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The Scholarship recipients 2017 Information is from the applications

Joseph Albernaz, UC Berkeley, English

Joseph's dissertation, "All Things Common: Community and Contingency in European Romanticism," deals with a simple question: what does it mean to be in a community? More particularly, what happens when all the traditional answers to this question begin to break down? He frames these larger questions through the specific literary period of Romanticism as well as through recent work on the concept of community in philosophy and the environmental sciences. He argues that the Romantics, through their poetry and thought, were able to claim experiences of community and connection despite--and ultimately, precisely because of--the breakdown of all previous guarantees of community and collective identity.

What is the relation of community to environment and ecology​? Do nonhuman beings belong in a community? To what extent, and how do we think such a relation?Joseph's dissertation seeks to provide answers to such questions, which assume a special urgency in our era of climate change and global ecological crisis, when the grounds of community are less certain than ever and when the contingency of our collective actions on the planet is laid bare to us. His interests lie in what connect​s​ us, not despite but because of what also separates us.

His professors have called him "an intellectual dynamo" with "a capacious, daring intelligence," noting that "one sometimes has the sense that there's nothing Joseph hasn't read."

Rebecca Andersen, UC San Francisco, Developmental and Stem Cell Biology

Rebecca is studying stem cells and their self-regulation.​ The ability of adult stem cells to self-renew, generating more of themselves as well as distinct daughter cell types over long periods of time, is an essential aspect of the proper maintenance of many different tissues. Previous research has often focused on the roles played by distinct categories of proteins. However, a newly described class of molecules called long noncoding RNAs (lncRNAs) may also contribute to these processes. ​ How do these cells "choose" between renewal or differentiation?

​Rebecca's project ​with one such lncRNA, which her group named Pnky, is the focus of her thesis study. Because the cell culture approach they were using could not be used to address certain aspects of V-SVZ NSCs, she designed a genetic mouse model that could be used to delete the Pnky gene from the V-SVZ in vivo. This innovative project will contribute novel insights into how long noncoding RNAs can regulate stem cells and potentially underlie disease.

Her professors noted her "superior intellect," "exceptional work ethic," and "bold and pioneering spirit." She is "unafraid to pursue difficult questions and tackles them with sophisticated approaches."

Read more about Becky's work at

Laura Bogar, Stanford University, Biology [Ecology and Evolution] (Hendess award)

Laura studies the underworld, specifically, fungi and the plants with which they are associated.​ ​As she noted in her application, "Since before I can remember, I have spent my leisure time wet, chilly, and covered with mud."​​ In her research, ​which takes her to wet, chilly, and muddy places, she tries to figure out what makes some plants and fungi compatible, and others less so. How do plants and fungi decide who their symbiotic partners will be? Can they "choose" their symbiotic partners? Her thesis employs an innovative combination of stable isotope labeling and molecular biology to understand how signaling and rewards operate in the ectomycorrhizal symbiosis, and how these processes may influence compatibility between host plants and fungi.

Answering this question of "choice" will lend insight into the evolution of mutualism itself, improve our understanding of forest ecology, and illuminate the details of carbon and nitrogen cycling through forested ecosystems.

​Laura was called "truly dangerous" as well as "bright, thoughtful, and engaged" with the "ability to identify good, fundamental research questions."

Laura sent this thank you note...

Amanda Jacobson, Stanford University, Microbiology and Immunology

Amanda's research focuses on how disease-causing bacteria are transmitted by an infected host to new individuals. ​​This process of disease transmission is crucial for a pathogen to spread in a population. The factors controlling it, however, are almost completely unknown. In the lab ​she is specifically studying disease transmission in the context of Salmonella, which is responsible for millions of infections every year.​ She is using experimental mouse models of infection that mimic human disease and is trying to identify "super-spreaders,"​ which spread infection more efficiently than other hosts. To do this, she has developed a completely novel experimental mouse model of infection that circumvents previous technical limitations.

According to her professors, she has an "astute intellect and superlative teaching skills." In addition, "We can always count on her to ask interesting questions."

Jay Jefferson, UC Davis, Animal Behavior (Norall award)

Jay investigates social interaction patterns in primate societies. He uses agent-based models to further develop and inform our knowledge of how sophisticated aspects of a macaque monkey's society​, like a hierarchy formation, ​can emerge out of the unique interactions between group members​. ​His research objective is to describe the formation, dynamics, and ensuing variation of real-world macaque societies. He uses agent-based models to test widely accepted theories on social behavior in primates and to explicitly simulate the assumptions of those theories that would otherwise be intractable through conventional experiments.

Macaques are ideal for understanding social organization within a complex adaptive system, wherein "social structure and subsequent conflict dynamics depend on how formalized the dominance relationships are among agents." ​In his application he noted that "Congress is not entirely different from a group of macaques."

His professors called him "exceptionally bright, deeply thoughtful, and devotedly committed to both research and teaching." He has a "unique perspective" and is an "extremely deep thinker."

