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Seventy-Three Undergraduates Win Annual Hoopes Prize

Throne of Knowledge
Harry Elkins Widener Memorial Library.

Seventy-three undergraduates learned Thursday they had won the 2018 Thomas T. Hoopes Prize, awarded annually for outstanding scholarly work or research.

The Faculty of Arts and Sciences awards Hoopes Prizes for the purpose of “recognizing, promoting, honoring, and rewarding excellence in the work of undergraduates,” according to the award’s website. While many of the winning projects were senior theses or senior projects, the award is open to any undergraduate student at the College.

Funded by the estate of Thomas T. Hoopes, Class of 1919, the designation comes with $5,000 per awardee, along with a $2,000 honorarium for faculty nominators who oversaw student projects.

“I screamed,” English concentrator Maeva M. O’Brien ’18 said of the moment when she found out she had won. “I was very excited. I definitely was not expecting to get a Hoopes. And then my roommate was right there, so I told her, and then I started telling close friends, and I called my mom, that kind of thing.”

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Many winners said they considered the thesis a joint effort that included the ongoing support they received from advisors, faculty, friends, and family.

“I’m just so grateful to my advisor Lynn, who I worked very closely with; to a number of faculty members who offered guidance; to my friends; and my family most of all, who were so supportive; to the baristas at Petsi Pies, for always refilling my coffee mug,” History and Literature concentrator Josiah B. Corbus ’18 said.

Some winners said they felt a personal connection to their projects. S. Kate Yoon ’18, a Social Studies concentrator whose project applied Kant’s political writings to contribute to the literature on multiculturalism, said both her academic and personal experiences shaped her decision to pursue this work.

“It's obviously a very specific and very theoretical topic, but I think I was influenced by personal experiences of growing up as an immigrant and a minority, and seeing how that affects political participation,” Yoon said.

Defne Altan ’18, a Neurobiology concentrator, said her project focused on biomarkers for visceral and liver fat and whether such molecules could predict cognitive impairment and dementia. Altan said she has wanted to do this type of research since coming to college.

“In freshman year, I approached the neurobiology advisor, Dr. Magnotti, and I said, ‘I have a research project that is all about obesity, but I want to do the neurobiology concentration. What am I going to do?’ And she said, ‘It has to be about neurons somehow.’ And this is the result,” Altan said.

Altan said she knew her project was ambitious—and even a bit risky—but she also said she believes the risks she took were ultimately important to her winning the prize.

“The nature of the thesis and the awards that come out of the thesis—I feel that it rewards intellectual risk-taking, particularly because you get the opportunity to mesh subjects that are completely opposite and different from each other,” she said.

Many winners said they reacted to the prize with disbelief and gratitude. But Corbus also said he believes the Hoopes Prize should not be taken as the only—or even the primary—measure of successful theses.

“There are so many people who work so hard and pour so much of themselves into their theses, and produce really tremendous work, and don't get recognized,” Corbus said. “Their work is beyond valuable even if it doesn’t get official recognition. I found myself thinking a lot about that and those people today.”

— Staff writer Nina H. Pasquini can be reached at nina.pasquini@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter @nhpasquini.

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