Campus & Community

Harvard Extension School awards its 2004 student prizes and faculty awards

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This year the Harvard Extension School’s Commencement Speaker Award will go to Catherine Anne Rahaim, who completed her master of liberal arts (A.L.M.) degree in religion. Her speech, titled “Open Gates,” highlights her experiences taking evening courses after teaching history during the day at Gardner High School.

The main address at the Graduate Certificate ceremonies – “Leadership as a Learning Process” – to be held at the same time, will be delivered by David A. Spina, chairman and CEO of State Street Corp. In addition, the following Extension School students and faculty will receive special recognition during Commencement:

The Dean’s Prize for the Outstanding A.L.M. Thesis, awarded in each of the five disciplines of the School’s master’s degree program, recognizes work that embodies the highest level of scholarship.

In the behavioral sciences the prize has been awarded to psychology concentrator Grace Lee Uy, who investigated “Daily News Reporting and Its Role in the Development of Secondary Traumatic Stress in Public Safety Newspaper Reporters” under the direction of Professor of Social Medicine Mary Jo DelVecchio Good. Uy’s thesis examined the effects of ongoing exposure to ordinary trauma, including automobile accidents, funerals, armed robberies, and other “ordinary” events that are reported in the news each day by frontline journalists across the United States. Her results showed that while few of these individuals reach clinical criteria for post-traumatic stress disorder, almost all of them are affected by their work and many of them struggle to cope in a field that values objectivity over emotion. Uy combined an “objective” psychometric study with a carefully researched qualitative description of actual cases, using her reporter’s eye to tell the stories that the numbers belie. The thesis director wrote, “Grace carried out this project with precision and excellence … she mastered the psychological model of research very well and did a solid job on the data analysis.” Uy holds a B.S. in journalism from the University of Illinois, and she will be returning to her native Chicago at the end of the summer.

In the social sciences the thesis prize goes to Melissa Dawn Burrage, A.L.M. in history. Burrage’s thesis, “Albert Cameron Burrage: An Allegiance to Boston’s Elite through a Lifetime of Political, Business and Social Reform,” investigates the activities of A.C. Burrage (1859-1931), lawyer, politician, mining entrepreneur, horticulturalist, and philanthropist. The thesis places his career in the context of the attempts of the Boston Brahmin elite to preserve their hegemony through linking to the expanding industrial developments in the United States during the late 19th and early 20th century, and the rising financial aspirations of New York City. The thesis director, Sven Beckert, professor of history, writes that Burrage’s thesis is “a stunning work of scholarship, based on an unbelievably comprehensive use of archival resources all over the country.” Burrage received her bachelor’s degree in music from Keene State College in 1984 and plans to go on for a Ph.D. in American history.

Co-winners of the Dean’s Thesis Prize in the humanities are Jany R. Siddall and Sarah Ann Smith, both concentrators in English and American literature and language. Siddall’s thesis, titled “A Lifetime of Saying ‘I’: First-Person Narrative in Alice Munro’s Stories,” explores the way in which the stories of Munro have, over several decades, created a contemporary autobiographical mode, blurring the boundaries between autobiography and fiction. Her thesis director, Sandra Nadaff, director of studies and senior lecturer on literature, stated: “By raising the question of the manipulation of the first-person within the short story, and by offering up the short story as an alternative means for the autobiographical mode, Siddall makes a strong contribution to the study of [this genre] and to the study of an important contemporary writer.” Siddall holds a B.A. in English from the University of Montpellier, France, and a B.A. in French from the French Institute in London of the University of Lille. She resides in England and France.

Sarah Ann Smith’s thesis is titled “‘Until the Taxis Are Dancing With the Daffodils’: Merging the Internal and External Worlds in Virginia Woolf’s Late Work” and was directed by Dean of Continuing Education and University Extension Michael Shinagel, senior lecturer on English. Focusing on “The Years, Three Guineas, and Between the Acts,” Smith demonstrates how Woolf’s concern over the rise of European fascism prompted a new emphasis in these novels on the impact of external events on the inner world of her characters, and a search for forms that facilitated the merging of fact and fiction. Dean Shinagel praised the study for its “multilayered and luminous critical approach” and called it “a noteworthy addition to Woolf scholarship [that] may well be publishable.” Smith holds a B.A. in English and German from Oberlin College and is currently an elementary school teacher in San Francisco.

