College of Liberal Arts and Sciences names spring 2016 Dean’s Medalists

April 26, 2016

On Tuesday, May 10, the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at Arizona State University will recognize its highest-achieving students from the social sciences, natural sciences and humanities at the spring 2016 convocation ceremony.                                              

Each department and school within the college has selected an outstanding student who has demonstrated an unyielding commitment to academic excellence during their time at ASU. These students will be awarded a prestigious Dean’s Medal to be worn with their graduation regalia as they lead their fellow graduates during the processional in honor of their scholastic achievements. Yesenia Brewster, School of Transborder Studies Dean's Medalist Yesenia Brewster, Dean's Medalist in the School of Transborder Studies, majored in Transborder Chicana/o and Latina/o Studies (Media and Expressive Culture) and English (Literature). Download Full Image

The Dean’s Medalists have made significant strides in their academic careers. From advanced coursework and honors theses to innovative research and consistently high grades, it’s no doubt each of these students will make impressive contributions to society and the world after graduation.

Meet this year’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences Dean’s Medalists:

Alex Benninger 

Dean’s Medal: School of International Letters and Cultures

Majors: Chinese and Spanish

Accomplishments: Benninger has been studying overseas at Tianjin Normal University as part of the Chinese Language Flagship Program while completing a professional internship. He has been selected for various honors, including the Raymond and Ava Tartar Literature Scholarship and the Robert J. Kestelik Scholarship. In addition to studying in Spain, Benninger has also studied in Taipei and Beijing.

Future Plans: Benninger plans to pursue a graduate degree in translation and interpretation. 

“Alex is an excellent student,” said Robert Joe Cutter, director and professor of Chinese in the School of International Letters and Cultures. “He clearly has the talent and motivation to continue to excel in his language studies and future career."

Alexis Wagner

Dean’s Medal: School of Politics and Global Studies

Major: Political Science

Certificates: Political Entrepreneurship and International Relations

Accomplishments: Wagner participated in the Capital Scholarship program during the summer of 2015. She interned at the U.S Department of the Treasury in the Office of Foreign Assets Control and earned superior evaluations from her supervisor. She conducted research on current Iran sanctions and presented findings in a paper. In addition, Wagner presented another research paper, “The Impact of Fact Checking in Presidential Primaries,” at the Pi Sigma Alpha Student Research Conference.

“Alexis embodies the core tenets of the school insofar as her academic research, talents, work ethic and personal life demonstrates her commitment to citizenship,” said Richard Herrera, associate director and professor in the School of Politics and Global Studies.

Andrew Rogge

Dean’s Medal: School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning

Major: Urban Planning

Minor: Architectural Studies

Certificate: Geographical Information Systems

Accomplishments: Rogge is an outstanding and creative student with a passion for cities and urbanism. He has participated in the Global Classroom, an innovative 18-month sustainability program in conjunction with Leuphana University. In addition, he has helped establish an action plan for downtown Mesa as part of his graduate-level urban design studio.

Thesis: Rogge’s honor thesis applies Kevin Lynch’s theories on urban imagery to the German capital. Utilizing firsthand field work and analysis of documented imagery, Rogge examined the changes taking place in the urban form of Berlin and the way iconic symbols of the city’s “image” have evolved. 

Anna Carson

Dean’s Medal: School of Human Evolution and Social Change

Major: Global Health

Minor: Mandarin Chinese

Accomplishments: Last spring, Carson studied the factors affecting fertility decisions at theLaboratory of Culture Change and Behavior. She later won the Circumnavigator Award for researching the positive roles midwives play in the health of mothers. She has already presented the preliminary results at a national midwifery conference and will be presenting at two other international conferences.

Volunteer Work: Carson volunteered as a health educator in Chennai, India, at the International Alliance for the Prevention of AIDS. She developed a curriculum for women’s self-health groups in urban slums.

Thesis: Carson’s thesis focuses on the role of midwives in improving maternal health. She conducted research over the summer while traveling to six countries at different corners of the globe. 

“My colleagues in Bangladesh and Guatemala were impressed with her professionalism, her intellect and her drive to improve maternal health globally,” said Daniel Hruschka, professor in the School of Human Evolution and Social Change. “I believe that this passion combined with her exceptional academic record as a student at ASU make her an excellent candidate for the CLAS Dean’s Medalist.”

