The College of Liberal Arts would like to welcome our newest DDGs to the Dean’s Distinguished Graduates Alumni Association! Each year the College honors 12 graduating seniors with the Dean’s Distinguished Graduate Award for their leadership, scholarly achievements, and service to the community. The 2013 Dean’s Distinguished Graduates, pictured with Dean Diehl from left to right, are:
Bottom row: Katherine Kling (Anthropology and Plan II Honors); Margaret “Katie” Sayre (Anthropology Honors and French); Katelin McCullough (Classical Archaeology Honors and Anthropology); Tammy Tran (Psychology Honors); Ben Weiss (Humanities Honors and Government)
Top row: Travis Knoll (Latin American Studies Honors); Joshua Fjelstul (Government Honors, History, and Business Administration Honors); Samuel Rhea (Plan II Honors); Margaret (Maggie) Gunn (English Honors and Plan II Honors); Alyssa Davis (Plan II Honors and Sociology); Travis Alexander (English Honors and Plan II Honors); Affonso Reis (Economics Honors and Mathematics)
Author: Jessica Sinn, Public Affairs Specialist, Liberal Arts Dean's Office
Twelve graduating seniors have been named Dean's Distinguished Graduates. Each year the College of Liberal Arts honors 12 seniors with the Dean's Distinguished Graduate Award for their leadership, scholarly achievements and service to the community. The students will be honored at the College of Liberal Arts spring commencement ceremony on Friday, May 20.
The 2011 Dean's Distinguished Graduates are:
Nubia Betancourt (Arabic Language and Literature)
Lindsey Carmichael (History/English)
Shelby Carvalho (Government/Humanities)
William Cochran (Plan II Honors)
Frances Deavers (Psychology)
Denisa Ganadara (Spanish and Portuguese/Philosophy)
Monica Gully (English/Plan II Honors)
Wiley Jennings (Latin American Studies/Plan II Honors)
Kathleen Kidder (Classics)
Stephen Mercer (History)
Mathew Ramirez (Latin/English)
Jessika Roesner (Linguistics/Computer Science/Plan II Honors)
This year marks the 31st anniversary of the Dean's Distinguished Graduate program, which has yielded more than 360 alumni who represent the best and the brightest graduates of the College of Liberal Arts. In 2009 the College created the Dean's Distinguished Graduate Alumni Association in an effort to better connect alumni to one another and the college.
March 10, 2011
Frances Deavers: 2011 Dean's Distinguished Graduate
Author: Dr. Cynthia Gladstone, Advisor, Department of Latin American Studies
France Deavers, Psychology and Plan I Honors student, and President of the University's Chapter of Psi Chi, has been selected as one of 12 Dean's Distinguished Graduates in the College of Liberal Arts for 2011.
The Dean's Distinguished Graduates program was established in 1980 to recognize graduating Liberal Arts students who have distinguished themselves in the areas of scholarship, leadership, and service to the college and university community.
In May 2011 Frances and fellow recipients will be honored at a luncheon in the Santa Rita Room at the Texas Union. Distinguished graduates will be acknowledged in the May commencement program and recognized during the Liberal Arts joint commencement ceremony at the Erwin Center, May 20, at noon. Ultimately, their names will be inscribed on the Dean's Distinguished Graduates wall of honor located in the advising suite of the Gebauer Building.
March 4, 2011
Kathleen Kidder: 2011 Dean's Distinguished Graduate
Matthew Ramirez: 2011 Dean's Distinguished Graduate
Author: Jessica Sinn, Public Affairs Specialist, Liberal Arts Office of Public Affairs
Kathleen Kidder, majoring in Classics, and Matthew Ramirez, majoring in English and Latin, have been named Dean's Distinguished Graduates. They will be honored publicly at their graduation ceremony in May.
Every year the College of Liberal Arts awards this title to 12 graduating seniors in honor of their outstanding achievements in scholarship, leadership, and service to the college. Instituted in 1980, this is the highest honor the College of Liberal Arts awards its students.
Kathleen entered UT firmly resolved to devote herself to the study of classics and to go to graduate school. Greek and Latin had long fascinated her due to their linguistic complexity, and she longed to read the Iliad and the Aeneid in the original languages. Since she taught herself Latin during her senior year of high school, she was able to progress quickly in both languages and read a good share of Greek and Latin. She became interested in how ancient texts could communicate social and cultural attitudes. Her senior honors thesis examines how Theocritus' Idyll 29 presents a unique egalitarian pederastic relationship. Kathleen is currently employed as a student assistant at a Kumon center. This job allows her to work with individual children in reading and math. Besides giving balance to her academic rigors, this job is providing her with invaluable pedagogical tools which she hopes to employ in her intended career as a professor in classics.
When Matthew started college at UT-Pan American in the Rio Grande Valley, he decided to take some courses in the Humanities. On the first day one of his professors began his lecture by discussing Inanna, a fertility goddess whose myths stretch further back than our systems of writing. He was fascinated by the structure of myths, and from then on he began identifying recurring character types. In his research, Matthew was met with eager support from some professors, but was discouraged when others-and family members too-told him that he mustn't aspire to attend graduate school. Leaving home for an undergraduate education was something no one in his family had done. Yet he has found in Austin an environment amenable to his academic pursuits. He has recently penned an opera libretto, The Passion of Vibia Perpetua, and is now completing his honors thesis in English with a classical twist, entitled "Pharmakoi and Pharmaka: Towards a Theory of the ExposedEiron as Literary Scapegoat."
This marks the fourth year in a row that graduates of the Classics department have been named Dean's Distinguished Graduate. Joshua Ethan Alexander received the honor in 2010, Dhananjay Jagannathan in 2009, and Megan Campbell and Christina Skelton in 2008.
