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Top seniors, graduate students earn University's highest honors

Princeton NJ -- Seniors Daniel Hantman and Christopher Wendell received the University's Moses Taylor Pyne Honor Prize, and graduate students Sarah-Jane Murray and Joshua Plotkin were recognized as co-winners of the Porter Ogden Jacobus Fellowship at Alumni Day ceremonies Feb. 22. These are the highest honors Princeton awards to students.

This year's winners of the highest honors Princeton awards to students were: seniors Christopher Wendell (far left) and Daniel Hantman (front), who received the Moses Taylor Pyne Honor Prize; and graduate students Sarah-Jane Murray (back left) and Joshua Plotkin, who were recognized as co-winners of the Porter Ogden Jacobus Fellowship.

The Pyne Honor Prize, the highest general distinction conferred on an undergraduate, is awarded to the senior who has most clearly manifested excellent scholarship, strength of character and effective leadership. 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 natural sciences -- whose work has displayed the highest scholarly excellence.

Pyne Prizes

Hantman is concentrating in the Department of Spanish and Portuguese with a focus on Latin American literature. He also will earn a certificate in Latin American studies. He has pursued a demanding course of study that includes graduate as well as undergraduate courses. One professor observed that "the breadth and intensity of his attention (are) contagious."

His senior thesis is a study of "La invencíon de Morel," a novel by Argentine writer Adolfo Bioy Casares. Hantman spent the first semester of his junior year in Argentina, where he attended the Universidad de Buenos Aires. He has been accepted at several major law schools, but he is considering a year's deferral in order to return to Argentina and to study Portuguese.

A graduate of Fort Collins (Colo.) High School, Hantman has been recognized for his scholarly achievements at Princeton with a Shapiro Prize for Academic Excellence for his freshman and sophomore years and by election to Phi Beta Kappa this past fall.

His extracurricular activities include serving as president of Campus Club and as president of the InterClub Council, the organization of 11 undergraduate eating club presidents. He also guides visitors around campus as an Orange Key tour leader and works at the welcome desk in the Frist Campus Center. In addition, he has been a leader in Urban Action, a hands-on program that involves incoming freshmen in the issues facing urban America, and he has been active in the Wilson College Blackbox Theater and Theatre Intime.

At the awards ceremony, President Tilghman paid tribute to Hantman "for your exceptional academic achievements and your thoughtful and generous contributions to the life of the Princeton University community."

A graduate of San Francisco University High School, Wendell is an English major who also will earn a certificate in the Program in Theater and Dance. His senior thesis includes both a creative project -- a production of Shakespeare's "Measure for Measure" -- and a scholarly paper on the play. His stellar academic record at Princeton has already earned him the Shapiro Prize for Academic Excellence and the Francis Biddle Sophomore Prize in English for the best critical essay of the year.

A professor described Wendell as "one of the most extraordinary academic citizens I've encountered anywhere." As co-president of the Performing Arts Council, he helped organize a benefit performance to raise money for the Families of Freedom Scholarship Fund, which provides education assistance for postsecondary study to financially needy children and spouses of those killed or permanently disabled in the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States.

Wendell has served as general manager of Theatre Intime, as an unpaid summer intern at the National Endowment for the Arts and as communications director for the Program in Theater and Dance. He also has worked as a dramaturge, stage manager, electrician and director of more than a dozen theater productions. Last summer, he traveled to England to study in the "Acting Shakespeare" program of the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art.

One of the elected leaders of the Episcopal Church at Princeton, Wendell has participated in a variety of church-sponsored service projects. He also was a resident community adviser in Wilson College during the pilot year of the program. This year, he is an elected member of the Council of the Princeton University Community, serving as one of 12 undergraduate representatives on the University-wide advisory panel.

Starting in August, Wendell will take up new responsibilities as the directing/producing intern at McCarter Theatre. Eventually he plans to earn an advanced degree to prepare for a career in the arts or the academy. During the ceremony, Tilghman thanked Wendell "for your generous contributions to the intellectual and cultural life of this community and for your commitment to the service of others."

Jacobus Fellowships

Murray, a native of Northern Ireland, is working on a doctorate in the Department of French and Italian. She began her undergraduate studies in engineering at the Georgia Institute of Technology, but transferred to Auburn University to complete bachelor's degrees in philosophy and French.

At Princeton since 1998, Murray has combined her scholarship in French literature with her previous training in engineering and computer science as associate editor of "The 'Charrette' Project," a multimedia scholarly archive that puts on the Web the entire manuscript tradition of Chrétien de Troyes' medieval romance, "Le Chevalier de la Charrette." She also serves as associate editor of the Edward Armstrong Monographs on Medieval Literature, a scholarly series devoted to the study of medieval romance literature.

Murray's dissertation is titled "Myth and 'Grammatica' in the Service of Narrative Truth: Vernacular Humanism in Early Old French Courtly Narrative." She is examining how early Old French romance "marries" the writings of classical antiquity and the predominantly oral Celtic traditions of the Atlantic seaboard. She spent a semester at École Normale Supérieure in Paris in 2001, and has received several awards to support her study abroad. She has given a number of invited talks on her work in the United States and Europe.

Murray has served as a preceptor and as an assistant in instruction for several French classes at Princeton and has participated as a graduate mentor in the Undergraduate Mentoring Program. One professor said that "the quality of her teaching for us at Princeton ... has been rewarded by consistently extraordinarily high student evaluations. She communicates what she knows and loves exceedingly well."

She is the co-author and developer of a set of interactive exercises for French students. She also has coordinated undergraduate French conversation tables and a French conversation and poetry reading group. During the Alumni Day ceremony, Tilghman congratulated Murray "for her outstanding record and stellar achievements as a graduate student."

Plotkin, of Lexington, Mass., is a doctoral student in the Program in Applied and Computational Mathematics. After spending his junior year at Oxford University, he graduated summa cum laude from Harvard University with a bachelor's degree in mathematics. At Princeton since 1999, he has changed his course of study from pure mathematics to mathematical evolutionary theory.

Plotkin's dissertation is titled "The Evolutionary Genomics and Stability of Viral and Cellular Populations." He is studying how organisms maintain their stability, cohesiveness and individuality through time. His research has produced several applications to real-world problems, such as influenza vaccination strategy and genetic defenses against cancer. One professor described him as "a terrific scientist ... with a real acumen for knowing just what the right question to ask is, and the ability and energy to carry out just the right analyses."

Plotkin also has developed techniques for studying the evolution of language as well as floral diversity in tropical forests, which he is applying in northern Malaysia under a grant from the United Nations Development Program. His work also has been supported by awards from the National Science Foundation and the Teresa and H. John Heinz III Foundation.

Plotkin is the author of papers published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Nature and several other scholarly journals. He is a research staff member at the Institute for Defense Analyses and a member of the Program in Theoretical Biology at the Institute for Advanced Study. After graduating from Princeton, Plotkin will spend the following three years as a junior fellow in the Harvard Society of Fellows.

In presenting him with the award, Tilghman called Plotkin "quite simply one of the most gifted young men I have met" and congratulated him on his "stunning record as a graduate student at Princeton."


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