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Award Winners
Award Winners

Spring brought more than just green grass and flowers to Tufts this year: over the past several months, a large number of undergraduate and graduate students have received national recognition for their work in fields as divergent as computer science and international relations.

Senior Chris Valente heard the news over the phone. Junior Katie Seyboth received word in person from her research mentor. And junior J. Jeremy Sueker found out in University President Lawrence S. Bacow's office.

But though it arrived in different ways, the news each of these Tufts students received was the same: a great, big "You got it!" from some of the most prestigious scholarship and awards programs in the nation.

Valente, Seyboth and Sueker weren't alone: this year, dozens of Tufts undergraduate and graduate students earned an extraordinary amount of national recognition for their work in fields ranging from computer science and international relations to nutrition and economics.

"The large number of students receiving scholarships and awards reflects the inherent quality of our student body coupled with their initiative and imagination," says President Bacow.

A student with a strong interest in computational geometry and a desire to "move the field [of computer science] forward," Seyboth became the first Tufts student since 1996 to earn a Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship - a $7,500 research-oriented award launched by Congress in 1986 as a means of encouraging interest in math and science.

The research goals that earned Seyboth the Goldwater are ambitious: she hopes to facilitate greater accuracy in data-gathering by coming up with new ways to determine data depth contours ("rings that enclose progressively fewer points in data sets," the Kansas City, Missouri, native says).

By looking into ways to make sure that none of the points selected for inclusion in data depth contours are outliers ("certain data points that don't fit with the trend in the data set," explains Seyboth, which would skew the results), the computer science major aims to help researchers "get a more statistically valid data set."

The number of data points that Seyboth will analyze is staggering, which is what makes her research - to be carried out under the mentorship of Computer Science Professor Diane Souvaine through the University's Summer Scholars Program - so valuable.

"It's very likely that a doctor's going to take 15 readings on a patient, so [my research] is very useful in clarifying something that's impossible to picture," she says.

Tara D'Eon - a student at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy who is currently researching the effects of estrogen on adipose tissue metabolism, is one of the individuals whose data-gathering may well one day be affected by Seyboth's research.

A native of Nova Scotia, D'Eon - who conducts research in the Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging alongside scientist Andrew Greenberg - is one of only 10 recipients of the prestigious 2005 Woodrow Wilson Women's Health Fellowship.

D'Eon, also a recipient of the American Physiological Society's Caroline tum Suden/Francis Hellebrandt Professional Opportunity Award, emphasizes the fact that her efforts have been collaborative.

"When I came with my interest in metabolism, we also were able to hook up with the molecular cardiology group at the Tufts-New England Medical Center," she says. "They do a lot of estrogen work, so it was through them that I was able to get connected."

D'Eon, who plans to pursue a post-doctoral degree after completing her doctorate at Tufts, finds the realm of women's health to be a compelling one.

"Staying in women's health is very appealing to me, and I think it's really great that there are these opportunities and grants that are specifically focused on research in women's health," she says. "There hasn't been as much research in women's health [as in men's], and there's a lot of work now trying to change that."

Junior Jeremy Sueker, who won a Harry S. Truman Scholarship this year (and is the first Tufts student to do so in 11 years), is devoted to trying to change something else: the prevalence and spread of HIV/AIDS.

The community health and international relations major founded the HIV/AIDS Collaborative at Tufts in order to facilitate discussion among students doing AIDS-related research. And in the policy proposal that helped garner him the public service-centric Truman (which includes a $30,000 graduate school scholarship), he detailed "a specific intervention for reducing the prevalence of reducing the risk of HIV among high-risk populations in the U.S."

Specifically, Sueker is targeting HIV testing and treatment in prisons, including pre-release and post-release programs. He will spend this summer directing Brown's Biomedical Infectious Disease Corrections Report's research on prison protocols for inmates who are HIV and hepatitis C-positive.

"Prison facilities are basically a prime intervention point, because a disproportionately large percentage of minority populations in the U.S. have HIV, as opposed to the white population," Sueker explains. "And then a disproportionate - and in some areas, extremely disproportionate - percentage of minority populations go through the prison system.

Intervening at the prison level, Sueker says, makes sense from several perspectives. From a public health point of view, improving prison testing and treatment efforts makes it less likely that former inmates will "expose people from their communities to elevated risk [by] coming back to their community unaware of their status, which they can then communicate."

And improving prison HIV/AIDS programs may have financial benefits, too: "Post-release follow-up has been found in a couple of studies to reduce recidivism, so long-term, the state ends up having to put out less money for these people," Sueker says.

Sueker's fellow junior, John Papp, also has big plans.

One of about 20 students to win a $32,000 scholarship towards graduate school from the Beineke Scholarship Program this year, Papp - a math and quantitative economics major - hopes to increase the unity between economics and mathematics within the Tufts curriculum, as well as to increase younger students' knowledge of economics.

"One thing I'd like to focus on is giving quantitative economics students the chance to really use math," says Papp, who has spent his junior year studying abroad at Oxford but will be co-president of the Tufts Economics Society in the fall. "At the graduate level, economics is extremely ‘math-y,' but sometimes quantitative economics courses at Tufts don't reflect that."