March 8, 2011
Shelby Carvalho: 2011 Dean's Distinguished Graduate
Author: Stuart Tendler, Graduate Admissions and Placement Coordinator, Department of Government
It is hard to imagine a more fitting student to be named a Dean's Distinguished Graduate than Shelby Carvalho, a Liberal Arts honors student majoring in government and humanities.
The College of Liberal Arts annually honors 12 seniors with the Dean's Distinguished Graduate Award for their leadership, scholarly achievements and service to the community. Shelby was, we induce, an easy pick on all three counts.
The University of Texas at Austin presented Shelby with something incredibly American - opportunity - and she ran with it, and the congruence between Shelby's path and the university's core purpose of transforming lives for the benefit of society is striking.
Shelby was raised in Northern California. Her parents did not attend college, but Shelby wanted to. She also wanted to buck the herd migrating to this or that state school along the West Coast, so she headed to Austin, half expecting her professors to show up for class on horseback. She had no detailed agenda when she arrived, just will and open eyes.
When her first spring break rolled around, she wanted something different, and she found the campus's Alternative Spring Break, the student organization that transforms vacation into an opportunity to give back. There were two choices. One was in Virginia. That sounded cold, and Shelby did not want to be that different. The other was in Arizona, with Teach for America. Shelby would be helping out in a Phoenix school serving low-income students. It would be warm in Arizona. She went to Phoenix, and it changed her life.
She was only a freshman, but the image was powerful. The kids she had come to help were stuck in a cycle of underperformance. There had been a fiscal crisis. There were cutbacks. Classrooms were overcrowded, with about 40 students in this particular classroom. Many were special needs students, but there was no one there who could tend to them.
Shelby could see past the moment. She could see a bigger picture. She saw a classroom of children dying for someone to come and help them, but no one to answer their call. An increase in dropout rates would follow, which eventually would increase the public burden on social services. Things had to improve here, at the root. The kids were in school, but they weren't getting an education. They didn't truly have access, and in the long run everyone would pay for it.
This was just the beginning of Shelby's journey. Hers was still a relatively narrow exposure to the wider world, but things were about to take off with the help of a pesky requirement to take six hours of government coursework. Fortunately for Shelby her second semester of government came with a bonus summer edition - a Maymester study abroad opportunity to immerse herself in the politics of the Catholic Church in Rome. Shelby was introduced to an extraordinary class and a professor she would later nominate for professor of the year, and it was the first in a series of international experiences that would shape her time at the university.
"To meet people high up in the Catholic Church, to study religion and politics and be there, to see it operating in Rome and consider the effects across the world - it was amazing," Shelby says of her experience.
Shelby's second trip out of the country came thanks to a study abroad opportunity in Ghana, where she built a library for a village primary school. As Sean Theriault, associate professor of government, puts it so aptly, "there's a library in Ghana because of Shelby. It was totally her project. Just imagine, there are probably kids in this village wearing burnt orange, who aspire to come to UT because Shelby thought enough of them to educate them."
But the trip to Ghana was about more than what Shelby gave, it was also about what she was gaining. Leading sex education and health workshops in a secondary school and being a literacy tutor, she was gaining experience, strengthening her academic portfolio and reinforcing her passion for teaching. Being able to talk directly to school-age girls, gaining first-hand knowledge of education issues in a developing country, and the opportunity to talk to and observe people on the ground were real boons to her academic development, and her defining academic project on female access to education in the developing world began to take shape.
Each international experience emboldened Shelby for the next, and she had two stops left. First was Rwanda. Through a Texas Ex working with the Peace Corps, Shelby got involved in a Books for Africa project, and in Rwanda she built shelves and organized more than 20,000 books in a school library. She was now ready for her trip to Costa Rica.
On the face of it, this would be a breeze compared with Ghana and Rwanda, but those were highly institutionalized trips where she was flanked by a supporting cast. She would do Costa Rica on her own - full immersion into a foreign town, family, school and foreign language. She became fluent in Spanish, which is paying dividends now given her ability to teach the U.S. Spanish-speaking population.
In Costa Rica, she taught English and physical education in primary school. As always, there was something deeper to the experience. Things were different in Costa Rica. The only person in the town who owned a car was the school teacher. It warmed her heart to be someplace where teachers were on par with doctors, lawyers and politicians. It substantiated for her that education is as important as she has come to believe and worthy of her dedication.
In the classroom, Shelby was molding her experiences into a coherent and rigorous program of study. Through the Bridging Disciplines Program, she earned a certificate in ethics and leadership. She signed up for a major in humanities focused on international comparative education. The humanities major was the perfect fit for Shelby's entrepreneurial spirit, giving her the ability to design an interdisciplinary program around the nexus of education policy and international development. Shelby is writing her senior thesis, "Education Policy, Gender Equity and Economic Development in the Third World: A comparative policy analysis of female access to education in Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Ghana," under the guidance of Jane Lincove, assistant professor of public affairs in the LBJ School of Public Affairs.
Shelby also chose to major in government, and that experience far exceeded her original presumptions. Like many undergraduates, Shelby envisioned the government major as only a pre-law program, but she encountered something much broader. For example, she enrolled in a course on issues in Third World development with Zach Elkins, assistant professor of government. The course allowed her to think more seriously about her international experiences.
The theories she learned in class clicked with what she learned in the field, but she was also able to drawn on her observations to suggest where those theories might be improved. And, for someone who has had such a measurable practical impact on the world around her, Shelby also came to appreciate the value of theory. As she understands it, research is necessary to identify what needs to be done, but it is theory that guides and structures research. And at a more abstract level, she found that thinking about theoretical issues in class often served as the basis for her thought outside of class, for her thinking about leadership and service opportunities and ultimately for taking action.
