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Top Grad Students Honored

Story by
Nancy Joseph

From the Faroe Islands to the Democratic Republic of Congo, this year’s recipients of the A&S Graduate Medal have traveled the world for their dissertation research. The four medalists—representing the College’s four divisions—were selected on the basis of their academic record and faculty recommendations.  Here’s a look at their accomplishments:

Milli Lake

Milli Lake,2014 Graduate Medalist in the Social Sciences.

Milli Lake
Graduate Medalist in the Social Sciences
PhD, Political Science

Milli Lake has long been interested in human rights issues. For her dissertation research, she studied how two African nations—the Democratic Republic of Congo (DR Congo) and South Africa—have responded to gender-based violence.  She found that DR Congo, with a judicial system in disarray, produced far more progressive human rights rulings than South Africa, despite South Africa’s more institutionalized judicial system. Then she dug deeper to understand the complex reasons for this paradox. She spent more than a year in eastern DR Congo and South Africa to conduct her research.

“Milli’s fieldwork was both emotionally and physically draining,” says Joel Migdal, Robert F. Philip Professor of International Studies, who co-chaired Lake’s dissertation committee with Michael McCann, professor of political science and Gordon Hirabayashi Professor for the Advancement of Citizenship.  The fieldwork involved “living through months of war and insecurity, …forming relationships with people who suffered unimaginable hardship, and observing a small corner of the world be destroyed, rebuilt, and destroyed again,” says Migdal. Adds McCann, “Milli has shown great skill, sensitivity, and courage in gathering these original sources of data in a war-torn, extremely dangerous context. The fieldwork was a tour de force, in many ways.”

Lake, the recipient of nearly a dozen awards and fellowships, has already had two articles published in prestigious journals and is co-author on a book under contract.  She interviewed for four tenture-track positions for the coming year and received three offers—an exceptional result in the current job market. She has accepted a position at Arizona State University, where she will begin teaching this fall.

Todd Rygh

Todd Rygh (left), 2014 Graduate Medalist in the Humanities, with the librarian at the Chinguetti Mosque in Mauritania.

Todd Rygh
Graduate Medalist in the Humanities
PhD, English

“Highly original and often provocative” is how Gary Handwerk, chair of the Department of English, describes Todd Rygh’s dissertation, which focuses on the impact that medieval and early modern plays  had as living performances rather than simply as written texts.

Rygh showed great promise as soon as he arrived at the UW as a graduate student. “His work in class was superb, and his writing turned out to be even better: probing, tightly argued, excellent, some of the best-nuanced critical prose I have seen in graduate-level work in over thirty years of teaching,” recalls John Coldewey, professor emeritus of English, who served as Rygh’s dissertation director. Coldewey lauds the dissertation as “a smart and sophisticated study” that earned the highest ranking from all three members of the dissertation committee. 

Rygh has traveled the world, from Europe to Africa to the Middle and Far East, in part thanks to a coveted Bonderman fellowship. This fall he will join the faculty of American University of Iraq as an assistant professor. “The position suits him,” says Coldewey. “His wide-ranging travels and curiosity about people and cultural traditions is unmatched in any other student I have taught.”

Benjamin Van Kuiken

Benjamin Van Kuiken, 2014 Graduate Medalist in the Natural Sciences.

Benjamin Van Kuiken
Graduate Medalist in the Natural Sciences
PhD, Chemistry

If you’re looking for tools for conducting transient X-ray experiments—high level stuff, nothing like the x-rays used to diagnose broken bones—Ben Van Kuiken is your guy.  For his dissertation research, Van Kuiken experimented with a method known as “synchrotron-based ultrafast X-ray absorption spectroscopy” to study chemical dynamics in solution. “He is in a unique position to impact a nascent and rapidly developing field,” says dissertation adviser Munira Khalil, assistant professor of chemistry.

Van Kuiken has collaborated with researchers at various national laboratories, including the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory.  At the UW, he is a valued member of Khalil’s research team.  “Ben has a fine sense of chemical intuition and very strong computational and theoretical skills,” says Khalil. “He is widely sought after by all my group members to discuss scientific problems.”

With three publications as first author, three more as co-author, and two more first-author publications in the works, Van Kuiken is establishing his reputation as an important contributor in the field of ultrafast X-ray science. He will build on that this coming year as a postdoctoral research fellow in Germany at the Max Planck Institute for Chemical Energy Conversion.

Kimberly Cannady

Kimberly Cannady, 2014 Graduate Medalist in the Arts, playing the Icelandic langspil at a local instrument maker's home in Iceland. Media credit: Peter Leonard

Kimberly Cannady
Graduate Medalist in the Arts
PhD, Ethnomusicology

Nordic music is the focus on Kimberly Cannady’s research, particularly the ways in which Icelandic musicians negotiate cultural heritage, national identity, construction of the nation, and senses of belonging through their musical performance. Her research led her first to Denmark, where she studied Danish and met with Danish scholars, and then to various locales within the North Atlantic, including Iceland and the Faroe Islands.

Cannady has presented papers about her research at numerous conferences in Europe and the US since 2010, and is currently a lecturer (equivalent to a US assistant professor) in ethnomusicology at Te Koki New Zealand School of Music.  At the UW, she co-taught a large lecture course in American folk music. “Poised, articulate, and clear, she is a wonderful speaker,” says her dissertation adviser Christina Sunardi, assistant professor of music. “I have also been impressed with Kimberly’s attention to and concern for student learning.”

Cannady has plans to conduct further research in the Nordic region while also developing locally-informed research projects in Polynesia, particularly in the Cook Islands. Whatever the project, says Sunardi, “Kimberly’s work will surely reflect her sensitivity to Nordic perspectives as well as her insightful analysis as a scholar….  Through her work, she is sure to push the field of ethnomusicology in positive directions, encouraging cross-cultural, interdisciplinary collaboration.”