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Four "Remarkable" Dean's Medalists

Story by
Nancy Joseph
montage of headshots of 2020 Dean's Medalists

 

Each year, the College honors four graduating students — one from each of its four divisions — as Dean’s Medalists, based on academic performance and faculty recommendations. See why this year’s four recipients, who together represent eight Arts & Sciences majors, are being celebrated as “truly remarkable.”

 

Julie Zhang

Dean’s Medalist in the Natural Sciences
Majors: StatisticsMathematics

Faculty teaching Julie Zhang for the first time are in for a surprise. Michael Perlman, professor emeritus of statistics, recalls undergraduate Zhang being at the top of his 60-student course for graduate students. “This was a truly remarkable performance,” he says. “I cannot recall a comparable performance by an undergraduate in my 50+ years of university teaching.” James Morrow, professor of mathematics, adds that Zhang’s “talents, accomplishments, and contributions are unequaled in my experience. She is a once-in-a-lifetime scholar, student, and person.”

Julie Zhang standing outside

Julie Zhang, Dean's Medalist in the Natural Sciences

Zhang came to the UW at age 14 through the Early Entrance Program. She participated in a Research Experiences for Undergraduates summer program at UCLA, working with Aerospace Corporation to develop a simulation to track space objects throughout time. Last summer she interned at the Institute of Disease Modeling (IDM), completing a research project to help combat malaria in remote villages in Africa. The project combined statistics, mathematics, and computer programming to help develop optimal household visit maps and predict the number of community health workers needed to deliver Seasonal Malaria Chemoprevention (SMC) to all children under age five in any health districts based on satellite imagery. 

“Julie’s work is very significant to IDM,” says IDM research scientist André Lin Ouédraogo, her supervisor for the project. “It will be used on the field in countries with high malaria burden and where SMC is deployed to save the lives of children who otherwise would have contracted malaria.”

Fellow students have benefited from Zhang’s knowledge as well, through her work as a teaching assistant for the Department of Mathematics’ first-year honors accelerated calculus sequence. Monty McGovern, professor of mathematics, found her to be “a dream to work with” when he taught the sequence, particularly during the transition to online classes spring quarter due to COVID-19.  “Throughout she has gone above and beyond the call of duty,” he says. 

Zhang will attend graduate school in the Stanford University Department of Statistics this fall, with support from an NSF Graduate Research Fellowship.

 

Madeline Bonner

Dean’s Medalist in the Humanities
Majors: GermanLinguistics
Earth and Space Sciences minor

Though a GPA of 3.99 is an achievement in itself, what inspired faculty to recommend Madeline Bonner for the Dean’s Medal was something more. “What makes Madeline so deserving of recognition, for me, is her dedication to scholarship across such a wide range of courses and her ability to synthesize multiple research interests within the study of German,” writes Jason Groves, assistant professor of Germanics. 

Head shot of Madeline Bonner

Madeline Bonner, Dean's Medalist in the Humanities

Bonner “transformed a course of study into a project of multilingual self discovery,” Groves adds. In fact Bonner shared the self-discovery aspect of her studies in a class assignment, explaining — in fluent German — how her study of German enabled her to connect with deceased family members on the German side of her family, while also deepening and productively complicating her understanding of her Chinese ethnicity.

Ellwood Wiggins, associate professor of German, first experienced Bonner’s intellect when he served as undergraduate adviser and she visited during advising office hours. “Her visits were a high point of advising office hours each quarter,” he recalls. “She always made fascinating and perspicacious connections between her studies in linguistics, German, and the sciences. Her ideas were invariably astute and original.” Wiggin’s admiration for Bonner continued to grow when he later had her in several classes. “She truly stood out for the quality and excellence of her contributions,” he says.

On Wikipedia, readers may see some of Bonner’s work. Noticing a glaring lack of English Wikipedia pages of minoritized German writers, particularly those whose works have been widely translated in English, Bonner took on the project of creating a Wikipedia page for Zafer Şenocak, a German writer of Turkish descent. “Although the Wiki Education project recommends that instructors reserve at least six weeks for the creation of new articles, Madeline completed it in less than four,” says Groves. “She recruited a collaborator with experience in Wikipedia’s technical markup language, and within a few weeks she had compiled a substantial bibliography for the author and composed a substantial entry.” After a peer review, the entry was published with only minimal alterations.