The greatest academic influence on Shelby was the coursework she completed with Theriault who, along with government professor Bryan Jones, runs the J.J. "Jake" Pickle Research Mentorship Program. The year-long course immerses undergraduates in their professors' research programs. At the time, Theriault was investigating reauthorization votes in Congress, determining whether reauthorization votes were as polarized as the vote on the initial legislation. Shelby focused on education policy, looking at the No Child Left Behind Act and the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.
Shelby found that some education policy issues are more polarizing than others and what conventional wisdom would lead us to expect plays out. Social policy and redistributive issues are the most contentious, with bussing and funding charter schools being prime examples. To some this might be a mundane finding, but she frames it in much more evocative light, pushing the broader question about the extent to which political polarization on these issues interferes with the quality of education students receive.
Shelby's experiences in and out of the classroom, especially those with Theriault, have influenced her thoughts about teaching and research.
"Professor Theriault is such a great inspiration because of the research he does. He does research and brings it into the classroom, and that makes class more interesting and relevant," Shelby says. "And by exposing us to and involving us in his research he motivates us to go and gather the facts for ourselves.
"I want to contribute to making change. Research is the foundation of the path to change, to identifying changes that are needed and developing a strategy for acting," she adds. "Professor Theriault and his research inspired me and other students by showing us we can be part of that."
Shelby remains focused on the grade school classroom, where it all begins, where, she says, there is a direct connection between the individual child and the U.S. position in the global economy. And in a world of dwindling resources she is not despondent.
"Costa Rica, Ghana ... these countries have far less resources for education than we do, but they have teachers who are highly motivated and communities that value education and see education as something for everyone," she says.
Shelby believes that teacher quality is critical to positive outcomes, and that the path there is not necessarily through an increase in financial award. It could begin, she says, with an increase in status for our teachers, and it needs to come along with increased rigor in our teacher training. She also says that we must have high expectations for all students regardless of circumstance, a relentless pursuit of excellence and a commitment on the part of teachers to figure out what motivates individual students.
Shelby draws heavily from her experience at the Knowledge is Power Program (KIPP), an Austin charter school where she helps teachers, tutors seventh grade reading and writing and teaches sign language in Saturday School.
"Those kids have tough lives, but they feel like they are on a team, they are held to high expectations and they know they have the support to meet those expectations," Shelby says. "Many of my students struggle with the dangerous realities of gangs and drugs everyday in their communities, but they are able to commit themselves to education as a way to rise above those negative influences.
"I have seen what real poverty looks like, and education is a way out of poverty and it is important to our progress as a nation," she adds. "Education is the power to choose what you want to do, and if we cut off access to education we go back to education being just for people of a certain socioeconomic status, and I don't see anything good about that."
In addition to being named a Distinguished Graduate, Shelby is a Texas Parents Most Outstanding Student, a Cactus Yearbook Outstanding Student and one of three to receive a Texas Exes President's Leadership Award.
Shelby has been president and site leader for the university's Alternative Spring Break, chaired the Liberal Arts Council academic affairs committee and was the council's vice president, was an at-large member and COLA representative to the Senate of College Councils, mentored and conducted research for the Greater Austin Crime Commission Longhorn Leaders and currently interns at the Texas Senate Committee on Education.
"Shelby's contributions outside the classroom are nothing short of astonishing," says Larry Carver, an English professor and director of the college's honors and humanities programs. "Nearly every activity Shelby has undertaken represents not a day or a week but a major commitment of time, energy, intelligence and passion."
After graduation Shelby will return to Phoenix, where she will serve a two-year commitment to Teach for America.
The University of Texas at Austin changes people. They change the world. Shelby Carvalho proves it.
April 20, 2011
Lindsey Carmichael: 2011 Dean's Distinguished Graduate
Monica Gully: 2011 Dean's Distinguished Graduate
Matthew Ramirez: 2011 Dean's Distinguished Graduate
Every year the College of Liberal Arts names twelve Dean's Distinguished Graduates on the basis of high achievements in scholarship, leadership, and service to the college. To date, 369 Dean's Distinguished Graduates have been so honored. In keeping with previous Dean's Distinguished Graduates, the college anticipates that the current group will excel both inside and outside of the classroom. They will often be honors students or those who have undertaken extensive undergraduate research projects. Others will be active in leadership positions either in the college, university, or community. Whatever their specific achievements, these are students who best represent the academic and service ideals of the college.
This year, the College of Liberal Arts named three Department of English students Dean's Distinguished Graduates: Lindsey Carmichael, Monica Gully, and Matthew Ramirez. The Department of English congratulates them on their many achievements.
Lindsey A. Carmichael, a native Texan, is a double major in history and English. Her essays, poetry, and short fiction have already won first place in Department of English writing contests. After graduation, Carmichael has her "sights on publication in historical research and creative fiction novels." Indeed, one of her history professors, Dr. L.J. Andrew Villalon, has been so impressed with her writing and research capabilities from having her as a student in three of the four classes he teaches, that he recently asked Carmichael to submit a chapter for a new book he will be co-editing on women of power in the Middle Ages. Villalon's new book will include submissions from "a number of well-respected scholars from national universities," he said.
In 2009, she won the Mike Wacker Award from the Texas Parents' Association "for courage and perseverance in the face of extreme adversity." That adversity was a diagnosis at age four with McCune Albright Syndrome - a rare bone condition that causes bones to weaken and then fracture. Despite enduring numerous surgeries and broken bones, Carmichael has certainly lived by her motto - a quote from John Wooden: "Don't let what you cannot do interfere with what you can do." A member of the UT archery team, for which she has served as chief senior recruitment officer, vice president, and coach, Carmichael has competed at the Beijing Paralympics. In 2008 she earned a Bronze Medal for the United States, the first in 34 years that any female athlete-"able-bodied or otherwise," as she puts it-has earned in this sport. She also belongs to the university's Toastmasters group and to the Friar Society, UT's oldest honor society, for which she currently serves in multiple officer capacities. Carmichael works as an administrative assistant in the office at Trinity United Methodist Church in Austin and is a virtual franchisee for National Safety Associates Juice Plus+ dietary supplements.
