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Hoopes Sought To Honor Scholars

Now 25-year-old prize hoped to reward thesis excellence

By Lauren D. Kiel, Crimson Staff Writer

During the fall semester of his junior year, David B. Rothenberg ’84 traveled to Nepal to learn to play the gyaling, a Tibetan reeded instrument.

When Rothenberg tried to convince his parents to allow him to travel across the world, the possibility that his work would eventually garner him one of the most prestigious prizes given for undergraduate research never crossed his mind.

Rothenberg was one of the first 21 undergraduates who were awarded Hoopes Prizes in June 1983.

The Hoopes Prize was established after Thomas T. Hoopes ’19, former curator of the City Art Museum in St. Louis, left half of his estate to the College for the purpose of creating an award to honor undergraduate research work in any field. According to the guidelines of the prize, the work may be submitted by any student in any form—from a research paper to a visual arts project—although traditionally the vast majority of Hoopes prizes have been awarded for senior theses.

Three of the original winning entries, however, were for works other than senior theses, including Rothenberg’s junior paper.

At the founding of the prize, students received a $1,500 stipend for winning the award. Today the prize has been upped to $3,500.

“He didn’t feel that the money should go only to the needy—he felt that any student should be rewarded for hard work, and not discriminated because he doesn’t need,” Hoopes’s wife, Catherine F. Hoopes, told The Crimson at the time.

Richard W. Weitz ’83, who won a 1983 Hoopes Prize for his senior thesis on different theories as to why the Cold War arose, used the prize money to help fund his continued studies in International Relations. Weitz now works for the Hudson Institute, a public policy research center that focuses on international affairs.

In hopes of promoting better teaching and acknowledging the time that goes into advising, the winners’ faculty advisers also received $500, a sum which has since been raised to $1,000.

“I was very thrilled that my adviser got some money too, because he had been so helpful,” said John C. Beck ’83, another one of the 1983 winners.

For his senior thesis, Beck spent time in Tokyo riding with a biker gang of high school drop-outs to investigate Japanese juvenile delinquency. He said that the significance of the Hoopes Prize was uncertain at the time, since the new award was fairly unknown.

But Rothenberg, who now composes music from nature sounds and serves as an assistant professor of English at the New Jersey Institute of Technology, said receiving recognition from such a prestigious institution legitimizes work that may be considered uncommon or even odd.

“I think in college you often doubt what you’re doing and if anyone cares,” Rothenberg said. “The money is less important than the recognition from a place you’re not sure recognizes you.”

—Staff writer Lauren D. Kiel can be reached at lkiel@fas.harvard.edu.

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