They range from fresh-faced teenagers to seasoned grad students, small-town kids to urban sophisticates. Depending on your point of view, the topics explored by this year's recipients of departmental and university recognition range from esoteric (examining the effect of two parallel tethers on atomic force microscope distributions) to altruistic (working on sustainable development in rural areas of Uganda) to downright enviable (conducting a photographic investigation of Gothic architecture in England and France).
There are, of course, the usual, remarkable suspects—those who earn the top grade point average in the department or are singled out as most outstanding for cumulative performance within and beyond the classroom. There are others who are tapped for the potential they have shown. The Divinity School, for example, awards a preaching award to fledgling pastors, an encouragement of sorts rather than a "best of" prize.
In selecting the students you will meet on these pages, we strove for a broad cross-section of class years and disciplines.
Tracy Gold: Giving voice to emotion
Horseback riding and writing have been Tracy Gold's passions from a young age, and her writing is often inspired by her experiences riding. Gold, a rising sophomore from Towson, Maryland, attended Carver Center for Arts and Technology, a public magnet school, where she concentrated in literary arts. She plans to major in English and tentatively hopes to pursue a career involving some combination of teaching and writing. Gold is this year's recipient of the Academy of American Poets Prize, awarded through the English department for a poem or group of poems by an undergraduate.
"This poem originated from an assignment for [English professor] Deborah Pope's class, 'Writing and Memory.' The assignment suggested writing about a place. I combined two places, as well as my own experiences with those of a friend from home, whom the poem is mostly about. Seeing (and smelling) this dead deer, mutilated so mysteriously, triggered memories of my friend's father's mysterious and traumatic death. Though I did not always get along with this friend, I had grown up with her at the barn, and her father's death changed not only my relationship with her, but my relationship with my own father.
"In writing this poem, I was trying to accomplish what I want in all of my poetry—to give voice to emotions and experiences that changed me, in a way that will allow readers to identify with these emotions and experiences enough potentially to change them, too, or at least make them think. Yet, in the initial stages of writing, my only goal is to get it out. There are some topics (in my opinion, the best topics) that give me an ultimatum: Write, or go insane. This poem was inspired by one of them."
Corey Sobel: Scripting a cultural disconnect
Although he came to Duke on a football scholarship, Corey Sobel's pivotal field experiences have had nothing to do with athletic success. Sobel '07 designed his own Program II major, "Writing Conflict: Reporting International and Ethnic Violence," to focus on the intersection of philosophy, political violence, and journalism.
Last summer Sobel lived and worked in Nakuru, Kenya, where he wrote educational materials about HIV/AIDS for Kenyans living with the disease. When he returned to campus in the fall for his senior year, Sobel signed up for a series of screenwriting classes. The resulting screenplay, WinterSummer, won the Reynolds Price Award for Scriptwriting, given by the department of theater studies to an undergraduate for the best original script for stage, screen, or television.
"What struck me the most about Kenya—about HIV in Sub-Saharan Africa in general—is that, among all the gender issues and problems with domestic violence in the region, the most nefarious manifestation was when disloyal husbands or boyfriends traveled, became infected with HIV, and then came home and forced their (otherwise abstinent) significant others into having unprotected sex. The script, my first, was a way of considering this kind of abuse, its implications for African men, its consequences on African women.
"One of the central characters in the play is Robert McCain, a twenty-five-year-old American man who has traveled with his church group to Kenya. There, he meets Joyce Odhiambo, a young Kenyan woman whose husband died of AIDS. Joyce refuses to be tested and is living with the stigma of having had an HIV-positive husband. Robert reintroduces her to the possibilities of her life, and the two fall in love. But the Americans' time [in Kenya] has run out, and they have traveled to Nairobi to catch their flight back to the U.S. In this scene, Robert is considering his life, wondering if there's anything worth returning to in America."
Lydia Wright: Firsthand encounters with history
Growing up in West Virginia has strongly influenced Lydia Wright '07. Her surroundings instilled in her a love of mountains and an unusual perspective on the issues of the working class, education, and oppression. As a history major, she concentrated on modern America with a special focus on social and labor history. Last summer, with the help of a Deans' Summer Research Fellowship, Wright was able to travel to archives in West Virginia, the District of Columbia, and Pennsylvania to investigate a subject that had sparked her interest in history: education and labor issues in West Virginia's coal company towns. The thesis that resulted from that research, "A Miner's Education: Schools in the Coal Company Towns of Southern West Virginia, 1863–1933," was awarded the LaPrade prize by the history department for best senior honors thesis.