Co-winners of the Dean’s Thesis Prize in the A.L.M. in information technology are Jeremy Katz and Eleni Kaxiras.

Katz’s thesis, “Towards Synthetic Genomes: RNA Secondary Structure Reduction,” proposes several computational methods for reducing RNA secondary structure and is based on research in the Harvard Center for Computational Genetics. Katz graduated cum laude from Harvard College with an A.B. in biology, and will attend medical school at the University of Illinois, Chicago, in fall 2004. The thesis director, Nir Friedman, visiting associate professor of computer science, wrote: “I find both the scope and the actual details of the dissertation impressive. Katz definitely shows good understanding of a range of optimization techniques and algorithms, as well as good grasp of the biological question at hand. He developed a fairly large code base to implement these different algorithms and to evaluate them.”

Kaxiras’ thesis, “SciencePeer: Building a Collaborative Problem Solving Environment using Peer-to-Peer Concepts,” involved the development of a tool for scientists in different locations to simultaneously view molecules; at the same time they can use an integrated set of tools for chatting and sharing files with others in the group. Kaxiras has a B.S. in physics from the University of Crete. Henry Leitner, assistant dean for continuing education for information technology and senior lecturer on computer science, described the thesis as an “interesting and challenging problem, supplemented by an elegant implementation.”

In the natural sciences the award goes to Joel N.H. Stern for his thesis “Amelioration of PLP 139-151 Induced EAE by Synthetic Amino Acid Copolymers and Its Mechanisms.” Stern’s research explored a more effective way to reduce the frequency of relapses that multiple sclerosis (MS) patients experience. Using an animal model of MS (EAE mouse model), he developed novel copolymers with modified amino acid compositions and elegantly showed that these copolymers mediate protection against the disease in his mouse model. Jack Strominger, Higgins Professor of Biochemistry, directed and praised Stern’s thesis: “The work is the level of a third- or fourth-year graduate student. He would not have to do a lot more if he were a graduate student in the Department to submit it as his Ph.D. thesis … . It is a spectacular accomplishment for a research assistant.” Stern graduated from Columbia University and is currently choosing a graduate program to attend in the fall.

Santo J. Aurelio Prize

Santo Joseph Aurelio A.L.B. ’83, A.L.M. ’85 received his first two degrees at the Harvard Extension School after age 50, and went on to earn a doctorate and enter a new profession, college teaching, after a career of more than 35 years as an official court stenographer for the Massachusetts Superior Court. The prize recognizes academic achievement and character for undergraduate degree recipients more than 50 years of age.

This year’s recipient is Jeffrey A. Amsel A.L.B. cum laude. Amsel, 53, is graduating near the top of his class with a 3.7 GPA. As a detective in Florida, he sustained a serious injury on the job, and retired from the police force to work as a lobbyist for the rights of disabled law enforcement officials and firefighters in Florida. Now, 27 years after his first college course at McNesse State University in Louisiana, Amsel is earning his bachelor of liberal arts (A.L.B.) degree with a concentration in humanities and a focus on film and creative writing. He has written a screenplay that Paramount Pictures has expressed interest in and is currently working as a technical adviser on a feature-length movie being filmed in Boston.

Derek Bok Public Service Prize

The Derek Bok Public Service Prize honors the commitment of former Harvard President Derek Bok to adult continuing education and to effective advocacy of community service activities. It is awarded annually to degree and certificate recipients at the Extension School, who, while pursuing academic studies and professional careers, also give generously of their time and skill to improve the quality of life for others in the larger community.

