2008 University Co-op / George H. Mitchell Undergraduate Awards For Academic Excellence

Recipient of $20,000 Award:

Baltej Ludher
Senior, major in Chemical Engineering

Baltej’s research has the potential to radically advance drug delivery, as well as disease diagnosis and treatment. He has helped develop two novel methods for producing high-surface area therapeutic and pharmaceutical particles: (1) thin-film freezing method and (2) pH flocculation method.  The thin-film freezing method is ideally suited for producing pure therapeutic peptides and proteins, such as monoclonal antibodies. Monoclonal antibodies are commonly referred to as “magic bullets,” because they can be designed to target only specific diseased cells, such as tumor cells.  The pH flocculation method is ideally suited for producing nano-particle suspensions of poorly water-soluble drugs in order to increase their treatment efficacy in the gastrointestinal tract. The bioavailability of a poorly water-soluble drug administered orally is greatly enhanced by dispersing it in a surface-active carrier.  Baltej’s pH flocculation method provides an effective means to harvest nanoparticles suitable for drug delivery by filtering “flocs” of drug particles from solution.  Both methods have lead to patent applications, journal publications, as well as commercial interest.

Recipients of $5,000 Awards:

Tara Buentello
B.A., December 2007, major in Plan II Honors.

Tara’s thesis, “Homeownership, Housing Quality, and Satisfaction among Mexican Immigrant Homeowners in Austin, Texas,” represents an insightful look at the reasons for why rates of home ownership among Mexican immigrants are among the lowest in the country.  This topic is critically important.  Home ownership is a fundamental component of wealth in American society and is strongly linked to the persistence of social inequality.  Tara’s research integrates two sources of data to evaluate this issue.  First, she conducted an in-depth statistical analysis of Austin’s Mexican immigrant population using the 2000 U.S. Census data.  Second, she conducted qualitative interviews of Mexican immigrant homeowners in Austin to understand the home-owning process through immigrants’ eyes.  Her quantitative analysis provided clear evidence of the socioeconomic reasons behind lower home ownership rates and poorer housing quality among Mexican immigrants in Austin. Her ethnographic interviews, conducted mostly in Spanish, dug deeply into the thinking that went into home buying among Austin’s Mexican immigrant population.

Christian Casey
Senior, major in Classics

Christian’s project – a translation of and commentary on The Shipwrecked Sailor, a famous tale from the Middle Kingdom of Egyptian history – is a remarkably ambitious undertaking for an undergraduate. He has added Egyptian hieroglyphics to Greek and Latin in his language suite, and he has employed his new skills to produce not only a stylish translation but a sophisticated discussion of the linguistic and literary choices involved in making a story written in one time and place accessible to readers in another time and place. Christian’s thesis, when published, will be of great interest and value to students and instructors in upper-division courses on Egypt and Egyptian languages, and it portends a most promising future for the author in the field of Egyptology.

Sarah Miller
Senior, double major in Astronomy Honors and Physics Honors

Sarah has worked simultaneously on an Astronomy project with Shardha Jogee and a physics project with Richard Matzner.  It is by the former that she was nominated for the work that resulted in her honors thesis, entitled “Galaxy Interactions over the Last Seven Billion Years”. This work compares and evaluates different methods of identifying galaxies (visual or automated) from data gathered from the Hubble Space Telescope. Her work is the first to evaluate both the accuracy of these galaxy identification techniques and the potential for galaxy data from different techniques to be used in concert. The work she has done is a critical first step and will be increasingly important as large, international consortia of astronomers begin to use the data from over 8,000 galaxies from the last seven billion years to measure how, when and why galaxies interact. Sarah will begin graduate work in Astrophysics Oxford University, with a prestigious Rhodes Scholarship, in Fall 2009.

Recipients of $2,000 Awards:

Mark Aguhar
Junior, Studio Art major in Art and Art History

Mark creates lyrical paintings that both echo and transcend his personal experience with disfiguring skin disorders.  Like the disorders, his paintings use shiny, gemlike surfaces, bright colors and bold, confrontational composition, inviting the public gaze and turning disfigurement into a compelling statement of beauty and defiance in the face of adversity. This body of work portends a promising career as a painter, demonstrating a range of technique that reflects the artist’s openness to experience and experimentation.  Through the investigation of the physicality of the medium, Mark finds beauty and even adds a whimsical quality to some of the work as he explores the nature of his affliction.  In the process, his work reflects the resiliency of the human spirit.

Michael Allred
B.A., December 2007, major in Spanish Honors.

Michael’s linguistic analysis focuses on code switching between distinct languages.   He compares work on the subject by five different professional linguists and evaluates their discrepant conclusions, comparing them with his own.  The most original part of his analysis centers around the placement of adjectives relative to nouns in bilingual sentence construction in order to argue his own case for thinking about the code switching phenomenon.  The essay focuses primarily on Spanish-English interactions, but also considers various uses of French, Dutch, Sephardic Hebrew, and other languages.  Michael's essay, composed in Spanish, is beautifully written, clear and well organized.  He uses sophisticated linguistic terminology with ease and his bibliography includes writings in three languages, and the analysis itself is exemplary.

Ishan Chakrabarti
Senior, triple major in English, South Asian Studies Honors, and Asian Cultures & Languages—Sanskrit

Ishan’s study of North Indian hagiographies from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries displays an impressive mastery of languages, culture, and history, as well as an appreciation of literary theory and a sensitivity to literature itself. The work, which examines how the different religious and cultural communities in North India conceived of themselves and their neighbors during the period of Muslim rule of a predominantly Hindu population, is learned and elegant, and it goes far beyond what is expected of even the best undergraduate theses. It yields the additional reward of illuminating the differences—and similarities—that continue to characterize South Asia today.

Amelia Fischer
Senior, double major in Latin American Studies and Plan II

Amelia’s analysis of the 1980 Mariel Boatlift, which she interprets as the result of an unnecessary failure of the Carter administration in its normalization negotiations with Cuba, is a valuable contribution to the history of U.S. foreign relations and policy regarding Cuba. Her thesis is based on impressive archival research in the Carter Presidential Library: letters, papers, findings, contemporary media reports, public statements, private interviews, and much more. She subtly develops her argument as she writes a compelling narrative of U.S.-Cuba relations in the post World War II era, focusing particularly on the late 1970s and early 1980s. Amelia’s work—her research, her writing, the way she conceptualizes research questions—reveals her to be a truly extraordinary undergraduate.

Austin Wright
Junior, major in Government

Very impressively, Austin applies game theoretic ideas to an explanation of the dynamics for the formation of terrorist networks and network competition for expansion. The thesis is very well grounded in the core debates in the literature as well as substantive issues, and Mr. Wright takes great care in discussing the array of implications of the modeling exercises.  His application of social scientific tools is innovative.  For far too long, political scientists have avoided the topic because of difficulty of observation and analysis -- Austin shows that terrorist organization are prime for studying strategic and rational behavior.

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