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Michael Stoff, Director 305 East 23rd St, CLA 2.102, (G3600) Austin, TX 78712-1250 • 512-471-1442

2009 University Co-op / George H. Mitchell Undergraduate Awards For Academic Excellence

Three of the nine Mitchell Awards go to Plan II Honors students, inlcuding the $20,000 Grand Prize

Posted: April 30, 2009

Recipient of $20,000 Grand Prize Award:

Yuxuan Wang

Major: Plan II and Biochemistry (Honors)

Faculty Nominator: Andrew Ellington

Project: Aptamer Antagonists of Myelin Promote Axon Growth

The $20,000 Grand Prize winner of the Undergraduate Student Awards for Academic Excellence was Yuxuan Wang, Plan II Honors/Biochemistry Senior, who was nominated by Professor Andrew Ellington for her honors thesis "Aptamer Antagonists of Myelin Promote Axon Growth." Wang's research has the potential to break new ground in the area of central nervous system repair. During her sophomore year, Yuxuan worked on a project in Ellington's lab that used aptamers, small pieces of RNA that bind with high specificity, to detect drug-resistant forms of HIV. The results were published in an article in the journal Nucleic Acids Research (Yuxuan is second author). During this time, while also taking a neurobiology course, Yuxuan saw promise in a merger between the usefulness of aptamers and the pathways that inhibit regeneration of nerve cells after injury. This project has such potential for impact, that Yuxuan wrote and was awarded a $100,000 research grant from TI-3D (Texas Institute for Drug and Diagnostics Development) to pursue it. She has been recognized both locally and nationally, winning the prestigious Barry M. Goldwater Award as a sophomore. In the fall, Yuxuan will begin an MD/PhD program, after selecting between full fellowships at Johns Hopkins University and Washington University at St. Louis.

Plan II Recipient of $5,000 Award:

Michael Collins

Major: Plan II and Asian Studies

Faculty Nominator: Martha Ann Selby

Project: Deconstructing 'Dravidianism': Contemporary Dalit Politics in Tamil Nadu, India

In his path breaking study of popular politics in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu, Michael Collins explores the intersections of history, sociology, culture, ideology, literature, and myth. His focus is the VCK, the main political party of the Dalits ("Untouchables"), and his primary interest is how the VCK has employed historical memories and cultural politics to challenge the dominance of traditional elites in India. Collins learned Tamil and traveled to Tamil Nadu, where he conducted interviews in Tamil and English with leaders of the VCK, who explained their goals and strategies. He supplemented the interviews with a wide array of published materials: memoirs, newspaper articles, academic journals, scholarly monographs. The result of this exemplary combination of field work and book work is a fascinating account--clearly and compellingly written, with a nice balance of sympathy and skepticism--of the evolution of a movement that is shaking Indian politics, with ramifications for democratic societies around the world.

Recipient of $2,000 Awards:

Amanda Cayo

Major: Plan II and Theatre and Dance

Faculty Nominator: Stephen Gerald

Project: Writing a Letter to Fidel

Nominated by Professor of Theatre and Dance Stephen Gerald, Amanda's project began as a collection of recorded interviews of several individuals of Cuban descent now living in the United States. Originally these oral histories were envisioned as making up the core material for Amanda's Plan II honors thesis. However, Amanda continued to work with the material, transforming the interviews into monologues and dialogues which she scripted into a play, Writing a Letter to Fidel, which was produced and performed by seven actors as part of The University Co-op/Cohen New Works Festival March 30-April 4, 2009. Amanda's script uses the actual words of her interviewees to explore what it means to them to identify themselves as Cuban, Cuban-American, American of Cuban descent, or "half" Cuban. Amanda's theatrical work, sometimes playfully, sometimes poignantly -- but always thoughtfully -- examines important issues of race, ethnicity, culture, language, religion, Communism, community and personal identity. Amanda is not only the playwright of Writing a Letter to Fidel, but served as well as its casting agent, director and publicist during the recent festival. In Amanda's own words, "I am happy to give the Cuban community a voice, and I hope that small acts of solidarity such as this ... affect U.S. policy and open the pathway for Cuban-American interchange."

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