The first-place Bok Prize recipient, Eileen Mary Weisslinger A.L.B. cum laude, decided to leave her job in 2001 at a venture capital firm in order to complete her undergraduate degree and found Mir Pace International, a nonprofit organization committed to providing worldwide humanitarian relief and development programs, while providing young American high school-aged students the opportunity to experience and appreciate the effects of absolute poverty and injustice in the lives of millions of people throughout the developing world. In 2003, Mir Pace International was formed and to date has delivered more than $20,000 in tangibles to the people of Bosnia and Herzegovina, El Salvador, and Guatemala. In April 2004, Mir Pace International conducted its first high school student volunteer mission program in the village of Tamahú, Guatemala. Weisslinger’s plans include pursuing her master’s degree in education for at-risk children, while working to build her organization and teaching young people that they too can change the lives of the poor, the vulnerable, and the suffering, both at home and abroad.

The public service projects of Ria Merrill Riesner A.L.B. – second-place co-recipient of the Bok Prize – are numerous and internationally diverse. In 1998 she traveled to sub-Saharan Africa to volunteer at Malawi Children’s Village, a rehabilitation center for AIDS orphans in a country where the HIV infection rate among adults nears 20 percent. In 1999 she was a member of Volunteers for Peace and served as a laborer in Catalonia, Spain, helping to excavate a historically significant 15th century Spanish castle. In Boston, Riesner volunteered at Children’s Hospital, where she spent hours each week holding, playing, and reading to sick children. In Cambridge, she volunteered at Youth on Fire, a safe house and community center near Harvard Square for homeless teenagers at extreme risk for contracting HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases. She plans to attend the American University of Cairo’s Intensive Arabic Program and pursue a career as a Middle East journalist.

Lucia Dentice-Clark, second-place co-recipient of the Bok Prize, is an A.L.M. graduate in archaeology and anthropology. For four years, Dentice-Clark has been a member of Cultural Survival, a nonprofit organization devoted to promoting the rights of indigenous peoples since 1972. Dentice-Clark’s focus has been on the Canadian indigenous people, in particular the Innu of Labrador, and on minorities in Europe, especially the plight of the Roma. The Italian league of Human Rights has chosen her to be on their Cultural Commission. Dentice-Clark’s A.L.M. thesis, titled “Ethnic Identities in Cyberspace: Italy, Ethnicity, the European Union, and the Internet. The URL as “Villagio Virtuale,” investigates how the Internet has become a forum for ethnic groups that had been thought assimilated into the larger nation state of Italy in the 19th century. Her thesis director was David Maybury-Lewis, the Henderson Professor of Anthropology. Dentice-Clark received her bachelor’s degree in art history and anthropology from the University of Southern Connecticut in 1976.

Annamae and Allan R. Crite Prize

Established by the Harvard Extension School and the Harvard Extension Alumni Association in honor of Annamae Crite, who for more than a half-century faithfully attended Extension School courses, and her son, Allan R. Crite, A.B. in Extension Studies ’68, who is widely recognized as the dean of African-American artists in the Greater Boston area, this prize is awarded to Extension School degree recipients who demonstrate “singular dedication to learning and the arts.”

The 2004 Crite Prize goes to Ellen Marie Fonfara, concentrator in the history of art and architecture, whose thesis is titled “The Hindu Temple: A Study in Architectural Symbolism and Repetition.” Beginning with the root derivations of the word “repetition” in both Sanskrit and English, Fonfara finds that it includes not only the idea of duplication but also the meaning of “to seek and regain,” which she links to the original intent of repetitive ornamentation in the Hindu temple, namely, reunion and reintegration with the sacred. The thesis director, Pramod Chandra, George P. Bickford Professor of Indian and South Asian Art, calls Fonfara’s thesis “a remarkable piece of work,” and adds, “The understanding of the part played by repetition in Indian temple architecture and religious thought is an original contribution, one which leads to new paths of exploration.” Fonfara holds an A.B. in psychology from Clark University.