Monica Gully has spent four years at UT pursuing majors in English and Plan II and becoming an active member of the UT community. Her senior English Honors thesis, directed by Dr. James Loehlin and entitled "‘Puzel or Pussel': Shakespeare's Women and the Interplay of Comedy and Tragedy in 1 Henry VI," investigates the role of Shakespeare's French female characters in constructing the play's comedy and draws conclusions on the influence of comedy and tragedy in Shakespeare's chronicle history plays, particularly the impact on the audience and the performers. Gully pursued her love for Shakespeare through several avenues, including assisting with research on an edition of Cymbeline, attending performances in London and Stratford with the department's Oxford Summer Program, acting in two short productions of Midsummer Night's Dream and The Tempest with Spirit of Shakespeare (SOS), and acting in over thirty combined full-length performances of The Merchant of Venice, Twelfth Night, Macbeth, Part 1 of Henry VI, and Merry Wives of Windsor with Shakespeare at Winedale.
In addition to her Shakespeare studies, Gully has pursued a passion for student affairs through leadership in several different liberal arts student organizations, English Council and Liberal Arts Council among others, and in mentoring of other students. She worked as a TIP (Texas Interdisciplinary Plan) Mentor, advising and guiding four freshmen students through their first year of college. In fall 2009 she founded the English Council in order to encourage a sense of community among English students, and to serve as a student voice to the department. Additionally, she served as the Student Affairs Chair for Liberal Arts Council, planning and organizing large programs that promote student life in the College of Liberal arts, including "Getting Into Law School for Dummies," regular Focus Meetings with the deans of the college, Project ReFRESH, and promotional events and fairs with other liberal arts student organizations. After recognizing her dedication to student affairs, Gully has decided to pursue a career in it, beginning with work for the College of Liberal Arts this summer, and ultimately pursuing a Ph.D. in Higher Education Administration.
Matthew Ramirez started college at UT-Pan American in the Rio Grande Valley, he decided to take some courses in the Humanities. On the first day one of his professors began his lecture by discussing Inanna, a fertility goddess whose myths stretch further back than our systems of writing. He was fascinated by the structure of myths, and from then on he began identifying recurring character types. In his research, Matthew was met with eager support from some professors, but was discouraged when others-and family members too-told him that he mustn't aspire to attend graduate school. Leaving home for an undergraduate education was something no one in his family had done. Yet he has found in Austin an environment amenable to his academic pursuits. He has recently penned an opera libretto, The Passion of Vibia Perpetua, and is now completing his honors thesis in English with a classical twist, entitled "Pharmakoi and Pharmaka: Towards a Theory of the Exposed Eiron as Literary Scapegoat."
May 12, 2011
Ethan Alexander: 2010 Dean's Distinguished Graduate
Author: Dr. Tim Moore, Professor, Department of Classics
Joshua Ethan Alexander, who will graduate in May with a degree in Ancient History and Classical Civilization, has been named one of this year's Dean's Distinguished Graduates.
Every year the College of Liberal Arts awards this title to 12 graduating seniors in honor of their outstanding achievements in scholarship, leadership, and service to the college. Instituted in 1980, this is the highest honor the College awards its students.
Raised in rural Texas in a family in which no one had yet attended college, Ethan began study at North Texas University when he was just 16, replacing what would normally be his junior year of high school with college work through the Texas Academy of Mathematics and Science. Though he did well at North Texas, he decided that the Academy's science-centered program did not suit well his interests in Classical antiquity, so he continued his studies instead at a community college near his home and then joined the University as a major in Classical Civilization and Ancient History.
Because he had fulfilled so many of his general requirements before he arrived, and because he took an exceptionally heavy load each semester and during the summer, Ethan was able to complete his degree at UT in only two years.
As he continued his studies in antiquity, Ethan realized a way he could put his interests to the best use: he plans to obtain a law degree with a specialty in antiquities law. Ethan is an active member of UT's chapter of Eta Sigma Phi, the Classics honorary society, and with several other members of the chapter he will attend the organization's national convention in April.
March 8, 2010
Nicole Kreisberg: 2010 Dean's Distinguished Graduate
Author: Dr. Cynthia Gladstone, Advisor, Department of Latin American Studies
Each spring the College of Liberal Arts honors as Dean’s Distinguished Graduates twelve graduating seniors who have proved themselves outstanding in the areas of scholarship, leadership, and service. This year one of those chosen is a LLILAS student, Anna Nicole Kreisberg.
Nicole is a double major in Latin American Studies and Anthropology, and she is earning departmental honors from Latin American Studies with a thesis entitled “Industrial Enslavement: H-2B Guest Workers and the Quest for Justice.“ Her awards and scholarships include two Joe R. and Teresa Lozano Long Undergraduate Scholarships from LLILAS; a Davidson Family Endowed Scholarship in Latin American Studies, also from LLILAS; and an Undergraduate Research Fellowship. Nicole has been active on the university speech team, in Junior Fellows as an avid researcher, and in immigration advocacy. Following graduation, she will join Teach for America.
