The prize for the very best thesis in the Harvard senior class went to two students this year, one who proposed ways to address cholera epidemics in Haiti for her thesis and another who wrote a collection of poems.
Victoria E. Koski-Karell ’12 and Justin B. Wymer ’12 were chosen for the Captain Jonathan Fay Prize from among the 81 recipients of the Thomas T. Hoopes Prize, an honor for outstanding scholarly work or research, generally senior theses.
When the Fay Prize was awarded Thursday, the selection committee commented on the winners’ different concentrations.
“Their fields of study, anthropology and poetry, are very different, but we found that both students shared an exemplary commitment to original, inquisitive, and rigorous work,” Dean of the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study Lizabeth Cohen said in a press release.
A social anthropology concentrator, Koski-Karell explored the impact of the cholera epidemic that broke out in Haiti after the earthquake in 2010.
Koski-Karell, who has traveled to Haiti six times in the past four years, said that she grew up knowing the history and culture of the country because her father wrote his Masters and Ph.D. disserations on archaeology in Haiti.
According to the press release, the selection committee acclaimed Koski-Karell’s thesis for its “originality of research” and practical suggestions that “will save lives.”
For her research on the economic, political, and social implications of the epidemic, Koski-Karell interviewed patients, family members, caregivers, and healthcare providers in northern Haiti.
“Ethnographic research is effective and meaningful because the whole idea behind it is that you are speaking to people and listening to their stories and narratives about their experiences,” she said.
She said that she hoped to give a human voice to sufferers who do not easily have the opportunity to speak to a global audience. After graduation, she plans to continue her cholera advocacy as an intern for Physicians for Haiti.
Wymer, an English concentrator, wrote a creative thesis titled “Genius Loci” which showcases 51 poems that “translate the spirit and emotion of different places into certain clusters of imageries,” he said. He wrote about places including New York City, his West Virginia home, and Currier House.
The selection committee lauded Wymer’s work for “pushing poetry in a strange and shocking direction” with a “fresh, original voice,” according to the press release.
Wymer’s adviser, poetry professor Jorie Graham, called the thesis “one of the most remarkable collection of poems I have seen from a young poet at Harvard” in the press release.
Wymer said that the honor was completely unexpected, especially because he believed that the Fay Prize typically went to theses that focus on social advocacy.
“It is an honor to get an affirmation for a work of art, and knowing that the emotions I felt have also affected others,” he said.
Wymer, who will head to the prestigious Iowa Writers’ Workshop after graduation, said that he hopes to continue writing poems and to become a writing instructor.
—Staff writer Jane Seo can be reached at email@example.com.
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