2022 Research Excellence Prize Winners

To recognize students who apply exemplary library research skills, Brandeis Library awards Research Excellence Prizes and has selected the 2022 prize winners from a pool of outstanding student submissions. 

Reviewers for the 2022 prizes were Mary Calo, Aimee Slater, Rachel Greenblatt, Lisa Zeidenberg, Maric Kramer. Jennifer Giordano, Zoe Weinstein, Hillary Kativa. Margarita Corral, Thomas Valicenti, Alexis Cooper, Chloe Gerson, Surella Seelig, and Alex Willett.

Congratulations to this year’s winners!

Clockwise from Top Left: Jolecia Saunderson, Rebekah Kristal, Bridget Kennedy, Caelen Hilty, Gavi Klein, Joseph Weisberg, Peizhao Li
Clockwise from Top Left: Jolecia Saunderson, Rebekah Kristal, Bridget Kennedy, Caelen Hilty, Gavi Klein, Joseph Weisberg, Peizhao Li


Prize for research which makes use of materials in the Brandeis University Archives & Special Collections:
  • Gavi Klein, Rewriting the Nation: Dorothy Thompson on Women, Anti-Fascism and American Journalism in the 1930s
Gavi Klein’s Dorothy Thompson Rewrites the Nation: Women, Anti-Fascism and American Journalism in the 1930s is a study of the career of the pioneering American journalist Dorothy Thompson, telescoping in on her work in the 1930s when her prophetic warnings against the rise of Nazism made her a singularly influential voice.  Also singular, of course, was her sex—hence the monikers “the female Walter Lippman” and” the American Cassandra”—an angle Ms. Klein does not neglect.  Thompson’s life and work in the 1930s offer the occasion for a rich cultural history that blends the approaches and insights from the fields of American studies, feminism, and journalism.  I should note too that Ms. Klein has been especially enterprising as a scholar.  She not only mastered the extant secondary material, but she also engaged in primary research in the Dorothy Thompson papers at Syracuse University, a rare display of enterprise for an undergraduate student. In sum, Gavi Klein’s Dorothy Thompson Rewrites the Nation: Women, Anti-Fascism and American Journalism in the 1930 is an exceptionally well researched and illuminating thesis.  I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.”
-Tom Doherty, Professor of American Studies 
  • Jolecia Saunderson, Defying Gravity: Explorations of Liberation, Knowledge, and Pathways Towards Empowering Black Women Through the Eyes of Zora Neale Hurston’s Life

“Carl Van Vechten photographs in Brandeis’ Special Collections are an extraordinary resource, since our most iconic images of prominent African American intellectuals are often the ones that he took. At the same time, Van Vechten presents a quandary for the sophisticated researcher: what are the dynamics of his gaze, given the weird status of white patronage, particularly in the era of the Harlem Renaissance, and given the intersecting histories of race, visuality, and photography? Jolecia attends to these questions in her analysis of Van Vechten’s iconic photograph of Zora Neale Hurston. In a thorough analysis of Hurston’s career, and with perceptive readings of the photograph, Jolecia shows us how Van Vechten’s photograph can become the basis of a reflection on Hurston’s oeuvre, as well as of Black women’s ability to claim their liberation.”
-Faith Smith, Associate Professor of African and African American Studies and English

Prize for research conducted in a University Writing Seminar:

  • Caelen Hilty, On Trial: Surveillance as Epidermalization and the Ahmaud Arbery Case
“Caelen's essay is one of the strongest student essays I've ever had the pleasure to read; his theorization of race itself as a technology of surveillance is genuinely novel, and his argument borders on publishable. It's astounding that a first-year student produced this kind of scholarship; his work is absolutely deserving of some sort of prize.”
-Patrick Kindig. Lecturer in University Writing.
  • Bridget Kennedy, Pathologizing Bias: Racial Disparities in The Diagnosis of Schizophrenia
“The research skills demonstrated by Bridget in her essay are truly astounding: while the assignment simply asks students to cite four scholarly sources and a case study, Bridget deftly incorporates and synthesizes a whopping twenty-five sources---most of them scholarly--into her essay. This allows her to make deeply informed and genuinely novel claims about the role played by race in schizophrenia diagnosis. Her work verges on publishable.”
-Patrick Kindig. Lecturer in University Writing.
Prize for research which contributes to understandings of racism and anti-racism:
  • Rebekah Kristal, Black Intellectuality: Challenging Conventions of Belonging in STEM
Rebekah notes, “I want to be a math professor for my career, and this project really helped me bring into focus my goals for this position: learning how to restructure our social expectations and our educational structure in order to make math more accessible.
Prize for graduate student research:
  • Joseph Weisberg, As It Is Said: A Proposal to Use the WPA Interviews to Locate a Vernacular History of African American-Jewish Encounters in the Nineteenth-Century South
Joseph noted, “In short, I have used the expertise and materials of the Brandeis Library to correct for the one-sided and duplicitous nature of the traditional archival record. I will continue to rely on this experience⸺which has shown that the question of what enters the archival record may be equally, if not more, important to the study of history as the question of what happened in the past⸺as I develop my scholarly voice.”
  • Peizhao Li, Achieving Fairness at No Utility Cost via Data Reweighing
“Peizhao Li is a third-year student in computer science, working on trustworthy AI. He has published 7 top-tier conference papers in AI domain, such as CVPR, ICML, KDD, ICLR.”
-Hongfu Liu, Assistant Professor of Computer Science
Prize for research conducted by an undergraduate outside of UWS:
  • Luca Swinford, "You’re Just Disabled”: Race-Avoidance In 1970s Special Education Legal Cases
Luca notes, “Even though this thesis was not easy, I am very glad that I embarked on the project given that disability history and issues of equity in special education are important to me. My approach to research has changed significantly as a result of the project. Through this experience, I now understand that the research process is filled with trial and error. You may try one database and find nothing or, you may spend weeks trying to find one House Report, but that is simply part of the process, which is an insight that will be very useful for future research projects. I also have come to see my research process as a process of constant change. By writing a senior thesis over a year, the final version and each version before were drastically different and I have come to embrace constant change as not only beneficial but necessary for the research process. The act of revision and rethinking helped me clarify my ideas, questions and conclusions and were crucial to helping me produce the final version of my thesis that I submitted to my thesis committee.”
Prize for a digital research project:
  • Joshua Aldwinkle Povey, Boston's response to the AIDS crisis
Josh notes, “This was the first project of this kind I’ve conducted for a class not specifically about digital means of research, and it has helped reaffirm a personal love and passion for digital scholarship. It forced me to rethink the ways in which I was conducting research, with an eye for rigour while also paying attention to what I could achieve by using digital storytelling like this. I enjoyed relying on archival materials too, both e-Resources from the Brandeis Library and from other institutions, and will look to incorporate archival research into classwork again in the future.”