Annette Marino

Dean’s Medal: Department of Psychology

Major: Psychology (Psychological Science)

Accomplishments: Marino has obtained considerable research experience working as a research assistant for multiple semesters in three different faculty laboratories. She acquired extensive training in electroencephalography to assist her research on whether neural activity predicts differences in comprehension of reading materials. Her findings are likely to be publishable in a top psychology journal.

Thesis: “The Neural Correlates of Embodied Cognition in Comprehension and Imagination”

Volunteer Work: Marino has been the director of special events for ASU’s chapter of Psi Chi and has served on the boards of multiple local service organizations, including CASA and Success for Good.

“[Annette] has clearly made the most of her opportunities at ASU, and we have no doubt that she will show an excellent return on this investment as she carries her education into the world,” said Michelle Shiota, associate professor in the Department of Psychology.

Brenda Rubio

Dean’s Medal: Hugh Downs School of Human Communication

Major: Communication

Minor: Sociology

Certificate: Civil Communication

Accomplishments: Rubio is a member of the Golden Key International Honor Society and the Golden Key ASU Chapter. She was the Barnes Endowed Scholarship recipient for 2015. She currently serves as the president of the Association of Human Communication and oversees all club activities.

Volunteer Work: Rubio has volunteered at many Institute of Civil Dialogue events and has helped organize community conversations about challenging issues pertaining to education policies and practices in the state of Arizona. In addition, she has worked for Fresh Start Women’s Resource Center, Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America, Rescue Network of Arizona and Phoenix Rescue Mission.

Future Plans: Rubio wants to become a certified facilitator to continue her commitment to productive communication practices in organizational and family contexts. 

“I am sure Brenda will be successful as she graduates and moves on to the next part of her journey,” said Jennifer Linde, senior lecturer in the Hugh Downs School of Human Communication. “She is reliable, keeps great records, and never hesitates to do what needs to be done.”

Cameron Mundo

Dean’s Medal: American Indian Studies

Majors: American Indian Studies and Filmmaking Practices

Accomplishments: Mundo has been on the Dean’s List six times during his academic career. In addition, he is a member of the Golden Key International Honour Society and the Jicarilla Apache Tribal Historical Preservation Office. He was a recipient of the Norman Tecube Sr. Scholarship from the Jicarilla Higher Education program. Mundo also participated in the Edson Student Entrepreneur Initiative and has been instrumental in putting together an American Indian studies recruitment video for the department.

Future Plans: Mundo has been admitted to the graduate program in geographic information systems at ASU.

“Cameron has been a wonderful asset to our program,” said Jennica Fulwilder, academic success specialist. “Our professors feel that he is an outstanding student who is very deserving of this recognition.”    

Christie Trimble

Dean’s Medal: Department of Physics

Major: Physics

Accomplishments: Trimble has been a remarkable contributor to the Nanoscience Laboratory. She has conducted research in nanoscale physics and graphene chemistry. Both projects have or will result in publications and presentations at national meetings. Trimble has been recognized with an award at the 2013 spring undergraduate research symposium and won a NASA space grant internship.

Thesis: “Plasma Enhanced Atomic Layer Deposition of Ultrathin Oxides on Graphene”

Volunteer Work: Trimble has mentored freshman physics majors for two years. She also helped organize a local workshop for women in physics and encouraged female students to attend the American Physical Society conference. Plus, she has done public outreach events at the Arizona Science Center.

Future Plans: Trimble wants to continue advancing physics research and pursue a career in academia.

“[Christie] is a creative and gifted experimental scientist,” said Robert Nemanich, professor in Department of Physics. “She has the skills, the creativity and the perseverance to solve difficult problems.”

Daniel Ober-Reynolds

Dean’s Medal: Department of Economics

Majors: Economics, Mathematics and Philosophy

Accomplishments: Ober-Reynolds’ academic record is outstanding. In addition to maintaining an impressive GPA for a triple major, he has supported himself with several part-time jobs. He has demonstrated a great willingness to share his knowledge by tutoring fellow classmates. Ober-Reynolds has also served as a research assistant to professor Michael Hanemann in the Center for Environmental Economics where he studied the effect of spatial scale measurement on econometric models. 

Jessica Marie Fletcher

Dean’s Medal: Department of English

Majors: English (Creative Writing) and Psychology

Minor: Family and Human Development

Accomplishments: Fletcher has participated in multiple co-curricular activities to complement her studies in writing and psychology. She served as a teacher’s assistant for ASU’s prison program, an editor-in-chief and blogger for Superstition Review and an intern for the Pen Project. In addition, Fletcher has been published in the fiction section of Lux Undergraduate Creative Review.