Reginald H. Phelps Prize

The Reginald H. Phelps Prize Fund was established by Edgar Grossman, A.B. in Extension Studies ’66, founder and first president of the Harvard Extension Alumni Association and the first Extension representative to the Associated Harvard Alumni, for prizes to outstanding baccalaureate degree recipients in honor of a former director of the Extension School.

The first prize recipient is David Samuel Blakeslee A.L.B. cum laude. Blakeslee, a social science concentrator, is graduating at the top of his class with a 3.94 GPA. He began his undergraduate career at Harvard Extension in the fall of 2000 and completed all of his undergraduate work through Extension, Harvard Summer School, and the Graduate School of Arts and Science (GSAS). As a GSAS Special Student he studied advanced Sanskrit. Blakeslee will apply to graduate school in either South Asian studies or public policy.

Lata Rachna Parwani A.L.B. cum laude, is the recipient of the second Phelps Prize. Parwani is graduating with the second highest GPA: 3.91. She holds a three-year bachelor’s degree from the University of Karachi, Pakistan, and is the Urdu bibliographer in the Middle Eastern Division at Widener Library. Since 2001, she has been working as a teaching fellow and then instructor in introductory Urdu and Hindi at Harvard. Parwanti received a full scholarship to the master’s program in history at Tufts University where she plans to continue her scholarly interest in South Asian history and religion.

There is a tie for the third-place Phelps prize. Yvonne Claire Fraser A.L.B. cum laude, is graduating with the third-highest GPA: 3.87. She is a humanities concentrator who began her undergraduate career at the University of British Columbia 14 years ago. A native of Vancouver, Fraser came to the United States in 1991, and in 1998 took her first Extension School course. She has been working steadily on her degree ever since, while raising her three children and being involved in many volunteer positions in the educational system. She completed a field of study in English and American literature and language and studied literature at Oxford during the 2003 summer term. This fall she plans to begin a graduate degree in the field of literature with a focus on Renaissance drama.

Jerald F. Knight A.L.B. cum laude, is a freelance court reporter, also graduating with the third-highest GPA, 3.87. Knight is a computer science concentrator and has completed all of his undergraduate work through the Harvard Extension School and Harvard Summer School. Because of his eclectic academic interests, he complemented his computer science field of study with courses in creative writing, psychology, philosophy, and history of science at Harvard. In addition to changing careers from court reporter to computer programmer, Knight plans to apply to the master’s program in information technology at Harvard Extension School.

Thomas Small Prize

Thomas Small was born in Lithuania, came to the United States in 1900 and earned a bachelor in business administration degree from Boston University in 1918. He retired from business in 1965, and that year enrolled in the Harvard Extension School. In 1983, at age 89, he received his A.L.M. degree, thereby becoming the oldest earned graduate degree recipient in the history of Harvard University. Friends and family of Thomas Small established the prize to honor his achievements. The prize is awarded annually on the basis of “academic achievement and character” to outstanding A.L.M. degree recipients.

This year there are three A.L.M. graduates with the identical GPA of 3.96 receiving the Small Prize: Jason Eric Lindsey, Kim L. Mercer, and Jany R. Siddall.

Jason Eric Lindsey is a concentrator in government, whose A.L.M. thesis, titled “Brinkmanship in the Post-Cold War Era: A Closer Look at the 1997-1998 Iraqi Weapons-Inspection Crisis,” concludes that the U.S.’s commitment to punish Iraqi intransigence led to immediate Iraqi cooperation in 1997-98, but that the U.S.’s hard-line stance on sanctions made long-term Iraqi cooperation less likely. His thesis director, Beth Simmons, professor of government, states that his thesis “makes good use of theoretical materials in international relations and is fairly well supported empirically.” Lindsey received his bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from Duke University and is a captain in the U.S. Air Force serving at Langley Air Force Base in Virginia.