“Madeline is in many regards a model student in the humanities,” says Groves. “She is an advocate for the transformative potential for this course of study.”

 

Racquel West

Dean’s Medalist in the Social Sciences
Majors: GeographyHistory

It was during a UW study abroad program in New Zealand, including visits to museums there, that Racquel West began to question how Indigenous groups are presented in museums and by whom. That question significantly shaped her experience at the UW. For her history honors thesis, she focused on the Suquamish Museum, a tribal museum, looking at the history of the museum and how it has affected the reservation. She continued to volunteer at the Suquamish Museum even after taking on a nearly full-time job as collections outreach coordinator in the Bill Holm Center at the Burke Museum, where she has continued to work since graduating.

Racquel West head shot

Racquel West, Dean's Medalist in the Social Sciences Media credit: Corinne Thrash

Concurrent with her museum work, West — a two-time recipient of the Chester Fritz Scholarship — excelled in her UW courses. “Racquel is simply the best undergraduate I have taught since I became a college professor ten years ago,” says Joshua Reid, associate professor of history and American Indian studies, who led the New Zealand program that set West on her path. Megan Ybarra, associate professor of geography, was so impressed by West that she encouraged her to apply for the McNair Scholars Program (West was accepted), supervised her as a research assistant, and invited her to participate in PhD-level seminars. Since 2018, West also has been Editor-in-Chief of Plenum Journal of Undergraduate Geography

What impressed Ybarra most is West’s commitment to community work. “In understanding her own place in the Pacific Northwest, Racquel came to me as a Black student who wanted to work in solidarity with Indigenous peoples,” she says. “Over the last two years, she has come to think of community work as a project of solidarity that necessarily happens collectively.”

For her geography honors thesis, West conceived of and organized a student exhibition, “And Still We Rise: We Are All the Other in the Pacific Northwest,” at wǝɫǝbʔaltxw Intellectual House. Funded by a grant from the Center for the Study of the Pacific Northwest, the exhibit featured student artists and speakers addressing their experiences as people of color within the framework of settler colonialism. 

“In every group, in every seminar, Racquel seeks to learn with her peers,” Ybarra says. “She understands that every person in the room has something to teach, and every person in the room has something to learn.”

 

Drew Callipare

Dean’s Medalist in the Arts
Majors: DancePsychology
Gender, Women & Sexuality Studies minor

Drew Callipare took his first dance class as a freshman and fell in love. Ever since, he has brought “openness, delight, and a spirit of inquiry to every class meeting, inspiring students around him to take risks and not to take themselves too seriously,” write dance professors Jennifer Salk and Hannah Wiley in their recommendation letter. His very first quarter in dance, Callipare was selected to perform in an MFA dance concert. He also performed frequently with the UW student group Unleashed! a Cappella, participating as a singer, arranger, and section leader.

Drew Callipare in a dance pose on top of a wooden fence

Drew Callipare, Dean's Medalist in the Arts

Beyond performance, Callipare excelled in courses on dance theory. Visiting professor Alethea Alexander notes that Callipare’s “intellect gracefully swept through such diverse critical theory as that of Mark Franco, a dance scholar employing neo-baroque, Foucaultian, and Deleuzian theory, and Miguel Gutierrez, who writes anecdotally about race and abstraction in contemporary dance.” In 2019, the Dance Department awarded Callipare the James Vamenta Fesalbon Endowed Dance Scholarship. 

In psychology, Callipare’s other major, he worked as an undergraduate research assistant on a study of implicit association in youth, which involved interacting with dozens of children and families at the Pacific Science Center. “Out of the 40+ students I’ve supervised in this program, Drew is one of the few that I just never had to worry about,” says research coordinator Craig Maddox of the UW Institute for Learning & Brain Sciences, who led the project. “If the purpose of the Dean’s Medal is to recognize students who really stand out from the rest, then Drew is very much deserving of that honor.”

Adele Nickel, who as a graduate student taught and choreographed on Drew, seconds that thought. “Drew is not afraid to try new things, he’s not afraid to be wrong, he’s not afraid to be vulnerable, and he’s not afraid to be different,” she says. “We need more humans like Drew in the world, now more than ever.”