May 5, 2010
John Meyer: 2010 Dean's Distinguished Graduate
Author: Stuart Tendler, Graduate Admissions and Placement Coordinator, Department of Government
Ambitious, curious, energetic, friendly, funny, hard working, humble, inquisitive, intelligent, mature, personable, talented, thoughtful, and unassuming. These are some of the adjectives that have been used to describe Johnny Meyer, a Government honors student with a double major in English, and one of 12 students that College of Liberal Arts Dean Randy Diehl named a 2010 Dean’s Distinguished Graduate, a program established in 1980 to recognize graduating Liberal Arts students who have distinguished themselves in the areas of scholarship, leadership, and service to the college and university community.
More parsimoniously, Johnny Meyer is downright interesting.
September 11, 2001, Johnny Meyer was training with the 1st Unit, 82nd Airborne Division, U.S. Army. The 82nd enjoys a rich history; its soldiers were among the first to arrive in Normandy, June 5, 1944. September of that year, the 82nd undertook Operation Market Garden – an attempt to take and secure key Dutch bridges, and thereby provide a northern route into Germany and pave the way for war’s anticipated completion that Fall. Preparing to commemorate the operation, Meyer and his unit found themselves paddling in the middle of a waterway when they were called in and told a plane had hit the World Trade Center. Johnny was ready to be deployed. No such orders came. Dissatisfied, he volunteered for the 501st Airborne Infantry Regiment in Alaska and completed U.S. Army Ranger School, the Army’s premier infantry leadership and tactics program.
The oldest of six children, Johnny’s childhood found him in Dallas, New Orleans, and finally Kansas City, where his father is CEO of the American Red Cross Greater Kansas City Chapter. Family life had a certain impact on his coming of age – a sense of social responsibility and a belief in working with the system to effect change, for example. Other variables also entered the mix – for most people natural disaster meant a reprieve, albeit unwelcome, from work; but when catastrophe struck, Johnny’s dad was paid to roll up the sleeves. And then there were the summer road trips. Looking back he realizes the underbelly may have been whitewashed, but from the car window Johnny saw a beautiful country, one worth preserving and deserving of his pride. He remembers one trip to the Alamo and River Walk. Only after setting his sights on the University of Texas did he realize that trip was to San Antonio, not Austin.
In high school, Johnny was less than distinguished. He was bored, not especially happy, not doing so well academically, disengaged, directionless – a run of the mill American teenager. But, he decided to turn aspirations into action and join the military. In part it was an intellectual experiment – what was being in the military really like? In part it struck Johnny as a good alternative to what was adding up to an empty life. He desired, strongly, to be useful, to make a difference, to have a purpose, and the military seemed to him to be someplace he could gain the tools he needed to actually contribute to society. At the most basic level, parachutes and guns suited his adventurous side.
Regardless, his expectations were low. He did not expect to excel, and figured he would look back on the experience as a quirky experiment of young adulthood. It turned out he was good, really good, and he felt he was good at something for the first time in his life. With each day of training, Johnny realized he wanted it more than other people did, and that he was better than them, and he advanced, quickly, being promoted above his peers four times in under four years. By the time it was all over, he had led an infantry fire-team through continuous and sustained combat operations along the Afghan-Pakistani border without receiving casualties, was recognized for leading the best trained fire-team in the unit, and, in a non-combat role, leading a government capacity-building team, awarded a Bronze Star Medal for meritorious service in Iraq.
At this point, readers are forgiven if they fail to predict the next notch in Meyer’s belt – a 2009 Roy Crane Award in the Arts, an award given to University of Texas at Austin students for unique, creative effort in the performing, literary, and visual arts. Johnny received the award in recognition of his novel, American Volunteers, which he subsequently adapted and produced as a play. The novel is based on his experience in war, an experience that began in October 2003 when he was flown into Kabul, where he remained for about one month, providing security for an Afghan training ground, before being deployed to patrol the Afghan-Pakistani border.
Following the deployment, Johnny was faced with a choice – go Special Forces and career military, or leave the service. January 1, 2005, his military service officially ended, and he began a road trip from Alaska to Austin in search of the non-existent River Walk, the “awesomeness” his Ranger buddy who had been ROTC in Austin assured him was waiting, and life without state income tax, but also, and mostly, the college degree he always knew he wanted, something the military’s educational divide between the officer corps and the infantry reinforced.
Ever learning on the fly, Meyer realized he did not yet have the credentials to be admitted to the big campus, so he enrolled at Austin Community College, which he attended for four-five semesters. ACC served Johnny well. The diverse student body allowed him to see the lay of the land – to imagine where he may have been if he never joined the military and to see where he might be headed if he did not continue pushing forward. Overall, the environment offered some flexibility as he reintegrated into civilian life, and his educational pursuits were fostered by helpful teachers who got their subject matter across efficiently and detailed quite well how success would be measured at the University. After a lackluster, lackadaisical high school career, Johnny earned a 4.0 at ACC and his application for transfer to UT-Austin was approved. It was a huge weight off his shoulders, and he was proud of his accomplishment.
It was also during his time at ACC that Johnny drafted the American Volunteers manuscript. While naturally reticent of things smacking of labels, Johnny concedes a therapeutic role for writing. Meyer is glad to have been in the military. Indeed, he says that if he had the opportunity to return to military conflict, the draw would be strong. Nevertheless, he was trained to kill, and he trained others to kill, and he survived in an environment where it was kill or be killed. Writing has been a means for Johnny to work through conflicts within his self, and to help ensure his experiences continue strengthening and bettering him and the society he seeks to improve, rather than the alternative.
It was somewhat to Johnny’s dismay that in September 2006, three weeks after enrolling at the University of Texas, he was called back to the Army. After his initial release he assumed he would be called back. With the passage of time and the power of his writing, his military experiences were becoming decidedly in the past, and he even thought he might be reaching a point where he didn’t think about it on a daily basis. Being called back was a bit defeating – trapped is the feeling he described, like he had walked through a new door but into the same room. Johnny kept his chin up and took the attitude that he had been through the experience before, he had gained some perspective on that experience, and he could use that to do his job better the second time around.