"The initial inspiration for this thesis came from my own experiences as a student in the public schools in West Virginia. As I came to understand the ways in which power and politics influence, and have always influenced, the actions and curricula of public schools, I reflected on my own education. We received two full years of West Virginia state history, in which the early twentieth-century battle between coal companies and union miners was portrayed in a decidedly pro-union light. This approach to historical teaching led me to wonder how subjects such as history and government would have been taught to students experiencing those struggles in the 1910s and 1920s.
"I first approached the subject with many preconceived notions about what I would find, mostly involving the evil coal companies using education to oppress the children of miners. As I proceeded with my research, however, I found history to be much more nuanced and complex. Coal-company actions were motivated by a variety of factors, including not only a desire to produce a contented, obedient working class, but also real pressure put on them by workers who wanted good schools for their children. In many ways, my thesis raises as many questions as it answers. But by delving into the complicated world of politics, education, and corporate power, the thesis attempts to challenge the idea of schooling as isolated from the society in which the schools operate."
Kristina McDonald: Understanding conflict
Psychology graduate student Kristina McDonald wants to know why people are more likely to seek revenge in some circumstances and not others. And what are the larger implications for groups engaged in conflict? Her dissertation proposal, "Interpretations and Belief Systems Associated with Revenge Motivations," received the 2007–08 Kenan Dissertation Fellowship in Ethics, presented to a graduate student in any discipline whose forthcoming dissertation has a substantial ethics focus.
McDonald is collecting data over the summer and early fall from children, adolescents, and young adults in the Durham community. She'll work with undergraduate research assistants to analyze the data, and write the results for her dissertation, which she plans to defend in the spring of 2008.
"On a daily basis, individuals may face situations in which they are teased, left out of groups, betrayed, and treated badly by both peers and loved ones. Coping with being wronged is a difficult social task that humans must master. When confronted with various types of minor as well as major provocation, individuals could choose to respond in many ways, one of which is to seek revenge.
"Yet, revenge motivations are potentially damaging for people's psyches, as well as for their relationships. Nietzsche wrote that feelings of vindictiveness were 'self-poisoning' or damaging to the self. There is also evidence that taking revenge does not improve how one feels or decrease the pain felt from the original offense…. Revenge may not gain anything for the retaliator and may just prolong a cycle of violence by promoting the continuation of the aggression chain, ultimately hurting the avenger more.
"My dissertation will help scientists and interventionists understand the perceptions and behavior of people in provoking interpersonal situations, experiences that many face in their daily lives. Understanding how and why children and adults retaliate when provoked has great implications for character education in elementary and secondary schools….
"Additionally, my dissertation addresses an ethical challenge that is also a concern for intergroup conflict and national relations. Research on revenge seems particularly relevant now, when there is increased violence among ethnic and religious groups. Questions about the ethics of retaliation are also central to our government's policies about foreign relations and how to handle aggression toward our nation. While all the factors pertinent to revenge in interpersonal situations may not be relevant to revenge between groups, it seems that understanding more about personal revenge motivations may also be helpful for understanding revenge on the larger world stage."
Todd Hershberger: Inspiration for improvisation
Todd Hershberger's Concerto for Free Improvising Alto Saxophonist and Jazz Orchestra had its world premiere this spring as part of the annual Milestones Gala Concert, co-sponsored by the music departments of Duke and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. The performance featured the North Carolina Jazz Repertory Orchestra and German soloist and composer Frank Gratkowski, with Hershberger conducting the half-hour piece. The concert was the culmination of a process that had begun years earlier, when Hershberger A.M. '03, Ph.D. '08, casting around for dissertation ideas, heard Gratkowski perform at a small, now-defunct club in Carrboro, North Carolina.
Hershberger had written music for solo instruments and a variety of ensembles, including the Ben Adams Sextet, the Lawrence Chamber Orchestra, and several at the University of Kansas (his undergraduate alma mater). But something about Gratkowski's performance that night captured his imagination.
Concerto for Free Improvising Alto Saxophonist and Jazz Orchestra won the music department's William Klenz Prize in Composition. To listen to the work, visit www.duke.edu/~tbh5.
"I was astounded at the way Frank's approach to improvising combined the traditions of avant-garde jazz and experimental classical music," says Hershberger, a bassoonist who plays locally with the musical collective pulsoptional. "Over the course of the next year, I became involved in learning more about the tradition of free improvisation—which is the tradition that Frank does most of his playing within. On a return trip to the area, Frank invited me to participate in a recording session with him, so when it came time to submit my dissertation proposal, I presented the idea of writing an original score" inspired by these musical traditions in general, and by Gratkowski's work specifically.
Rhyme, Writing, Revenge, and All That Jazz
Each spring, dozens of students are recognized for exceptional creative and academic accomplishments. A sampling of award-winning work illustrates the diverse talents and interests of a select few.
August 1, 2007