Joseph Kellner, UC Berkeley, History

Joseph's​ dissertation,​ "The End of History: Radical Responses to the Soviet Collapse," is the first cultural history of the dissolution of the USSR. Marxism-Leninism imagined history as an inevitable ascent, lifting humanity into a luminous, just, and rational future. But however vaguely that future was described, it bore no resemblance to the USSR in 1989. Instead, at the twilight of Soviet communism, a newly freed press revealed a darkening world of crime and corruption, and criminals and the corrupt were gaining handily. And amidst this material and moral crisis, Soviet streets flooded with prophets, proselytizers, and mystics each offering uncertain citizens new and often radical routes out of the abyss. In examining this milieu, Joseph's dissertation, built on five case studies, explores the ultimate fate of the Marxist-Leninist worldview, once its vision of the future was relegated to the past.

In his application, Joseph offered this observation: "In my view, the historian's first task lies in transporting students and readers, via engaging narratives, to a past quite alien to their experience. But from there, history should instill confidence that we do not navigate the present blindly."

His professors tagged him as "extremely smart," "intellectually curious," "very creative," "effortlessly funny, and a terrific writer whose dissertation is both pioneering and centrally important."

Jason Klocek, UC Berkeley, Political Science

In "Fighting the Faithful: State Response to Religious Insurgencies," Jason investigates how state forces contribute to the intractability of religious civil wars. This is an important empirical puzzle for scholars and an increasingly difficult challenge for policy makers. Nearly half of all intrastate conflicts during the twenty-first century have been fought over confessional differences or for religious demands. And these armed disputes have been shown to endure longer, involve more casualties, and remain more resistant to negotiated settlements than nonreligious conflicts. Yet the study of religious violence remains largely one-sided, with scholars focusing on the forces of rebellion and paying little attention to the response of military planners in responding to guerrilla groups that draw, in whole or in part, on religious traditions. Jason uses comparative evidence from British counterinsurgency campaigns during the early postwar period with an emphasis on Mandatory Palestine, Cyprus, Kenya, and Malaya to examine the preference of state actors for coercive measures rather than negotiated settlement.

His professors wrote  that he is an "outstanding speaker and presenter" with "glowing accolades from his students" and that he "has the ability to highlight serious flaws in research . . . in a way that is productive and encouraging."


Rebecca Ora, UC Santa Cruz, Film and Digital Media (Reed award)

Rebecca's dissertation is on "transgressive comedy and the limits of postmodernism in moving-image representations." ​The dissertation discusses historical traumas and catastrophes (the Holocaust, the bombing of Hiroshima, the AIDS epidemic, 9/11) and the ways by which their depictions within "inappropriate" genres including comedy and speculative fiction reveal boundaries of ethics and taste within a given moment.

The dissertation will also consist of several media projects, some of which deal with the limitations of representation of the Holocaust. Her media practice, like her writing, describes representations that are plausible, possible, inappropriate, or even dangerous.

Having been the recipient of an award for her Master's project, she founded her own award, The Rebecca Ora Award for Risk-Taking in the Arts, which seeks "to recognize groundbreaking and under-recognized work coming from Fine A​r​ts degree-granting programs.

Her professors call her a "gifted researcher," a "voracious intellect," and a deeply curious interdisciplinary thinker."

Rebecca sent this note.

Read more about Rebecca's work at

Elizabeth Thelen, UC Berkeley, History (Gilliland award)

In her dissertation, "Intersected Communities: Urban Histories of Rajasthan c. 1500-1800," Elizabeth explores the role of religion and religious pilgrimage in enabling diverse communities to live together in early modern India. She argues that religious institutions shaped the social fabric of towns through the ways they contributed to the resilience of these towns in the face of rapid political and economic change. The predominant scholarly interpretation of the pilgrimage sites she studies is that they united a religiously plural society of Hindus, Jains, and Muslims into a peaceful whole. Scholars came to this understanding largely by studying religious institutions in isolation. In contrast, Elizabeth places religious institutions in their wider urban political, economic,and social context. By doing so, she shows how everyday conflicts around resources controlled by pilgrimage sites diffused tensions and minimized large violent clashes, yet reinforced social stratification within the towns that belie the dominant scholarly narrative of syncretism and unity.

Her professors commented on her "deeply analytical mind that allows her to get to the heart of every argument" and her "interest in the wide world of humanistic scholarship," noting that hers is a "path
 breaking project." "She is hunting for answers to some really large questions."

Seth Werfel, Stanford University, Political Science

Seth's dissertation explores the cases where the capabilities of governments and citizens overlap. ​Specifically, he conducts experiments to answer the following question: how do voters view the role of government in issue areas where they can make a direct impact themselves? Does household behavior toward a particular political goal make voters more likely or less likely to support government action toward that same goal?

His project has yielded some surprising results in the context of energy and environmental sustainability. In a series of survey experiments, Seth showed that priming subjects to report their own energy-saving behavior subsequently made them less likely to support government action on climate change. ​The project breaks new ground in political science because it helps redefine what counts as​ "political behavior."

In a letter of recommendation, a professor wrote that Seth "is one of the two best Ph.D. students I have worked with in my thirty years at Stanford." Others noted that he has "a nose for important questions that break new ground" and "a laser mind--focused [and] concentrated" with "range and creativity."

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