University presents highest awards to four top students

Princeton NJ -- Seniors Abbie Liel and Lillian Pierce received the University's Moses Taylor Pyne Honor Prize, and graduate students Howard Keeley and Melissa Miller were recognized as co-winners of the Porter Ogden Jacobus Fellowship at Alumni Day ceremonies Feb. 23. These are the highest honors Princeton awards to students.

The students who received Princeton's highest honors during Alumni Day ceremonies were, from left, Jacobus Fellowship winners Melissa Miller and Howard Keeley and Pyne Honor Prize winners Lillian Pierce and Abbie Liel. For more about Alumni Day, see page 3.


The Pyne Honor Prize, established in honor of Moses Taylor Pyne of the class of 1877, is the highest general distinction conferred on an undergraduate. The Jacobus Fellowship, which supports the final year of graduate study, is awarded to two students -- one in the humanities or social sciences, the other in engineering or science -- whose work has displayed the highest scholarly excellence.

Pyne Prizes

Liel is concentrating in civil and environmental engineering and pursuing a certificate in public policy from the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs. She has excelled in a demanding academic program, and will graduate in June with 39 courses in 15 departments, ranging from engineering to classics to music.

For her thesis, Liel is studying large dam systems of the lower Columbia and Snake Rivers -- combining structural analysis, environmental studies and policy studies to explore the effect of these immense public works on the natural world as well as the often contentious political context in which structural engineering takes place. In the summer of 2000, Liel participated in a funded research project under Professor David Billington on the engineering organization of the Tennessee Valley Authority. Last summer, she served as a structural engineering intern at the URS Corp. in her hometown of Portland, Ore.

A graduate of the Caitlin Gabel School in Portland, Liel won the George Wood Legacy Sophomore Prize and the George Wood Legacy Junior Prize for the best academic record in her class in both the sophomore and junior year. She twice won the President's Award for Academic Achievement and also has received the Van de Velde award for outstanding work in a public policy task force in the Woodrow Wilson School and a scholarship from the New Jersey Professional Engineers in Construction. She is vice president of Tau Beta Pi, the engineering honor society, to which she was elected in her junior year.

Liel serves as treasurer of the Princeton chapter of the American Society of Civil Engineers and assists as a peer adviser to freshmen in the School of Engineering. Also an accomplished musician, she plays the bassoon in the Princeton University Orchestra.

Liel has won a Marshall Scholarship and will study at University College London for the next two years. She will focus first on civil engineering, then on building and urban design in two one-year master's programs. She then plans to apply to a Ph.D. program and pursue a career in university teaching.

At the awards ceremony, President Tilghman paid tribute to Liel for "your intellectual curiosity, your exceptional academic achievements, your generous contributions to the life of the University and your passion for building safe structures that are respectful of the natural world."

Pierce, a mathematics major, has achieved a stunning record in one of the most rigorous and demanding majors in the University. She was awarded the Freshman First Honor Prize for the class of 2002 and, last fall, was named co-winner of the 1939 Princeton Scholar Award, given for the most outstanding academic record after three years at Princeton. She also has twice won the President's Award for Academic Achievement, was awarded a Barry Goldwater Scholarship, was named to the USA Today All-USA College Academic First Team and was elected one of Glamour Magazine's Top 10 College Women for 2001.

In the summer of 2000, Pierce carried out classified research at the National Security Agency on mathematical problems important for national security. For her senior thesis, supervised by Professor Elias Stein, she is addressing one of the greatest unsolved problems in mathematics today, the Riemann Hypothesis. She also has performed research in the Department of Chemistry on new mathematical formulations to analyze protein mutations -- an area that holds promise for the design of drugs to treat diseases such as Alzheimer's.

An accomplished violinist, Pierce has played with the Princeton University Orchestra, the Princeton String Quartet, the Richardson Chamber Players and the Nassau String Quartet, which she founded. She has served as concertmistress of the University Orchestra and co-chair of its governing body. This winter, she organized a series of four "In Memoriam" concerts by the orchestra to bring the healing power of music to audiences affected by the events of Sept. 11.

A member of the Noetherian Ring, a group of women mathematicians, Pierce has founded a mentoring program at Princeton for younger women students of mathematics. She also has served as a volunteer for Recording for the Blind and Dyslexic and as a nurse's assistant in the campus infirmary.

Pierce has won a Rhodes Scholarship to study for a master of science degree in pure mathematics at Oxford University. She also plans to join an orchestra and study Baroque violin. When she returns to the United States, she intends to enter a Ph.D. program in mathematics and eventually become a professor. Pierce, who was home-schooled, is from Fallbrook, Calif.

Tilghman said to Pierce at the ceremony, "We honor you for your exceptional gifts as a scholar and an artist, which you have shared with this community with great generosity of spirit, for your integrity of purpose and for your relentless, yet graceful, pursuit of perfection."

Jacobus Fellowships

Keeley, a native of Ireland, is working on a doctorate in the English department. He received his bachelor's degree, summa cum laude, in English from the University of Georgia and was elected a member of Phi Beta Kappa. The study of literature is his second career. He holds various culinary degrees and was an award-winning chef in Dublin and Paris before coming to the United States in 1989.

At Princeton since 1997, Keeley has served as a head preceptor for the English department and as an e-mail preceptor for an alumni studies course. He also has done editorial work on the Irish poetry edition of the University's Library Chronicle.

Keeley's dissertation, "Beyond the Big House: Dwelling Politically in Irish Literature of the Bourgeois Interior, 1864-1999," is being written under the direction of Professor Maria DiBattista. It traces the radical realignment of Irish society over the last century and a half as it is reflected in and refracted through literature. Tilghman praised Keeley for his "qualities of mind and his commitment to literature and learning."

Miller of Jacksonville, Fla., is a doctoral student in the Department of Molecular Biology. She graduated summa cum laude from Jacksonville University with a bachelor of science degree in medical technology.

After working as a medical technologist, Miller became interested in the field of biological research. She entered the molecular biology department in 1997 and joined the laboratory of Professor Bonnie Bassler. Miller's research focuses on quorum sensing -- the language bacteria use to communicate with each other. She is a co-author of a paper on this phenomenon that was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Miller has received an award for the best talk by a graduate student at Princeton and last year was awarded the Department of Molecular Biology's outstanding teaching award. In her summers, she has assisted in teaching in bacterial genetics courses at the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory on Long Island. Tilghman congratulated Miller for her "stunning record as a graduate student at Princeton."

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