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Top Grad Students Honored

Story by
Nancy Joseph

Earning a PhD is accomplishment enough for most graduate students, but three recent Arts and Sciences grads received the A&S Graduate Medal along with their doctorates this spring. Here's a look at their accomplishments in the fields of comparative literature, physics, and gender, women and sexuality studies.

Amal Equiq Portrait

Amal Equiq. Media credit: Isaiah Brookshire

Amal Eqeiq
Graduate Medalist in the Humanities

Amal Eqeiq, who describes herself as "a native-Palestinian from Israel/Palestine," was the first in her family to go to college and only the third Palestinian woman to earn an MA in English from Israel's Tel-Aviv University. At the UW, where she earned a PhD in comparative literature, her thesis compared Palestinian literature in Israel and Mayan literature in Chiapas, Mexico as indigenous minority literatures. 

“Intellectually Amal brings together a deep and intimate knowledge of contemporary Arabic and Israeli culture and the Arab language with a knowledge of Spanish and Latin American studies, in particular issues relating to Mexico and to indigenous movements and cultures,” says Cynthia Steele, professor of comparative literature, who co-directed Eqeiq's dissertation with Terri deYoung, professor of Near Eastern langauges and civilization. “This is a very unusual pairing of areas of expertise, and Amal is poised to make some highly original discoveries through her innovative work.”.

At the UW, Eqeiq taught comparative literature courses—including courses on immigration and displacement in the Global South, Israeli and Palestinian literature, and Palestinian film—as well as Arabic language and English composition courses. Beyond her academic work, Eqeiq is an activist and a writer. She has received several fellowships, including a dissertation fellowship from the American Association of University Women and a writing residency at Hedgebrook: Women Authoring Change. Now she’s headed for Williams College, where she will be a Visiting Assistant Professor of Comparative Literature and Arabic. “I fully expect that she will go on to a distinguished career as a university teacher and scholar,” says Steele.

Alan Luo Portrait

Alan Luo. Media credit: Isaiah Brookshire

Alan Luo
Graduate Medalist in the Natural Sciences

Yuan-Lung “Alan” Luo is a Husky to the core. Before earning his PhD in physics, he was a UW undergrad, graduating magna cum laude with a BS in physics and a minor in mathematics. During his many years at the UW, he also found time for business courses and the University’s cycling club. And he helped launch an online campaign tool on Taiwan’s human rights issues as a member of American Citizens for Taiwan.

As a graduate student, Luo worked with Aurel Bulgac, UW professor of physics, on implementing a new approach for the study of superfluid fermionic systems using what was then the world’s largest supercomputer. “Alan's program later evolved by being applied to other systems and surpassed by more than a factor of a 1,000 any other similar approach in the world,” says Bulgac. “The new physics elicited out of the simulations was a tour de force on Alan's part.” Bulgac adds that the results of their studies were published in Science and Physical Review Letters, premier science and physics journals.

Kenneth Roche, a scientist at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and UW affiliate associate professor of physics, has been equally impressed by Luo’s work. “The theoretical physics he has undertaken is a difficult advanced topic even for intellectually gifted people and he has made real contributions as a graduate student,” says Roche. “However, the thing about Alan that stands out to me is his grace, for lack of a better word. He has been reliable and calm under pressure, and I usually feel happier after I interact with him. I have never witnessed Alan lose these outstanding features even momentarily in the roughly five years I have known him. …I find the combination of these special features, coupled with the intellectual gifts he has, to be rare.”

Martha Gonzalez Portrait

Martha Gonzalez. Media credit: Isaiah Brookshire

Martha Gonzalez
Graduate Medalist in the Social Sciences

2013 was a big year for Martha Gonzalez. In addition to earning a PhD in gender, women and sexuality studies, she was honored with an A&S Graduate Medal and a Grammy Award. The Graduate Medal and Grammy have more in common than one might assume, since Gonzalez’s music—her band, Quetzal, won the Grammy for Best Latin Pop, Rock or Urban Alternative Album—is inspired and informed by her scholarly work.

Gonzalez’s PhD dissertation, “Chican@ Artivistas: East Los Angeles Trenches Transborder Tactics,” concerns the development of Chicana music in East Los Angeles from the 1990s to the present. “In addition to music theory and Chicana feminist theory, I was surprised and blown away by Martha’s use of feminist development theory [in her dissertation],” comments Priti Ramamurthy, chair of the Department of Gender, Women and Sexuality Studies. “Martha’s scholarship is rich, highly original, and provocative. It combines social scientific and humanistic approaches, and it brings a unique voice and perspective to studies of labor, economic development, and social movements.” Gonzalez came to the UW as a Fulbright scholar and later received a Ford Dissertation Fellowship.

Martha Gonzalez performance with Quetzal

Martha Gonzalez (with microphone) and her band Quetzal performing in East Los Angeles in February 2013. Media credit: Angelica Macklin

During her time at the UW, Martha also co-founded and built three major community projects: the Seattle Fandango Project, which organizes song, dance and music workshops and gatherings around Seattle to build social activism through participation; the Women Who Rock Project, dedicated to feminist understandings of music, gender, and race; and the Women of Color Collective, for UW graduate students of color to meet and support diversity at the UW through grassroots organizing and community formation.

The community projects will continue without Gonzalez, who now joins the faculty of Scripps College as the first tenure-track professor of the intercollegiate Chicana/o Latina/o studies program for the Claremont Colleges (of which Scripps is part). “Martha’s emergence from urban East LA to the University of Washington...and on to her [position]...at Scripps College is nothing short of a remarkable journey, and one we in the College can be very proud to be part of,” says Ramamurthy. “She epitomizes who we are, what we stand for, and what we do best.”