As it happened, his second experience would be vastly different. Meyer was promoted to staff sergeant and sent to Baghdad, where he joined a provisional reconstruction team and was put in charge of more than 50 local national workers. In short, the United States is trying to get a functioning government in Iraq. Local national workers are basically Iraqi lobbyists who operate throughout the country trying to establish a government responsive to citizen needs and demands. Johnny was made non-commissioned officer in charge of operations and returned to Austin in 2008 with a new perspective, one which pushed him to leave the College of Communications and set his sights on political science. Involved as he was in the day-to-day of trying to establish a working government in Iraq, the journalism Meyer once thought he wanted to do no longer seemed up to snuff. Finally at that place where he could make the kind of serious impact he wanted to, Johnny found great value in the political science literature he had access to, finding the political science he was reading matched better the reality on the ground than did anything he found in a newspaper. The newspaper was comparatively superficial and possibly inaccurate; the political science was deeper and applicable.
Meyer’s growing preference for political science went beyond the expediency of the moment. Journalism as a deadline-driven profession no longer appealed to him. He became acutely aware of his deliberative nature, and put off by the idea of having to publish without adequate time for reflection. In a related vein, objectivity as a core political science value really drew him in. His military experience made him ever conscious of the importance of being correct; or, perhaps more to the point, the consequences of being wrong. He came to find in political science a discipline with real tools and intent to reach objective and accurate conclusions, and, combined with his experiences seeing what can happen when such conclusions are applied, he had finally reached a point where the opportunity and ability to be a progressive influence in his world became reality.
Johnny Meyer has the makings of a phenomenal political scientist – a passion for objectivity and rigor, serious grounding and experience in real politics, and unique access to unique data. His honors thesis originated in the two classes he took with his supervisor, Robert Moser, an expert on electoral institutions. The future of Iraq is a question of whether rival groups can overcome a past of violent conflict and achieve a semblance of cooperation. Meyer seeks to answer whether elections can be designed in a way that makes this happen. Currently, Iraq operates with a proportional representation electoral system that seeks to give adequate representation to Iraq’s various groups and is designed to force formation of a cross-group national coalition. Looking specifically at the 2005 election, Meyer found that for the most part the institutions worked as hoped, but with a glaring and problematic exception.
Meyer believes a major problem in the 2005 election was the so-called compensatory seats. Delegates to the national government were selected through the aggregation of votes cast at the level of different regional districts. The division of the country into these regional districts is designed to force intra-group political competition within the region – that is, to institutionalize moderate, non-sectarian politics by forcing politicians to compete for votes within the same group. However, a certain number of seats – the compensatory seats – were reserved for votes based on a national aggregation, which provided an incentive for hardliner groups to mobilize along sectarian lines, at least initially. But Meyer insists on the malleability of identity and interests. In the Army, his inclination was that trying to establish a democracy in Iraq reeked of suicide and foolishness. Not anymore. Whether regime change and nation-building in Iraq is worth the high costs he accepts as a necessary and open question. But that it can be done he considers objectively accurate. Institutions, he says, can provide incentives that change behavior in predictable ways. He should know. He was there when the proper incentives induced people to stop shooting, even if only temporarily.
March 31, 2010
Daniel Dawer: 2009 Dean's Distinguished Graduate
Ari Schulman: 2009 Dean's Distinguished Graduate
Every year the College of Liberal Arts names twelve Dean’s Distinguished Graduates on the basis of high achievements in scholarship, leadership, and service to the college. To date, 345 Dean’s Distinguished Graduates have been so honored. In keeping with previous Dean’s Distinguished Graduates, the college anticipates that the current group will excel both inside and outside of the classroom. They will often be honors students or those who have undertaken extensive undergraduate research projects. Others will be active in leadership positions either in the college, university, or community. Whatever their specific achievements, these are students who best represent the academic and service ideals of the college.
This year, the English Department nominated two undergraduates for this honor: Daniel Dawer and Ari Schulman. Both were selected as Dean's Distinguished Graduates based on their high levels of achievement.
Ari is a double major in Honors English and Honors Computer Science, and he has excelled in both subjects. His Computer Science research is about developing a new style of database programming that is easier for programmers to work with and maintain. His English thesis explores the novel The Moviegoer by Walker Percy in the context of the work of philosophers Alasdair MacIntyre and Soren Kierkegaard, and attempts to ascertain what the novel can teach about the relationship between narrative structure and aesthetics. He has started two websites: the Austin Map Project, an early geotagging site exclusive to Austin; and ClassPoint, which is a free course planning, discussion, and review site that serves 3000 students at UT and A&M.
Ari writes short stories in his free time, one of which was published in Analecta and another of which won an award in the Burleson Writing Contest for Undergraduate Fiction. This past fall he was a finalist for the Rhodes Scholarship. This past summer Ari interned for The New Atlantis, a journal in Washington, DC, that explores the ethics of emerging technologies. His article "Why Minds Are Not Like Computers," which explores the abuse of computer terminology in discussions about artificial intelligence, was published in their most recent issue. He has continued working for them in absentia as Assistant Editor, and while he's not sure of his plans post-graduation, his hope is to go work for them full-time.
Daniel Dawer, a double major in Plan II Honors and English Honors with a stellar GPA, taught middle school English for two summers with the Breakthrough Collaborative in Santa Fe, New Mexico. In his second summer, he chaired the English department and designed curricula for eighth and seventh grade students. Daniel currently tutors ninth grade students in algebra and geometry at KIPP Austin Collegiate High School and mentors a fifth grader through Big Brothers Big Sisters at KIPP Austin College Prep Middle School.