Thesis: Fletcher’s honors thesis is a collection of biographical military stories.

Future Plans: Fletcher plans to pursue a master’s degree program in counseling, focusing on mental health and rehabilitation. She also wants to continue pursuing her literary interests.

Kenton Woods

Dean’s Medal: T. Denny Sanford School of Social and Family Dynamics

Majors: Family and Human Development and Psychology

Accomplishments: Woods has been involved in multiple research projects. Currently, he is a co-manager for the Macro Coding Lab as part of the Las Madres Nuevas research project. Woods has also worked as a research assistant for the ASPIRE project where he was able to visit several high schools and collect survey information. Additionally, he has worked as a senior community mentor in San Pablo.

Future Plans: Woods plans on continuing his education and pursuing his interest in peer relationships and mental health.

“Kenton understands the importance of getting the most out of his education and has always taken the initative to take on leadership and research positions,” said Lois Goldblatt, academic success coordinator. “I am very impressed impressed with his motivation to learn and his leadership skills.”

Marketta Kachemov

Dean’s Medal: School of Life Sciences

Major: Biological Sciences (Genetics, Cellular and Developmental Biology)

Accomplishments: After spending a summer doing research through the Helios Scholars program, Kachemov developed as a scientist and pursued a collaborative project between three different labs to look at changes in protein expression associated with chronic stress and recovery. She submitted a proposal for the work to the School of Life Sciences Research Innovation Challenge and got funding the groundbreaking research almost entirely on her own.  

Thesis: Kachemov’s research uses changes in protein expression to study the neurobiology of stress.

Volunteer Work: Kachemov has a wonderful record of service with the Children First Academy of Tempe. She works with children to give them the tools and encouragement they need to succeed. 

Future Plans: Kachemov plans to continue neuroscience research in graduate school. She’s in the process of interviewing with a number of the top neuroscience doctoral programs in the country.

“Marketta is a remarkable individual,” said Miles Orchinik, associate professor in the School of Life Sciences. “She is the best student researcher I’ve had in 20 years, and she’s one of the most promising students I’ve met at ASU.”

Miranda Herman

Dean’s Medal: School of Earth and Space Exploration

Majors: Earth and Space Exploration (Astrophysics) and Physics

Accomplishments: Herman has been involved in multiple research projects during her time at ASU. She has investigated the properties of stars with close-orbiting giant exoplanets to understand effects of star companions on planet properties and will be the second author on a refereed publication. Herman also worked abroad at the Chilean Atacama Large Millimeter Array headquarters in Santiago, Chile to edit and create new code to analyze data from the Herschel sub-millimeter space observatory.

Thesis: For her thesis project, Herman is monitoring the atmospheres of brown dwarfs over multiple epochs to determine how each atmosphere may vary with time.

“Miranda has been an exemplary student and shows exceptional promise for the future,” said Patrick Young, associate professor and chair of the undergraduate education committee in the School of Earth and Space Exploration.

Sahba Zaare

Dean’s Medal: School of Molecular Sciences

Major: Biochemistry

Accomplishments: Zaare always ranks in the top handful of students in his courses. He has also been engaged in undergraduate research in the Center for Personalized Diagnostics at the Biodesign Institute. His first publication has been accepted by the Journal of Visualized Experiments. In addition, Zaare was the recipient of the Hypercube Award and the Merck Index Award.

Thesis: By graduation, Zaare will have worked about 16 months toward the completion of his honors thesis, a project aimed at developing gas chromatography-mass spectrometry to detect the significance of glycosylation products in the blood plasma of breast cancer patients compared to healthy individuals.

Volunteer Work: Zaare has worked with Relay for Life to raise money for cancer research.

Future Plans: Zaare plans to pursue a master’s or doctoral program while working in oncology research.

Scott Prada

Dean’s Medal: School of Historical, Philosophical and Religious Studies

Major: Religious Studies

Accomplishments: Recommended by four faculty members, Prada has shown outstanding performance in his religious studies classes. In addition to maintaining consistently high grades, Prada is always exceedingly well prepared, able to capture analytical, comparative and applied perspectives, and ready to articulate his knowledge in clear writing and expression.

