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Want a Medal with that Doctorate?

Story by
Nancy Joseph

Three Arts & Sciences graduate students earned special recognition from the College this month: the 2016 Arts & Sciences Graduate Medal, awarded to exceptional graduate students based on faculty recommendations. This year’s honorees include a sociologist, a literary scholar, and a mathematician. Read more about Ryan Gabriel, Rachel Arteaga, and Shirshendu Ganguly.

Ryan Gabriel, A&S 2016 Graduate Medalist

Ryan Gabriel

Graduate Medalist in the Social Sciences
PhD, Sociology

Much of Ryan Gabriel’s research concerns the nature of racial dynamics and stratification in the U.S.  In his master’s thesis, Gabriel identified mechanisms through which a legacy of lynching in southern states relates to modern-day homicides. For his PhD dissertation, he turned his attention to residential mobility patterns and segregation, focusing on the experience of mixed-race couples in the U.S.  One chapter has already been published by Demography, the leading journal in the population sciences, and Gabriel has twice presented at annual meetings of the American Sociological Association and the Population Association of America.

Beyond his dissertation, Gabriel has been an active member of the Department of Sociology. “He has been one of those students that provides a bit extra,” says Jerald Herting, professor and chair of the department, citing Gabriel’s involvement in graduate recruitment efforts, a recent faculty search, collaborative projects with fellow graduate students, and as a facilitator for undergraduate research experiences.

Gabriel’s long list of honors include, but are not limited to, an American Sociological Association Minority Fellowship, a UW Center for Studies in Demography and Ecology Fellowship, and a UW Graduate Opportunity Minority Achievement Program Fellowship. This fall he will join the faculty at Brigham Young University as a tenure-track assistant professor of sociology.

Rachel Arteaga, A&S 2016 Graduate Medalist

Rachel Arteaga

Graduate Medalist in the Humanities
PhD, English

“A brilliant, ambitious, and beautifully written work.” That is how Professor Kathleen Woodward describes Rachel Arteaga’s PhD dissertation, titled “'Sorrow Brought Forth Joy’: Feelings of Faith in American Literature,” which considers literary texts from the perspective of faith, in tandem with the writings of great religious thinkers. “I have never seen a dissertation in literary studies so bold and subtle at the same time, so strongly and carefully thought through, and so important across multiple registers,” says Woodward, professor of English, Lockwood Professor in the Humanities, and director of the Simpson Center for the Humanities.

During her graduate career, Arteaga has embraced the digital humanities, using digital technology to further humanities scholarship. She founded a Simpson Center Graduate Interest Group on teaching with technology and developed a digital pedagogy project for high school teachers in her hometown of Elma in Grays Harbor County, Washington. She is now assistant program director for “Reimagining the Humanities PhD and Reaching New Publics,” a Simpson Center program supported by a four-year Mellon Foundation grant. 

In her current role, and in previous projects with the Simpson Center, Arteaga has impressed faculty with her maturity, dedication to public higher education, and vision of what can be achieved. “I do not use the word ‘leader’ lightly,” says Woodward. “Rachel Arteaga is a leader. Passion, expressed quietly and firmly, a gift for clarity, and a capacity for persistence and steadiness are among her qualities…. I can easily imagine her years hence as the president or provost of a college or university.”

Shirshendu Ganguly, A&S 2016 Graduate Medalist

Shirshendu Ganguly

Graduate Medalist in the Natural Sciences
PhD, Mathematics

“If Shirshendu Ganguly had arrived at the UW five years ago as an assistant professor instead of as a graduate student, his body of work would surely have been enough to have earned him tenure,” says Christopher Hoffman, professor of mathematics and Victor Klee Faculty Fellow, referring to the more than one dozen papers authored or co-authored by PhD student Ganguly that have been accepted for publication in top journals.

Though Ganguly’s papers cover topics ranging from random matrix theory to Markov chains to spin systems in theoretical physics, they all tackle probabilistic questions coming from statistical physics. “I have no doubt that in a few years, Shirshendu will be a world leader in probability,” says Hoffman. “He is stunningly quick and has shown an amazing breadth and depth.”

Ganguly, whose academic awards include a Douglas Lind Fellowship from the Department of Mathematics, has also shown generosity of spirit. During his years at the UW he mentored his fellow graduate students, teaching them new material, providing tips on doing research, and helping them write up results. Ganguly’s next step? He’s headed for the University of California, Berkeley, where he will be a Miller Fellow in statistics and mathematics.