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Whitman juniors earn trifecta of top national scholarships

By Gillian Frew '11

With Commencement around the corner, most of the attention this time of year tends to be focused on Whitman’s graduating seniors. But three members of the junior class recently won competitive national scholarships: Gabriella Friedman ’13 received the Beinecke Scholarship; Hannah Siano ’13 the Udall Scholarship; and Dieter Brandner ’13 the Goldwater Scholarship.  

These three awards, in addition to the Truman Scholarship, are the most prestigious scholarships available for juniors, meaning that Whitman students this year scored three of the four most highly selective awards nationwide. Also, Nathan Abrams ’13 was selected as an honorable mention for the Goldwater and Claire Meints ’14 was an honorable mention for the Udall.

“To receive any one of these awards in a given year is exceptional. To earn all three in the same cycle is memorable,” said Keith Raether, director of fellowships and grants, who oversaw the application process for all three students. “Gabriella’s, Hannah’s and Dieter’s success is a testament to their tremendous academic talents and to the inspired instruction of their professors. All of them have every good reason to celebrate.”


Gabriella Friedman ’13

Gabriella Friedman, an English major from Milwaukee, Wis., is one of only 18 juniors nationwide to receive the Beinecke Scholarship, which recognizes highly motivated students of “exceptional promise” in their scholarly fields. The award provides up to $30,000 for study toward a doctorate in the humanities, arts or social sciences. There are no geographic restrictions, but recipients are encouraged to begin graduate study as soon as possible following graduation from college.

Friedman, who has minors in French and gender studies and is currently in an off-campus studies program in Paris, hopes to attend graduate school to study comparative literature after Whitman. Her top choices are Emory and Cornell.

“I am thrilled about receiving the Beinecke because it makes my plans to attend graduate school and pursue an academic career a little more realistic,” she said. “I am indebted to my professors who have helped me explore and develop my interests.”

English Professor Theresa DiPasquale, who helped guide Friedman during the application process, characterizes her as “precisely the kind of student the Beineke Scholarship is meant to encourage.”

“Gabriella is a brilliant literary analyst and a disciplined thinker with a clear sense of what she hopes to accomplish in graduate school and beyond,” DiPasquale said. “She writes beautifully and persuasively, and her work ethic is incomparable.”

At Whitman, Friedman has served as a Perry Grant research assistant for Zahi Zalloua, associate professor of foreign languages and literatures, French, and has already received awards for academic distinction and undergraduate honors.


Hannah Siano ’13

Hannah Siano, a politics/environmental studies major from Everson, Wash., has won a Udall Scholarship. The Udall Foundation awards scholarships of $5,000 to students dedicated to pursuing careers related to the environment. Siano, who has been active in promoting green initiatives on campus, hopes to incorporate conservation and sustainability efforts into K-12 classrooms as an environmental education specialist, coordinator and director.

“Over the years, a number of environmental studies students have won Udall awards, and these are always gratifying accomplishments. Hannah’s is particularly gratifying,” said Don Snow, senior environmental humanities lecturer, who has worked closely with Siano and recommended her for the award. “As a campus activist, she's quite astonishing in what she accomplishes. She sees things whole, spots opportunities where others do not, then pushes forward in a most compelling way to get things done.”

Though a first-generation college student, Siano credits her parents’ example for her dedication to environmental activism and her desire to work with youth.

“Neither of my parents attended college, but they are educated about and respectful of the natural world and our humble place in it,” Siano wrote in her application.

Siano’s environmental credentials at Whitman range from starting up a vermicomposting program to installing Dual Flush handles on campus toilets. She is currently studying conservation and comparative ecology in an off-campus studies program in Quito, Ecuador.

Siano received an honorable mention from the Udall Foundation last year, and has been the recipient of a number of other internal scholarships, including Whitman’s Lomen-Douglas Scholarship. She served as co-leader for Campus Climate Challenge and has participated in the Green Leaders Program, Industrial Compost Group and Environmental Justice Club.

As a Udall Scholar, Siano will spend four days in Tucson, Ariz., this August to meet and network with other students, elected officials and environmental and tribal leaders.


Dieter Brandner ’13

Dieter Brandner, a biology major from Anchorage, Alaska, has received a Goldwater Scholarship for up to $7,500 annually toward tuition and other expenses for his excellence in research. The scholarship honors students who demonstrate “outstanding potential” at the undergraduate level and intend to pursue careers in science, mathematics or engineering.

“Applicants face a high hurdle simply to be in this national pool of elite young scholars,” said Raether. “The Goldwater is a perfect mirror of Dieter’s scientific prowess and meticulous research.”  

Brandner, who has conducted in-depth laboratory work with Whitman biology professors Ginger Withers and Chris Wallace, hopes to attend graduate school for a Ph.D. in neuroscience and eventually teach at the university level. He is particularly interested in neuronal development and the cellular mechanisms of memory formation, and believes winning the Goldwater will give him an edge when it comes time to submit graduate school applications.

“Coming from Whitman, the Goldwater will demonstrate to grad schools that I am both qualified in my own highly specific field and also that I cultivate a strong interest in a variety of other disciplines, in the spirit of the liberal arts,” he said.

Brandner submitted a research paper to the Goldwater Foundation titled, “Investigating Polarity: How Structural Polymer Remodeling Influences the Formation of Dendrites in Neurons.”

“My research concerns the development of neurons, or brain cells, using a unique in vitro culture technique that allows us to analyze the developmental progress of these cells without the complications inherent in a dynamic, living tissue,” he explained. “My advisor and I approached this research endeavor with a question: how does modifying aspects of this cytoskeleton, or cell skeleton, influence the ultimate shape that the neuron takes?”

Brander is a recipient of an Abshire Award, which Whitman awards each semester to student-faculty teams for collaborative research. He also has served as a teaching assistant and a Writing Fellow for genetics and biological principles labs at Whitman, and credits the college and its faculty for his success on the national level.

“It would have been impossible for me to get this scholarship without the support of the college and its faculty,” he said.


Published on Apr 25, 2012
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