Future Plans: Prada has been accepted into the master’s degree program in religious studies at ASU.

“Scott is an extraordinarily motivated student who showed persistent excellence during his studies,” said Alexander Henn, director of undergraduate studies and professor in the School of Historical, Philosophical and Religious Studies. 

Tin Phan

Dean’s Medal: School of Mathematical and Statistical Sciences

Majors: Mathematics and Physics

Accomplishments: As an incoming freshman, Phan had participated twice in the Joaquin Bustoz Math-Science Honors program. He believed a strong foundation in physics would help him gain insight into natural phenomenon at a fundamental level. As a result, Phan has been involved in two concurrent summer research projects on prostate cancer modeling and ant cannibalism.

Future Plans: Phan plans to pursue a doctoral degree in mathematics at ASU. He wants to leverage the vast amount of resources available at the university to equip himself with the experience to help others.

“[Tin] is an outstanding example of what it means to live the art and science of mathematics,” said Jelena Milovanovic, chair of the scholarship and awards committee for the School of Mathematical and Statistical Sciences.

Ty Clarke

Dean’s Medal: School of Social Transformation

Major: Justice Studies

Minors: English (Literature) and Business

Certificate: Economic Justice

Accomplishments: Clarke co-founded the Global Affairs Theoretical and Empirical Journal, ASU’s first international relations, peer-reviewed academic journal. In addition, he has been an intern for the Anti-Defamation League’s Investigative Research Department, Social Economy in Arizona and Gina’s Team.

Future Plans: Clarke plans to attend law school with a goal of becoming a civil-rights lawyer who fights for social justice and advocates for equity.  

Yesenia Brewster

Dean’s Medal: School of Transborder Studies

Majors: Transborder Chicana/o and Latina/o Studies (Media and Expressive Culture) and English (Literature)

Accomplishments: Brewster has shown a consistent commitment to academic achievement and research in transborder studies. She has received the Wells Fargo Transborder Chicana/o and Latina/o Studies Research Scholarship twice, is a member of the National Society of Collegiate Scholars and has been on the Dean’s List for four consecutive years.

Research: Brewster’s research focuses on the development of Afro-Latina identity in higher education.

“There is no doubt that Yesenia is an exceptional student who will continue to be successful in her future endeavors,” said Alejandro Lugo, director and professor in the School of Transborder Studies. 

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Senior Marketing Content Specialist, EdPlus


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Unearthing a mystery from history

New project enticing for ASU's Buikstra, founder of the field of bioarchaeology.
Cemetery may increase understanding of ancient diet, disease, politics and more.
April 26, 2016

ASU bioarchaeologist co-leading study curating remains — including about 150 shackled skeletons — from Greek port, using science to understand their lives, deaths

Sometime between 2,800 and 2,500 years ago, just before the city-state of Athens was born, about 150 people in shackles were thrown into a burial pit in a Greek port city.

Were they prisoners of war? Criminals? Political prisoners? Slaves?

The pit was a necropolis — a cemetery, literally a city of the dead, used for centuries. Besides the manacled people tossed in heaps, facedown or tangled together, more than 400 infants and children were buried there in ceramic jars, obviously cared for and treated well, even in death. One person was buried in a wooden boat. Why were all these different people — 1,500 of them, both adored and scorned — buried in the same spot?

It’s a mystery from history, and Jane Buikstra has embarked on a quest to solve it.

“I’m really very excited,” said Buikstra (pictured above), Regents’ Professor Buikstra is a Regents' Professor of bioarchaeology in the School of Human Evolution and Social Change, which is part of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.of bioarchaeology at Arizona State University, and founding director of the Center for Bioarchaeological Research. “It’s very special.”

Buikstra is leading the project to study and curate the remains of the 1,500 people buried at the Athens port of Phaleron (also known as Phalerum).

“About 10 percent of the burials are unusual,” she said. “They were buried shackled. There’s a new feature which is getting a lot of press which I haven’t seen but I’ve heard about. There were a number of individuals thrown into a pit with their arms over their heads, probably — possibly — crucified with their hands above their heads. They didn’t crucify them on crosses. They crucified them on boards, where they’d hang people — whether they were prisoners or war captives, whatever — on boards and then place them out where they could be seen, such as a hill beside the site.”

It was a message.

“Don’t do this, whatever it was,” Buikstra said.

The period is just before the formation of the polis, the city-state that became the basis of the Western world. Identifying who the people of Phaleron were, and how the city-state of Athens rose, are some of the many questions Buikstra and her crew hope to answer.