Some of Papp's ideas include optional lectures or coursework, increased coordination with the math department, and a new math-intensive economics course for first-year students.

"I think the main issue is that the students and faculty should start talking with each other and to each other about possibilities," adds the Stonington, Connecticut, native. He will also coordinate Tufts' work with Junior Achievement, a program that places college students in local elementary schools to teach economics.

As for senior achievement, Matan Chorev, a dual-degree Tufts and New England Conservatory student who was one of 60 students named to this year's USA Today All-USA Third Academic Team has already been accepted to Tufts' prestigious Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy.

The USA Today award, which is given to students who excel academically and also take initiative beyond the classroom, recognized the multi-talented, Jerusalem-born cellist for his successful pursuit of his dual passions of music and international relations, as well as his vision and leadership in both of those areas.

"The reason I did the joint program was because I saw a very clear connection between public service and politics, and music and the arts," Chorev says of his decision to enroll in the Tufts-NEC dual-degree program. "I felt both were avenues for transformation; both were avenues to communicate with and move people and society; to make people think in new ways."

Making people think in new ways is something Chorev has experience in: he's the founder of the New Initiative for Middle East Peace (NIMEP), a group of students whose mission is to encourage non-polemical dialogue about the issues plaguing the contentious region. The diverse group's first trip was a 10-day trek split between Israel and the West Bank.

"There was a Palestinian, an Iranian Muslim, me, who's Israeli, Jewish Americans, Christian Americans...there was really awesome dialogue during the trip," Chorev says. "I think we each learned and grew a lot from it."

He's quick to add, however, that "the goal of going on the trip was not just personal growth; it was to share our experience with the rest of the campus, [and] to carry the message that regardless of where you stand politically, the situation is not black and white; it's very nuanced."

And the Tufts community, Chorev says, has been receptive to that message. "We've gotten really amazing response from the Tufts community - there's been a demand for something like this on Tufts' campus for a long time, and it's been embraced with open arms," Chorev said of NIMEP, which has also taken trips to Iran and Egypt.

As for trips abroad, senior Chris Valente - a Writing Fellow and swim team captain - will be traveling to Germany next year on a Fulbright Scholarship to teach English in a German school.

The international relations major says the many campus programs he's been involved in (he's also the coordinator of the Tufts Wilderness Orientation program and an ATO brother) have left as much of an imprint on him as he's left on them.

"I could name hundreds of people I've met here who have guided me along in my time at Tufts, and I think it's a very fitting culmination to be able to say ‘Thank you,' because now I can go represent my university abroad in the Fulbright program," Valente says. "Tufts is a very distinguished university abroad, and I'd like to continue that tradition.

Like Valente, senior and Fulbright Scholar Timothy Wagner will be teaching English in Germany. The English major views the experience as a chance to "boost [his] language ability," as well as broaden his already strong appreciation for the humanities.

"The humanities - and I think this is true for all the humanities, not just English - are great not because they provide you with a vast body of practical knowledge, but because they teach you how to think," says Wagner, who hopes to one day pursue a Ph.D. in English.

Another Fulbright Scholar, senior Liz Munsell, will be spending next year in Chile studying community art programs - and one day, she hopes to revolutionize the academic study of art history, which she feels is currently too conservative and restrictive.

As an International Letters and Visual Studies major ("it's a really unique, interdisciplinary program," the avid photographer says), Munsell has spent her time at Tufts studying art and revolution in Latin America, including a trip to Cuba with other Tufts students.

Munsell recalls a visit to a school outside Havana where a member of the Cuban parliament introduced the school's staff - including the principal, teachers and janitors - and explained their roles.

"I realized that I had never before attended an event where janitors were recognized for the equally important role they play in making a school function day to day," says Munsell, who has been actively involved in labor issues while at Tufts. "Experiencing differences in Cuban society gave me a basis of comparison for thinking about social order in the U.S., and helped me to become a more critical thinker."

Senior and Fulbright winner Diana Caba will also be traveling to a Latin American country: Argentina.

"As a Latina growing up in the United States, and [with] my experience in Latin America - visiting my family in the Dominican Republic and studying abroad with Tufts in Chile - my interests have developed within the region," says the international relations and art history major.

When she's not helping to teach an English class at an Argentinian university, Caba will be exploring the country's community cultural centers.

"I hope that this experience will lead me on a path to continue similar work in arts education," Caba says.


Profile written by Patrice Taddonio, Class of 2006

Patrice Taddonio, a native of Holland, Pennsylvania, is an English major and a communications and media studies minor. Currently the Tufts Daily's head features editor, she interned with the Improper Bostonian magazine during her sophomore year, and worked as a temporary text editor with the Associated Press at this July's Democratic National Convention. A member of the Class of 2006 and a songwriter, Taddonio has also performed on guitar and vocals at on-campus venues and at Boston-area benefits.

Photos by Medoly Ko.

This story originally ran on May 16, 2005