GSAS Honors Alumni, Teachers, Students at 2024 Award Ceremony

July 01, 2024

On May 6, 2024, while Columbia’s Morningside Campus was still closed due to student protests, the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences held its annual awards ceremony to honor our treasured students and alumni. In his opening remarks, GSAS Dean Carlos Alonso noted, “this ceremony is a celebration of the very elements about Columbia that will allow us to regain our equilibrium when the current dismal situation abates: superlative teaching and mentoring, world-class research, and the training of graduates who will change the world through their contributions.”

The first honor of the evening was the Dean’s Award for Lifetime Achievement, which was awarded to Louis Eugene Brus (’69PhD Chemical Physics), a Samuel Latham Mitchill Professor Emeritus and Special Research Scientist at Columbia. His discovery and development of quantum dots—tiny crystals a few dozen atomic diameters wide—has led to nanotechnology that improves the light from televisions and LED lamps, and can also guide surgeons in their hunt for tumors, among many other applications. In 2023 Brus won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry, jointly with researchers Alexey Ekimov and Moungi Bawendi, for the discovery and synthesis of quantum dots. Accepting the award for her father was Elizabeth Brus. In light of the recent campus protests, she told the story of Eugene Brus in graduate school in 1968, during Columbia’s student protests against the war in Vietnam. “When buildings were taken over, my father and his fellow students broke into Havemeyer to do their research.” 

The next award was the Salo and Jeanette Baron Prize in Jewish Studies, which was given to Roni Henig (’18PhD Middle East, South African, and Asian Studies) for her dissertation, “Life of the Non-Living: Nationalization, Language and the Narrative of ‘Revival’ in Modern Hebrew Literary Discourse,” which explores the “revival” of Hebrew in the works of several major Hebrew writers working in Europe and Palestine in the decades before and after 1900. Professor Henig accepted her award and spoke about the “hope and danger latent in any language.” She also wished for “an end to the war in Gaza and a bilateral ceasefire.”  

The Campbell Award is given each year to a recent graduate who has shown great leadership traits and community spirit. This year’s recipient was Kailani Acosta (’24PhD, Earth and Environmental Sciences) who was finishing up her degree in biological oceanography. Her research is focused on nutrients in the surface ocean of the Gulf of Mexico. Acosta supervised Columbia Climate Conversations and created the Seminar Diversity Initiative to help uplift the voices of women of color in seminars. Acosta also created a science/art exhibition called Bridging the Gulf: Intersections of Geology, Biology, and Environmental Justice connecting 100 million-year-old phytoplankton to race in the US. In her acceptance speech Acosta reminded the audience that “Everything is connected. Science is connected to our culture and everything we do.”

The winners of the Faculty Mentoring Award, chosen by the GSAS students, through the Arts and Sciences Graduate Council (ASGC), were Jason E. Smerdon, a Professor of Climate from the Columbia Climate School, Co-Senior Director for Education, and Co-Director of the Undergraduate Program in Sustainable Development. Professor Smerdon, when accepting said that “I am humbled before my colleagues. We mentor by committee. It’s a team effort.” The other Faculty Mentoring Award went to Nancy Baker Worman, Professor of Classics and Comparative Literature in the Classics department at Barnard College. Professor Worman accepted, referring to the recent protests, “I’ve always supported students who stand up and say what they think.”

The Presidential Award for Outstanding Teaching by a Graduate Student was awarded to three graduate students. The first was Sourav Chatterjee (’20MPhil, Middle Eastern, South Asian, and African Studies) who is a scholar of South Asian visual culture, literary and cultural criticism, ephemera, and colonial gender and sexuality. Manasi Jayakumar (’22MPhil, Psychology) also received the award. She is studying how endogenous fluctuations in attention can be characterized and how these fluctuations influence the temporal organization of memory. Jayakumar thanked the Center for Teaching and Learning—and also her guinea pigs. The third winner was Daniel Santiago Sáenz (’21MPhil, Latin American and Iberian Cultures) Sáenz’s research focuses on the relationship between artistic theory and Iberian imperial expansion in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries; the visual culture of masculinities and dissident sexualities in the early modern circum-Atlantic world; and the history, theory, and practice of Christian art. In his acceptance speech, Sáenz said he appreciated the opportunity to work with students and to “teach them to think critically about the messages they are getting about the world.”

This year’s winner of the Devon T. Wade Mentorship, Service, and Advocacy Award was Garima Raheja (’22MA, Earth and Environmental Sciences) who is a PhD candidate at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory at Columbia University, studying atmospheric impacts of urban air pollution and its disproportionate impacts on public health. Raheja is also leading the development of methods and best practices for training students about environmental justice in universities around the world.  

Each year, the Outstanding Recent Alumni Award goes to two people, one graduate of a master’s program and one from a doctoral program. The PhD alumnus chosen for the 2024 prize was Anuk Arudpragasam (’19PhD, Philosophy, a Sri Lankan Tamil novelist writing in English and Tamil. His debut novel, The Story of a Brief Marriage, was highly acclaimed and shortlisted for the Booker Prize. The MA alumna who received the award was Tanya Kotelnykova (’23MA, Human Rights Studies). Kotelnykova fled Ukraine during the 2022 Russian military invasion, then came to the United States to study human rights. In October 2022, she founded Brave Generation, a non-profit organization devoted to empowering young Ukrainians by providing them with the tools and connections they need to contribute to Ukraine's post-war reconstruction.

The Dean’s Award for Distinguished Achievement for PhD alumni went to Timothy L. Macdonald (’75PhD, Chemistry), a professor and former Chairman of the Department of Chemistry and Pharmacology at the University of Virginia. He was an early pioneer in the creation of T-type calcium channel blockers for use in cancer treatment. He has published over 250 articles and papers, and has 45 pending and issued patents. 

The Dean’s Award for Distinguished Achievement for MA alumni was given to Melissa Garcia (’11MA, International and World History; Dual MA/MSc with The London School of Economics and Political Science). Garcia is an international development worker and humanitarian advocate. She has focused on policy change and programs that impact women, girls and marginalized people. For this, she has engaged with local women, civil society leaders, elected and ministerial officials, and with UN stakeholders responsible for aid outcomes.

Dean Alonso closed out the evening with appreciation for the selection committees who “brought together such an inspiring group of awardees.” He thanked all for celebrating “the superlative achievements of those who have gone into the world after being shaped intellectually by this institution. That is the Columbia that will still be around when the current turmoil subsides, and the Columbia that will still manage to look confidently toward the future.”

For a full list of award recipients and bios, click here.