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Top Honors for Four Undergrads

2017 A&S Dean's Medalists

Story by
Nancy Joseph

They are curious. They inspire their classmates. They are world travelers, peer tutors, and scholars. They are the College of Arts & Sciences Dean’s Medalists, selected on the basis of their GPA and glowing recommendations from faculty. Learn more about these UW seniors, who are at the top of their graduating class. 

Brendan McGovern
Brendan McGovern, Dean’s Medalist in the Arts

Brendan McGovern, a double major in music and history, has performed in the UW Wind Ensemble and jazz ensembles and has delved into jazz history. For his senior thesis, he researched jazz education in Seattle from the 1960s through 1980s and dispels the popular notion that jazz education was free of racial tensions. 

“His research topic and method — conducting oral history interviews with prominent figures in Seattle’s jazz education community — required him to engage in often sensitive conversations about racism and class privilege,” writes Lynn Thomas, professor of history. “He handled those conversations with great skill and humility, and grew both intellectually and socially through doing so. Brendan never backed away from the challenges of research.”

McGovern has been similarly fearless as a musician. He has been a member of the UW Wind Ensemble and the Improvised Music Project, a student-run group that organizes monthly jazz or improvised music concerts. “Brendan is the kind of student one dreams of working with,” says Ted Poor, artist in residence in the School of Music. “He is curious and completely invested in his studies, and always quick to provide encouragement to younger, less experienced players.”

After graduation, McGovern will spend the next eight months traveling the world through a Bonderman Travel Fellowship, looking at the role music plays in various cultures in the Caribbean, South America, West Africa, and Southeast Asia.

Anna Mikkelborg
Anna Mikkelborg, Dean’s Medalist in the Social Sciences

Anna Mikkelborg is a double major in political science and law, societies & justice (LSJ). She participated in a summer study abroad program in Bangalore, India; served as a writing tutor at the Political Science / Law, Societies & Justice / Jackson School of International Studies Writing Center; spent one quarter in Olympia as a legislative intern; and was chief editor for an undergraduate journal, the Jackson School Journal of International Studies. Mikkelborg also found time to volunteer as a peer mentor for the Interdisciplinary Honors Program and as section leader for the University Chorale. She also served on the Arts & Sciences Advisory Committee for Students, advising the Dean on a broad range of issues involving students.

Mikkelborg’s professors describe her as “a brilliant student” who more than held her own, even in a graduate course on research design. That course was instrumental as she later researched her senior thesis on campaign finance reform. “Each iteration of her thesis reflected huge leaps in analysis of different types of data,” says her thesis co-adviser Michael McCann, professor of political science and Gordon Hirabayashi Professor for the Advancement of Citizenship. “I soon viewed meetings with her and readings of her work in the way I do with our best graduate students. …I was excited by the next encounter as she continued to develop her project.” The paper went on to receive an honorable mention for the 2017 Law and Society Association Undergraduate Student Paper Prize. Mikkelborg also received the Robert Dahl Award for Outstanding Senior from the UW Department of Political Science and the Ezra Stotland Award for highest academic performance from Law, Societies, and Justice. 

A recipient of multiple scholarships, including a Fritz Scholarship, Karin Stromberg Memorial Scholarship, and a Mary Gates Research Scholarship, Mikkelborg will spend the next year at Oxford through a fellowship from Nuffield College before entering a PhD program at UC-Berkeley with the hope of becoming a professor of American politics.

Elena Donaldson
Elena Donaldson, Dean’s Medalist in the Humanities

Elena Donaldson is a triple threat. Despite juggling three majors — Swedish, sociology, and communication — and a diversity minor, she still managed to graduate in four years with a 3.98 GPA. She also found time to participate in a study abroad program in Sweden.

Donaldson’s papers reflect her interests in both Sweden and the social sciences. One paper compared Swedish and American prison systems; another explored the introduction of mandatory sex education when Sweden was transformed into a social democratic state in the 1930s, contrasting Sweden’s approach with sex education in the U.S. today. Her professors laud her robust research and keen analysis.

“She impressed me from the first moment we met, by her unassuming behavior that contrasted her bright intelligence and attention,” recalls Ia Dubois, senior lecturer in the Department of Scandinavian Studies. “Indeed, she is one of the best students I have had in my long career here.”

Donaldson says her ultimate ambition is to do work related to diversity & inclusion — possibly diversifying the corporate world, possibly working with Planned Parenthood "to better the community and further a cause I believe in." She plans to pursue a graduate degree but "first take some time to learn about the working world and myself," she says. 

Will Dana
Will Dana, Dean’s Medalist in the Natural Sciences

Will Dana “has won all the awards the Math Department has to offer,” says James Morrow, Sando-Rebasso Term Professor of Mathematics. A major in mathematics with a minor in music, Dana has participated in research through Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) program and the Washington Experimental Mathematics Lab (WXML). He also earned an honorable mention at the highly competitive Putnam Mathematical Competition, while leading the UW Putnam team to its first top-ten finish.

"Will is one of the most remarkable undergraduates I have met in my nearly 40 years at the University,” says WXML faculty lead Doug Lind, professor emeritus of mathematics. “He is clearly destined for an outstanding career in research mathematics, and has the capacity and drive to make deep and significant contributions.”

Morrow adds that Dana is a gifted teacher as well, serving for the past two years as a teaching assistant for a sequence of 300-level courses. “He is a wonderful TA, spending many extra hours with the students, frequently sending them documents that explain the class material in meticulous detail,” says Morrow. “The students recently, as a group, told me how much they love Will and appreciate all he does for them.”

In the fall, Dana will start a PhD program in mathematics at the University of Michigan, with plans to teach mathematics.