Kim Mercer is a concentrator in biology. Her thesis, titled “Determining Cisplatin Efficacy in a Mouse Model of Human Lung Cancer,” asks whether a mouse model of lung cancer could be used to study the response to the chemotherapeutic agent cisplatin. Her thesis director, Karen Cichowski, assistant professor in medicine, indicated that her thesis was groundbreaking work and stated: “In conjunction with such studies it may ultimately contribute to our understanding of the resistance of human lung tumors to chemotherapies.” Mercer holds a B.A. in English from Dublin Institute of Technology, Ireland, and works as a molecular biology laboratory technician in the Center for Cancer Research at M.I.T.

Jany R. Siddall is a concentrator in English and American literature and language. Siddall’s thesis, titled “A Lifetime of Saying ‘I’: First-Person Narrative in Alice Munro’s Stories,” won the Dean’s Thesis Prize in the Humanities (see above).

The Phyllis Strimling Award

The Phyllis Strimling Award recognizes the character and achievement of a Certificate of Special Studies (C.S.S.) graduate who has used or is preparing to use the C.S.S. experience for the advancement of women and society. The 2004 recipient of this award is Isabelle Anguelovski.

Anguelovski, a citizen of France, has demonstrated a strong commitment to gender issues. In 1999 she evaluated a project on infectious diseases in children and women in Cusco, Peru, for the Spanish nongovernmental organization (NGO) Sodepaz. She pursued this interest in gender issues in her master’s thesis at the Sorbonne, which she completed in 2000 on the subject of gender and development in Nicaragua, and two years later in her work as a consultant for Oxfam America on gender policy in South America. Her future plans include the creation of her own NGO, Chacha Warmi, which will deal with women’s empowerment issues in Peru, Bolivia, and Ecuador.

Judith Wood Memorial Prize

The Judith Wood Memorial Prize honors students who, while completing courses at the Harvard Extension School, face the challenges of a disability. Awarded from an income fund established by the family and friends of the late Judith Wood, who, though born with cystic fibrosis, and beset with diabetes and blindness, took Extension School courses as long as she was able, and inspired many other students with her courage and fortitude. The Wood Prize honors those who travel a singularly difficult pathway in an academic setting. At a recent ceremony, Sara Nabati A.L.B. ’04 was presented with the 2004 Wood Prize. Nabati is a concentrator in social sciences.

Katie Y.F. Yang Prize

Named for a 1990 graduate of the C.S.S. program, the Katie Y.F. Yang Prize is awarded annually to the international graduate of the program with the most outstanding academic record. This year there are two Yang prize recipients, Martina Colombo and Onur Zafer Birsen.

A citizen of Italy, Colombo received the Lauria di Dottore in Engineering in 1998, with a concentration in management and production, from the Politecnico di Milano. She has held three jobs since her graduation: researcher and teacher in company networks and supply chain management at her university; consultant in information technology and knowledge management systems in a small consulting firm; and chief of staff to the corporate bank head of Citibank-Citigroup in Milan.

Onur Zafer Birsen, a citizen of Turkey, holds a B.S. in business administration from Middle East Technical University in Istanbul, and an M.B.A from the University of New Hampshire. Most recently he has worked as an internal auditor at Park Avenue Bank in New York City, and before that, as a senior auditor at PricewaterhouseCoopers in Boston.

Harold V. Langlois Outstanding Scholar Award

Presented for the first time in 2003, the Harold V. Langlois Outstanding Scholar Award recognizes a graduate of the C.S.S. in Administration and Management program, who has demonstrated exceptional academic accomplishment and promise as a manager. The 2004 recipient, Kerri Ann Johnson, holds a B.A. in psychology, summa sum laude, from Metropolitan College, Boston University. Since her graduation in 2000, she has pursued a progressively responsible career in the field of human resources, first as associate compensation analyst at Houghton Mifflin Company, then as compensation analyst at Digitas LLC, and currently as a senior compensation analyst at Northeastern University, where she has managed a variety of tasks, including the design and administration of a universitywide compensation system.