“There were a lot of strong personalities — not all of which were neighbors you’d like to live next to — who were vying for power at the time,” Buikstra said. “It’s exciting for me to learn about a period I didn’t know all that much about. I’ve worked a lot in the Western Hemisphere. It’s my first major project in the eastern Mediterranean, so it’s exciting to learn about history and what’s been written, to learn that we can put another face on this, that of people who are seldom represented terribly well in written history. History is written by elite people, and they typically have an agenda.”

On Buikstra’s agenda are some burning questions.

Why were beloved children and hated captives buried in the same place?

“That is a question, and we don’t know why,” she said. “The analyses will be able to tell us about diseases.”

Press reports claim the interred were Greeks. Actually, no one knows who they were, or where they came from. Phaleron was a port; they very well may have been sailors or travelers from other countries.

“This port city will be a wonderful place to get a baseline for some of the diseases entering Europe,” Buikstra said. “This was before the great plagues. We should be able, by looking at the chemical signatures and teeth, to talk about diet, but also origins. Were these people local to that region?”

Most intriguing, who were the shackled and crucified dead?

“We are very interested in knowing if these shackled folk appear to be political prisoners or local people from lower socioeconomic classes,” she said. “The whole way in which the Greek armies and the political climate was changed about 2,000 years ago. You had a lot of tensions between the urban area in Athens and the farmers. That frequently played out in tensions between the groups.”

Buikstra wants to create a site management plan for the Phaleron necropolis. Her main task will be to curate and inventory the 1,500 sets of remains before they are analyzed. She has never worked on a site involving that many people before.

“That is unusual,” she said. “I’m sure we’re going to prioritize the group with the shackles.”

They’re a long way from analyzing the skeletons to find out what they ate, how they died, and what their physical condition was. “My goal is to have the archaeological and osteological database online,” Buikstra said.

Buikstra is co-leading the Phaleron Bioarchaeological Project with geoarchaeologist Panagiotis Karkanas, director of the Wiener Laboratory at the American School of Classical Studies at Athens. Their immediate goal for the skeletons showcases the crucial link between excavation of human skeletons and analysis: curation.

The biggest obstacle, besides parsing bones more than 20 centuries old for answers?

“There is no money for the conservation and the curation of the material,” Buikstra said. “And of course for the study either. We are faced with the challenge and the opportunity of taking the material from the excavation — which is now stored in storage containers like you see on trains, but temperature- and humidity-controlled — into the Wiener lab for study.”

Buikstra is considered the founder of the field of bioarchaeology. The field of study uses all the information about remains and their context, moving from an artifact- and object-centered investigation to a people-focused study, looking at individual and community lives. Bioarchaeologists look at chemical signatures in soil and bones. To use an analogy that bioarchaeologists (and homicide detectives) hate, it’s CSI for the ancient world. Were they malnourished? Did they have tuberculosis? Did they eat a lot of one particular type of food? And why? Before Buikstra, archaeology focused on stuff the dead guy was buried with. She shifted that focus onto the dead guy himself.

“There’s been a long tension between the way in which classical archaeologists do historical archaeology and anthropological archaeology, which is what we do in the U.S. and is more scientific in its methodology and theoretical orientation,” Buikstra said. “These two haven’t always been best friends, shall we say. The time has come now in the 21st century where the two sides are coming together and the classical archaeologists are appreciating what learning about the soils can do, learning about the plant residues and so on, rather than just the architecture. Now we can learn about the people as well as the architecture.”

The project has caught the imagination of Buikstra’s students.

“I’m particularly excited because there are several students who are interested in it,” she said. “I always learn from my students.”

The American School of Classical Studies at Athens said the scope and range of the burials are of unparalleled importance for the study of ancient Athens and its port of Phaleron in the Archaic Period.

“The potential that these burials provide for increasing our understanding of ancient Greek society is significant,” the school said in a press release. “Questions concerning ancient diet and disease, as well as social and political processes — such as the death penalty, political reforms and legislation — can potentially be answered. These answers could then lead to comparative studies that would eventually have global impact.”

Buikstra couldn’t be happier.

“I hadn’t expected to take on a new project at this stage in my career, but this is so enticing,” she said. “Here we go.”

Top photo by Deanna Dent/ASU Now

Scott Seckel

Reporter , ASU News