With interests ranging from Renaissance art to theoretical physics, the 2017 College of Arts & Sciences Graduate Medalists are deep divers, immersing themselves in big questions with no easy answers. Four medalists — representing each of the College’s four divisions — are selected each year based on faculty nominations.
Shuxuan Zhou, Graduate Medalist in the Social Sciences
Shuxuan Zhou grew up in Fujian, China, where the government opened the region's mountains to large-scale forestry, with social and environmental ramifications over decades of socialism followed by market reform. Zhou's dissertation in gender, women and sexuality studies presents a historical-ethnographic account of Fujian's forestry industry, particularly the role of gender in labor migration, mobilization, layoffs, and protest in that industry.
"Her dissertation documents in moving and innovative ways the experiences, stories, and strategies of workers who lost jobs through privatization of a socialist state-owned enterprise, as well as their collective efforts of resistance to seek redress and recognition," says Zhou's dissertation chair Sasha Welland, associate professor of gender, women & sexuality studies.
Zhou completed her research with the support of numerous fellowships and awards, including an Association for Asian Studies China and Inner Asia Council grant, a Chiang Ching-kuo Foundation Doctoral Fellowship, and support from the UW's Simpson Center for the Humanities, China Studies Program, Harrry Bridges Center for Labor Studies, and a UW Chester Fritz Fellowship.
"Zhou's deep intellectual curiosity and bold openness to new experiences and ideas has enabled her to make her scholarship speak to audiences in multiple fields, locally, nationally, and internationally," says Welland. "Gender and women’s studies is an emerging academic field in China. Shuxuan has already proven herself a vibrant transnational leader within this emerging formation of scholars and social activists."
Michael Wagman, Graduate Medalist in the Natural Sciences
Michael Wagman is also admired by faculty, though his theoretical physics research is considerably harder to describe. “He has broad research interests spanning fundamental symmetries to nuclear interactions to many-body theory to cosmology to the sign problem to Lattice QCD,” says Martin Savage, professor of physics and senior fellow in the UW’s Institute for Nuclear Theory.
If you didn’t understand all that, Savage’s praise of Wagman is easier to grasp. “He is truly an outstanding junior scientist with one of the brightest careers ahead that I have seen of any graduate student at this stage of their career,” Savage says. “He is remarkably knowledgeable for his age on a broad range of matters and has a keen interest in educating both younger and more senior students alike.”
Wagman, the recipient of the UW Sebastian Karrer Prize in Physics, will head to MIT this fall through a prestigious Pappalardo postdoctoral fellowship, where he will pursue independent research within the MIT Department of Physics for a three-year fellowship term, with mentoring and a stipend.
Erin Giffin, Graduate Medalist in the Arts
Erin Giffin's research in art history identifies and explores new questions about Renaissance religious sculpture. “Her work opens up the possibility for an entirely new history of Renaissance religious sculpture, and even of pre-modern European sculpture more generally,” says dissertation adviser Stuart Lingo, associate professor of art history. “It has been an honor to watch her development into a tremendously promising scholar.”
Giffin has presented her research at high-profile conferences in Berlin, Chicago, Vancouver BC, Cincinnati, and Florence, Italy. At the UW she taught three courses independently, earning stellar student ratings and the De Cillia Award for Teaching Excellence from the School of Art + Art History + Design. Ivan Drpic, assistant professor of art history, observed Giffin teach during a seminar in Rome and says, “Her energy, enthusiasm for the material, and passion for art history were such that students simply loved her.”
This fall, Giffin will head to Europe as a postdoctoral fellow at the Institut für Kunstgeschichte at the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität in Munich, Germany — a fellowship usually awarded to European scholars. “The Institute’s decision to break with standard practice and make the extra investment to bring Erin from the States is a remarkable testament to her rare qualities,” says Lingo.
Jane Wong, Graduate Medalist in the Humanities
Jane Wong knows a thing or two about fellowships. She has been a Kundiman Poetry Fellow and a finalist for the prestigious Ruth Lilly Poetry Fellowship. She also won the 2016 Stanley Kunitz Memorial Prize from American Poetry Review. Her first book of poetry, Overpour, was recently published. But Wong’s work as a UW graduate student in the Department of English does not focus on her own writing but instead on Asian American literary history.
Wong’s dissertation proposes that “haunting” is a unifying trope and theme across a variety of female-presenting Asian American and Asian diasporic poets. The haunting is sometimes linguistic, as heritage languages like Tagalog and Korean erupt in Asian American texts, and sometimes a vehicle for thinking about ethnic and national identity. “Wong’s dissertation is truly exciting, a major contribution to the swiftly growing field of Asian American poetics,” says Brian Reed, professor and chair of the Department of English.
A seasoned public speaker, Wong has presented her research at professional conferences and in two TED Talks. She has been a writing instructor at Hugo House, read with Writers Resist at Town Hall, and organized and run the Margin Shift poetry series. She has taught courses in Asian American studies and creative writing at UW Bothell as a Project for Innovative Pedagogy (PIP) Fellow, and was a visiting assistant professor at Pacific Lutheran University this past year — all great training for her next job as an assistant professor of English at Western Washington University this fall.
“She is brilliant, a once-in-a-generation sort of student,” says Reed. “She thinks deeply and carefully before advancing articulate opinions that, the more you think about them, the more far-reaching and profound they turn out to be.”