Carmen S. Bonanno Award

Established in 1990 by the family of Carmen S. Bonanno, who studied a foreign language in Harvard Extension School a number of years ago, this award recognizes excellence in foreign language instruction. This year’s Bonanno Prize winner, John W. Cobb, LL.B., has been teaching CGRK E-30a and 30b: “Intermediate Classical Greek” in the Extension School since 1996. His outstanding teaching is consistently applauded by his students, who usually place his classes near the top of the School’s more than 400 courses based on course evaluations. “I cannot praise the quality of his teaching too highly,” wrote one student on a course evaluation this year. “He is an excellent instructor.”

James E. Conway Award for Excellence in Teaching Writing

Paul Thur is the recipient of this year’s James E. Conway Award for Excellence in Teaching Writing. An academic specialist at Boston University’s College of General Studies, Thur has been teaching Expo E-15: “Fundamentals of Academic Writing” and Expo E-25: “Academic Writing and Critical Reading” at Harvard Extension for five years. His students and colleagues consistently praise him for his dedication, energy, and razor- sharp wit. In course evaluations, students talk about having been inspired by his teaching; one student commented on his E-25 section: “This has been my most exciting course at Harvard so far. Paul Thur brilliantly constructed this course to take us deeper and deeper into our own minds and awaken the thinkers sleeping within.”

JoAnne Fussa Distinguished Teaching Award

This year’s recipient of the JoAnne Fussa Distinguished Teaching Award, which recognizes exceptional teaching in the C.S.S. Administration and Management program, is Robert E. Brown, professor of communications at Salem State College. Brown has been teaching CSS E-535: “Writing for Public Relations and Marketing” since 1991. His teaching is informed through practice (he was a communications practitioner before entering academia) and his extensive research in the field of public relations. He is known as an engaging and committed classroom teacher who also supports his students in their employment and academic endeavors after graduation.

Petra T. Shattuck Excellence in Teaching Award

Established by the Harvard Extension School in memory of Petra T. Shattuck, a distinguished and dedicated teacher in the program, who died of a cerebral hemorrhage in the spring of 1988, these prizes are awarded annually to honor outstanding teaching in the Extension program. This year, the three recipients are Marjorie L. North, Pashington Obeng, and Joan Weinstein.

Marjorie L. North has averaged a 4.9 rating (on a 5-point scale) in the six years she has offered “Fundamentals of Public Speaking.” Students consistently praise North, a clinical specialist in speech-language pathology and audiology at Northeastern University, on her teaching. One wrote: “Excellent course! Excellent teacher! Hard to say anything else because it was simply the best class and a great instructor.”

Students have suggested that Pashington Obeng’s course on “Africana People in Cinema” be made mandatory. Obeng, an assistant professor of Africana studies at Wellesley College, began his Extension School teaching in 1995, and earned the following compliment from a student in his course: “He was an amazing instructor. The course was definitely worth my four-hour commute.”

Joan Weinstein, professor of mathematics at Pine Manor College, has been teaching statistics or college algebra in the Extension School for 12 years, earning praise from her students for making difficult concepts accessible and usable. As one student wrote: “I would like to thank Professor Weinstein for her sympathetic approach to students who may have dreaded/feared taking a stats course.”

Dean’s Distinguished Service Award

The Dean’s Distinguished Service Award is bestowed occasionally by Dean Michael Shinagel on behalf of the Extension School on a distinguished teacher with a long record of service. Wilga M. Rivers, professor of Romance languages and literatures emerita, has served the Extension School in a number of ways. As coordinator of Romance languages, she oversaw instruction and curriculum development in Romance languages from the mid-’70s until her retirement in 1990. She also served on the Extension School’s administrative board from 1978 to 1990. Currently she teaches her popular linguistics course, LING E-200: “Theory and Practice of Language Teaching,” which she began teaching in 1979, and she also serves as a research adviser in linguistics in the A.L.M. program. Her interest in her Extension School students goes beyond the classroom. “A number of my Extension School students are on my Christmas letter list,” she says, “and I am even godmother to one of my former students.”