His honors thesis, entitled “‘Space: what you damn well have to see’: Psychogeography and Urban Instability in James Joyce’s Ulysses” interprets the urban space of Ulysses through the lens of the Situationist International, a group of avant-garde urban theorists. He traveled to Dublin, Ireland, this winter to conduct archival research as well as fieldwork for the design of an interactive map of an episode of Ulysses.
Daniel has received two Endowed Presidential Scholarships as well as an Undergraduate Research Fellowship and a Plan II Thesis grant to fund his travel to Dublin. For his service with Breakthrough, he received a Segal AmeriCorps Education Award. Additionally, he has placed first in three writing contests: the 2007 and 2008 Worthington Essay Contests and the English department’s Burleson Writing Contest in Literary Criticism. Additionally, Daniel has had a paper accepted to the 2009 North American James Joyce Conference in Buffalo, New York, to be presented this June.
After graduation, Daniel will study for a Master of Arts in Teaching and plans to teach English in a high-need urban public middle or high school immediately after.
April 2, 2009
Ronnye Stidvent: 1998 Dean's Distinguished Graduate
Author: Dr. Tom Gilligan, Dean, Department of Finance, Red McCombs School of Business
“Where Leadership is Earned” is not just a snappy phrase. Our core purpose is to educate leaders that create value for society—and frankly, to be a significant business school we must charge toward that goal, not just wait for it to walk through our doors.
We recently made a significant addition to our leadership development capacity that is both purposeful and bold.
Veronica “Ronnye” Stidvent has joined us from the LBJ School of Public Affairs. Before returning to the university, where she earned her undergraduate degree, Stidvent served in the White House as special assistant to the president for policy and as assistant secretary for policy at the U.S. Department of Labor.
What makes her arrival particularly significant is her seminal role in the development of the Hispanic Leadership Initiative (HLI), which includes Subiendo: The Academy for Rising Leaders, programs focused on advancing leadership education among Hispanic students.
At McCombs, Stidvent will continue her work as the director of the HLI while also serving as a lecturer in the new Department of Business, Government and Society. Her work with HLI is designed to elevate leadership opportunities for the largest and youngest minority group in the United States, a changing demography that brings both challenges and opportunities.
One of the challenges is reaching out to a rising generation of Hispanic youth who, in some cases, do not see themselves as potential leaders. Last year, Stidvent launched the Subiendo Academy, a four-day intensive summer program that brought aspiring high school seniors together with leadership examples such as Sara Martinez Tucker, MBA '79, former undersecretary of the U.S. Department of Education, and Kenneth M. Jastrow, BBA '69, MBA '71, former chairman and CEO of Temple-Inland.
In the words of one participant, “This program gave me something a classroom never could—a dream.”
I encourage you to seek out Stidvent and hear the story of the Hispanic Leadership Initiative. You’ll recognize that her passion for developing leadership capacity among students of diverse backgrounds is genuine, and her accomplishments show that she can and will have an impact here at McCombs.
Dec. 1, 2010
Michael Buhrmester, Manasi Deshpande, Lydia Eckhoff, Reid Long, Annalee Sweet and Tanvir Vahora
Michael graduates with a B.A. in Plan II Honors, Honors Psychology, and a minor in philosophy. As President of the Plan II Pre-Law Society, Michael has helped fellow Plan II'ers (and himself) explore law careers and prepare for the LSAT. He has spent considerable time working on various projects in psychology, and his thesis examines the effects of defendant's characteristics and victim trauma on jurors' motivations to punish and sentence severity. Continuing his passion for doing research, Michael will attend UT for graduate training in the Social and Personality Psychology Ph.D. program, and is very excited to remain a Longhorn for the next several years!
Manasi Deshpande was named as a 2006 Truman Scholar. As founder and president of Students for Access, Manasi is also devoted to improving campus accessibility and disability services. She conducted a research study on campus accessibility, and led a student effort to develop an online interactive accessibility map of campus for which she was named the 2007 Recipient of the PAL-Make a Difference Award, recognizing student participation in leadership and public service initiatives. Manasi hopes to pursue a Ph.D. in natural resource economics and a career in energy policy. She is a Cactus Yearbook Outstanding Student, a member of the Friar Society, and a Supplemental Instruction leader in the Department of Economics. She will graduate in May with a BA in Plan II, Economics and Mathematics.
While at the University of Texas, Lydia Eckhoff majored in Plan II, French and Linguistics. She volunteered with the after-school reading program Heart House and tutored at the University of Texas Learning Center. For her senior thesis on Haitian language use and attitudes, which won a University Co-op George Mitchell award, she used her experience of growing up in Haiti. Following graduation, Lydia plans to continue her studies at the University of Texas through the master's program in Foreign Language Education.
Samuel Reid Long's broad interests have taken him from East Texas to Vienna via chemistry, art history, medicine, and oral history. His extraordinary Plan II Honors thesis undertook an oral history of a rural school district in his hometown. He served as a research assistant in the Lagowski chemistry lab, as an accuracy editor for several chemistry textbooks and manuals, as president of the Plan II Pre-Medical Society as well as the policy director for the Senate of College Councils. He will start a Ph.D. program in chemistry at UT next year.
Annalee Sweet was born and raised in New York City. She moved to Austin in the fall of 2003 to attend the Plan II Honors and English Honors programs at the University of Texas at Austin. Annalee has performed in a play every semester of college and has been highly involved in a variety of theatre groups, including Plan II's Broccoli Project. She studied modern drama and Shakespeare with Dr. James Loehlin, and completed both the Shakespeare at Winedale spring and summer courses. This year she enjoyed working as an intern at the Harry Ransom Center in the Performing Arts Department and writing her thesis on femininity in the theatre of Anton Chekhov.
