea.

2009 Dean's Medalists (from left) Laura Hinton, Ada da Silva, Pavan Vaswani, and Mike McCrea.  Media credit: Nancy Joesph

For those worried about our country’s future, the College of Arts and Sciences has the perfect prescription: the 2009 Arts and Sciences Dean’s Medalists. 

These four students, representing the College’s four divisions (arts, humanities, social sciences, and natural sciences), can offer hope to the most practiced pessimist. Their intelligence, curiosity, creativity, and community involvement are powerful medicine. 

So relax and take a moment to hear from the medalists. You’ll be feeling better before you know it.

Pavan Vaswani, Dean's Medalist for the Natural Sciences 

Vaswani completed a triple major in biochemistry, neurobiology, and computer science, completing all three degrees in four years while maintaining an overall GPA of 3.99. The Dean’s Medal is the latest in a long list of honors for Vaswani, who has been named a Goldwater Scholar, Mary Gates Scholar, Washington Scholar, Space Grant Scholar, and most recently, President’s Medalist, the UW’s top honor for undergraduates (shared with fellow Dean’s Medalist Laura Hinton). 

Vaswani has been engaged in research throughout his UW career, joining his first research team during the summer prior to his freshman year. That first project was a study of glaciers, which had him flying high above Alaska, streaming 100 meters of antenna out of a small airplane. But for most of his time at the UW, he has been working in a laboratory in the Department of Neurological Surgery, where he is developing a device to measure brain pressure non-invasively using ultrasound.

“Pavan Vaswani is the single strongest undergraduate I have taught in my more than 20 years as a faculty member,” writes Paul Beame, professor of computer science and engineering, adding that past students have included Rhodes Scholars or Rhodes finalists. Other faculty describe Vaswani as “brilliant, deep, and broad” and “truly extraordinary.”

This fall, Vaswani heads for The Johns Hopkins University, where he will enter the MD/PhD program.

Ada Albuquerque da Silva, Dean's Medalist for the Humanities

da Silva majored in French and has had a long fascination with languages. (Her other languages include Spanish, Portuguese, and Latin.) Homeschooled until age 14, da Silva completed her high school education by attending North Seattle Community College through the Running Start Program. After graduating at age 16, she travelled to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, where she spent two years teaching English before returning to Seattle to attend the UW. 

Dedicated to issues of social justice, da Silva volunteered as a tutor for Proyecto Saber, where she assisted Chicano students at Seattle's Ballard High School in adapting to English coursework; served as a refugee mentor with the International Rescue Committee assisting a refugee family from Burma; worked with immigrant preschoolers through AmeriCorps’ Jumpstart program, and volunteered as a translator for the American Red Cross’s language bank. 

“In a culture where students are increasingly expecting significant financial returns on the ‘investment’ of their college education, it is wonderful to meet the rare exception who enters the workforce truly committed to social justice and change,” writes Louisa Mackenzie, assistant professor of French and Italian studies. “Ada will surely change the world in whatever ways she can.”

da Silva, who is married to a Brazilian and expecting her first child in August, plans to stay at home with her child for several years, and then return to school to pursue a graduate degree in social work.

Laura Hinton, Dean's Medalist for the Social Sciences

Hinton, who is also a President’s Medalist (an honor shared with fellow Dean’s Medalist Pavan Vaswani), transferred to the UW from North Seattle Community College. She majored in anthropology with a minor in women studies.

Interested in how stigmatized people interact with the health care system, Hinton has spent the past year volunteering for the People’s Harm Reduction Alliance, a needle exchange program in Seattle’s University District. She built her senior thesis around the topic of intravenous drug users’ use of the program and their perceptions of the health care system.

“She did not hesitate to dive into some of the most difficult concepts in her field and emerge with incisive commentary and reflection,” writes Ben Marwick, assistant professor of anthropology, describing Hinton’s anthropology honors thesis. ”Laura’s final proposal for this class was a gem of clarity and rich with intellectual promise.”

Hinton plans to attend nursing school so that she can continue to work with marginalized populations on health issues.

Michael McCrea, Dean's Medalist for the Arts

McCrea majored in Digital Arts and Experimental Media (DXARTS), reflecting his interest in both art and technology. 

His projects have included a performance piece in collaboration with a choreographer in the Dance Program; an ambisonic sound installation that uses ultrasound in novel ways; and a commissioned work for On the Boards that was selected to be performed regionally. He also has been a member of numerous research groups, including the DXARTS ultrasound group, and has assisted in the running of DXARTS’ facilities as a student employee.

“Mr. McCrea is a rare and brilliant student, the kind we all know is out there yet only see a few times in an academic career,” writes Shawn Brixey, director of DXARTS and Floyd and Delores Jones Endowed Chair in Arts and Sciences. “He is deeply ambitious, always accepts the most responsibility, and thrives undertaking work others quite honestly are too worried or cautious to do.”

McCrea continues to work in the DXARTS office, with plans to attend graduate school in the future.