2007 University Co-op / George H. Mitchell Undergraduate Awards For Academic Excellence

Recipient of $20,000 Award:

Christina Skelton
Junior, double major in Geosciences and Plan II

Christina, a Dedman Scholar and Junior Fellow, was nominated by Professor Thomas Palaima in Classics for a research paper that brings together her interests in biology and Classics. Palaima calls her paper, “Methods of Using Phylogenetic Systematics to Reconstruct the History of the Linear B Script,” “precocious and revolutionary in its results and its methods.” By adapting phylogenetic methods to a very different kind of evolution, that of an evolving script, Christina has taken a brilliant step forward toward the solution of several hitherto intractable problems in Mycenaean Greek studies. The relative dates of the Mycenaean texts, the identification of scribal hands and the relationship between the Mycenaean script, Linear B, and the earlier script from which it was derived—all these matters rest on a much surer scientific footing as a result of her work. The committee found it truly impressive that an undergraduate could produce such innovative and seminal research. Christina has presented her results in the journal Archaeometry, and reported on a further step in her research at the Texas Academy of Science Annual Meeting in March. She and a British scholar are now collaborating on another article solicited by the journal Minos. In short, Christina is an undergraduate with a wide range of scientific and humanistic interests, but she is also, already, an internationally recognized and published scholar in a complex subfield of Classics.

Recipients of $5,000 Awards:

Nicole Elmer
Senior, Radio-Television-Film

Professor Andrew Shea in Radio-Television-Film nominated Nicole for her pre-thesis film “A Music Room,” one of only five major projects chosen for production in the RTF Advanced Narrative class. She produced and directed the film, which explores the relationship between a shy piano student and his controlling teacher. As Professor Shea notes, Nicole’s sophisticated visual and narrative authority are unusual for a film director of her age and experience. Several of her short films have screened at festivals, but film is just one outlet for Nicole’s creative talents. Her award-winning short stories and poetry have been published in journals and magazines, she has exhibited a collection of her paintings, and she is currently co-managing editor for Analecta, UT’s Literary and Arts Journal.

Patrick Reidy
Senior, double major in Linguistics and Plan I Honors

Professor Stephen Wechler in Linguistics nominated Pat for his senior thesis on a classic problem in French Linguistics: “Another Look at Argument Composition in French Causatives.” This research is at such a high level that Professor Wechsler has invited him to co-author a paper on the topic for presentation at a scholarly conference—a rarity in the field of Linguistics. The committee agreed that Pat’s linguistic analysis is very sophisticated, and found his presentation of it closely reasoned and persuasive. Though highly technical, it addresses large questions about how grammars are constrained across languages, and how they represent unconscious rules of construction understood by all speakers of a language. Reidy’s work and his thoughtful approach foreshadow a promising career in Linguistics.

Brett Wolfe
Senior, Architecture

Professor Louise Harpman in Architecture nominated Brett for his design for a public library complex in Blanco County. The research and design involved complex issues of technology within architecture, specific site conditions, and the cultural forces of the town and county. The committee was impressed by Brett’s visually compelling and thoughtfully crafted proposal, by the breadth and depth of the research that underlies it, and by Brett’s ability to involve the community and design a particular building responsive to their needs. As Professor Harpman notes, he has “the potential and
motivation to be an outstanding professional.”

Recipients of $2,000 Awards:

Matthew Bomberg
Junior, double major in Civil Engineering and Plan II

Professor Kara Kockelman in Civil Engineering nominated Matt for his senior thesis, “Traveler Response to the 2005 Gas Price Spike,” in which he strove to understand, through rigorous survey techniques, the response of various populations to spikes in gas prices. Matt has a longstanding interest in sustainability, as a member of UT’s Engineers for a Sustainable World. He presented his results at the annual 10,000-participant meeting of the Transportation Research Board in February, and a written version was submitted to the International Journal of Sustainable Transportation. Matt’s conclusions will be valuable to urban planners trying to design enery-efficient cities, where increasing fuel costs and human behavior will both inevitably affect design.

Jane Burson
Junior, triple major in Textiles & Apparel Design, Business and Plan II

Professor Ardis M. Rewarts in Human Ecology nominated Jane for her Senior Design Portfolio, which includes ten original designs for contemporary western dress that are inspired by early twentieth century Japanese kimonos. Having created the designs, Jane herself selected and dyed the fabrics, and constucted the garments. The pièce de resistance of the collection, in the committee’s opinion, is a meticulous replica of a finely detailed and crafted corset in the Victoria and Albert Museum, using period-appropriate materials and techniques. Jane completed an internship at L’Oreal/Lancôme in London, and her work is already sought after by customers. She is an exceptionally gifted and highly creative apparel designer; just last week she received the 2007 Best Evening Wear Design award, besting 50 other apparel design seniors.

Lydia Eckhoff
Senior, Biomedical Engineering

Lydia, a Phi Beta Kappa member and former Temple Scholar, was nominated by Professor Carl Blyth in French & Italian for her senior thesis, “Language Use and Attitudes for Haitian Creole Speakers,” an ambitious investigation of language patterns among speakers of Creole, French, and English in Haiti. Joining linguistics theory and historical study to extensive ethnographic fieldwork, Lydia illuminates the perceptions and expectations that cause Haitians to employ different languages in different social and cultural contexts. Her well-designed and well-written study enhances understanding of Haiti’s linguistic past and present and offers suggestions as to how Haiti's future might unfold.

Joseph Lin
B.S. and B.A. December 2006, double major in Mechanical Engineering and Plan II

Professor Carolyn C. Seepersad in Mechanical Engineering nominated Joseph for his senior thesis, “On the Effects of User Experience in Customer Needs Analysis Tools and its Significance for the Product Redesign Process.” In it Joseph combined engineering and marketing in order to come up with a novel way to ask potential users about how to improve products during their design phase. Called "empathic lead user analysis," this method involves interviewing test subjects who have had the opportunity to use developing products under extraordinary conditions, suggesting key features or additions that might otherwise have been overlooked. Joseph’s efforts were so successful that they have even led to a new course module for a graduate level course in mechanical design. Joseph’s interests lie at the interface of business and engineering, and his future work is sure to have wide-ranging impact on the world.

Vijay Pattisapu
Senior, double major in Asian Cultures & Languages and Plan II
Assembling Folk Language and Literature

Professor Samuel Baker in English nominated Vijay for his senior thesis, “Assembling Folk Language and Literature,” which explores the historical context for Walter Scotts’ “Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border.” It had long been assumed that Scott’s beloved ballad collection consisted of minstrels in the service of nobility. Vijay’s impressive research, however, led to the discovery that in fact the collection was heavily influenced by philological projects of his friends and collaborators who introduced influences from Indian and Southeast Asian literature, and even medieval Persian treatments of Arabic texts. Professor Baker says that Vijay Pattisapu’s insightful conclusions “will make waves in both British and postcolonial studies.” A master of several languages, including French, Mandarin Chinese, Latin, Greek, and Hittite, Vijay looks forward to graduate work in Linguistics, but will spend next year in Beijing, China at Microsoft Research Labs.

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