Tanvir is a Plan II Honors, Government, and Arabic major and is the founder of Students for a Healthy Future, a service organization dedicated to childhood nutrition. She has also served as Vice President of Service and Scholarship for Orange Jackets, one of the oldest service organizations on campus. This past year, she was a senior student associate to Professor Lee Walker for his freshman Plan II Tutorial Course entitled "Community and Place." She is passionate about the Middle East and hopes to one day enter public service with an emphasis on foreign policy. Tanvir attributes her collegiate success to her parents, from whom she inherited a strong work ethic and a sense of responsibility to others.
May 2, 2007
Grace Eckhoff: 2009 Dean's Distinguished Graduate
Grace Eckhoff researching drug resistant strains of tuberculosis.
Eckhoff is a Plan II Honors student in the College of Liberal Arts and an Honors biology major in the Dean's Scholars Honors program in the College of Natural Sciences. As a Marshall Scholar, she'll be pursuing a master of science degree in public health in developing countries at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine.
Eckhoff grew up in Haiti, where her parents were doctors at a small hospital. While her parents were working, she'd often pass the time playing with the kids in the chronic illness ward, most of whom had tuberculosis. They were being treated there, rather than at home, precisely to preempt the development of drug resistant strains of tuberculosis.
Read about Grace's research on tuberculosis in Afghanistan.
"I am thrilled," says Eckhoff, "at the opportunity to study public health a at premier institution where the faculty not only teach about public health but are actively involved in improving the health of individuals all over the world."
"Grace is one of the most impressive students I have known in my time at UT," says David Laude, dean for undergraduate education in the College of Natural Sciences. "She combines a powerful intellect with an enormous capacity to do good in the world. The fluidity with which she transitioned her research on antibiotics resistance from the Freshman Research Initiative laboratory to Afghan clinics and hospitals was a remarkable accomplishment."
Marshall Scholarships finance young Americans of high ability to study for a degree in the United Kingdom. Up to forty Scholars are selected each year to study at graduate level at an UK institution in any field of study.
Founded by a 1953 Act of Parliament, and named in honor of US Secretary of State George C Marshall, the Scholarships commemorate the humane ideals of the Marshall Plan and they express the continuing gratitude of the British people to their American counterparts.
As future leaders, with a lasting understanding of British society, Marshall Scholars strengthen the enduring relationship between the British and American peoples, their governments and their institutions. Marshall Scholars are talented, independent and wide-ranging, and their time as Scholars enhances their intellectual and personal growth. Their direct engagement with Britain through its best academic programs contributes to their ultimate personal success.
Nov. 11, 2009
Manasi Deshpande: 2007 Dean's Distinguised Graduate
Author: Tracy Mueller
Imagine you’re on the Forty Acres, trying to get to a final exam. It’s raining outside, so you have to be careful because the sidewalks tend to get slippery. The test has been moved from your usual classroom, so you’re unsure as to what route to take, but you consult the campus map and pick your path. Only, when you get there, the way is blocked by a construction project. You find an alternate route, but now you’re running late.
Finally, you arrive at the building, only to find that the elevator is out of order. Now imagine that you experienced this in a wheelchair.
Those slight inconveniences can become major problems for someone like Manasi Deshpande (Economics, Plan II and Mathematics), who has been in a wheelchair for eight years. She not only has to worry about grades and studying, but how to get to her classes, find accessible buildings and determine which doors to use.
Inspired by her challenges navigating campus, Deshpande wanted to draw attention to campus accessibility. Funded by an undergraduate research scholarship from the College of Liberal Arts, she conducted a study to discover if university administrators’ views on accessibility would change after they experienced life in a wheelchair.
“I always had this idea that, if the people involved in planning a campus were in wheelchairs, things would be different,” Deshpande says. “Administrators feel like they understand how hard it is to get around campus, but I wanted to know if they really do.”
Deshpande used students aspiring to be university administrators as her sample group. They took a pre-test, with questions about the state of campus accessibility. After using a wheelchair on campus for half of the day, they were tested again, to see if their views changed.
The results showed participants’ awareness and their willingness to spend money on improving campus accessibility significantly increased after navigating campus in a wheelchair.
In 2006, Deshpande presented her report to the president and vice presidents of the university, Services for Students with Disabilities and the Faculty Building Advisory Committee. As a result, the committees began taking steps to implement her recommendations, such as improving wayfinding signs and door entrances, strengthening disability services and seeking feedback from persons with disabilities in the campus planning process.
Another goal of Deshpande’s was to increase faculty and student understanding in interacting with students who have disabilities.
“I think it’s human nature for people to think, ‘Oh, she’s different from me, and if there are 1,000 other people I could talk to or be friends with, then it keeps me from having to worry about seeing something that I don’t really want to see,’” Deshpande says. “So part of what I’m trying to do with my work is educate people so that when they see someone with a disability, they can feel more comfortable about talking to that person.”
Deshpande’s desire to educate extends to other areas as well. She tutored students at the Undergraduate Writing Center, and, as co-chair of Students for a Sustainable Campus, raised ideas about how economic principles can help protect the environment.
Maintaining a 4.0 grade point average throughout her college career, Deshpande earned the prestigious Harry S. Truman Scholarship, in addition to numerous other honors including the Texas Union Pal—Make a Difference Award, Texas Parents’ Mike Wacker Award, Cactus Yearbook Outstanding Student award and the Texas Exes’ Presidential Leadership Award.
Following graduation, Deshpande will join The Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C., as a research assistant. She then plans to pursue a joint graduate degree in economics and law.
Dec. 18, 2007