Area around Drumheller Fountain on the UW campus

Arts & Sciences' Fab Four for 2022

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Nancy Joseph 06/24/2022 July 2022 Perspectives
Montage of 2022 Dean's Medalists.
2022 Arts & Sciences Dean's Medalists (from left) Fran Herr, Darby Sherwood, Abigail Heath, and Piper Coyner.

How much were UW Arts & Sciences undergrads able to accomplish during the pandemic? Quite a lot, as demonstrated by the four recipients of the 2022 Arts & Sciences Dean’s Medal: Fran Herr, Darby Sherwood, Abigail Heath, and Piper Coyner.  During their time at the UW, the 2022 honorees translated math concepts into choreography, honed their playwriting skills, explored the impact of race on education, researched journals from Ottoman Iraq, and much more.

Each year, the Dean’s Medal honors one graduating senior from each of the College’s four divisions — Arts, Humanities, Natural Sciences, and Social Sciences — based on academic performance and nominations from faculty.  (The College also honors graduate students with its Arts & Sciences Graduate Medal; the 2022 graduate medalists are highlighted in the Awards & Honors section of the newsletter.)

Fran Herr, Dean's Medal in the Natural Sciences
Darby Sherwood, Dean's Medal in the Arts
Abigail Heath, Dean's Medal in the Social Sciences
Piper Coyner, Dean's Medal in the Humanities

 

Fran Herr

Dean’s Medal in the Natural Sciences
BS, Mathematics
BA, Dance

Fran Herr is passionate about mathematics and dance. She pursued both at the UW and found ways to creatively connect the seemingly disparate interests.

Fran Herr, Dean's Medalist in the Natural Sciences
Fran Herr

Herr’s immersion in mathematics included five research projects, including participation in the Department of Mathematics’ Washington Experimental Math Lab and a summer project at Texas State University through the National Science Foundation’s Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) program.

“Fran comes up with great, original ideas that demonstrate a deep understanding of what she is thinking about,” says Gaku Liu, assistant professor of mathematics, who served as mentor for Herr’s senior thesis project. “She not only has the intellectual ability to be a great researcher, but also the social skills and passion to be a leader in mathematical outreach and education.”

Herr’s interest in outreach led her to create a personal YouTube channel that uses pictoral explanations to present math concepts to a broader audience. After posting videos, she gathers feedback from friends outside the math community to hone her abilities as a math communicator. That skill will be much needed this fall, when Herr begins a year-long Exponent Fellowship at the National Museum of Mathematics, engaging visitors by answering questions and leading tours.

And then there’s Herr’s love of dance. In her UW dance courses, “Fran’s joy in learning is a gift to those around her, elevating discussions and prompting deeper thinking,” says Rachael Lincoln, associate professor of dance. Herr participated in three Department of Dance performances on film during COVID, and choreographed a work for the 2022 Dance Majors Concert using mathematics — specifically a solution to the Tower of Hanoi puzzle — as her inspiration. The result, says Lincoln, was “a layered and metaphor-rich dance."

During her time at the UW, Herr received a Barbara Sando Scholarship in Mathematics. After a year at the National Museum of Mathematics, she plans to pursue a PhD in mathematics.

Darby Sherwood

Dean’s Medalist in the Arts
BA, Drama
Political Science minor

“I have not encountered an undergraduate student that I believe has more potential to impact the field of theatre, and therefore the world, than Darby Sherwood,” says Geoff Korf, executive director of the School of Drama (SoD).

That bold statement reflects the depth of Sherwood’s talent, and her determination to make the most of every opportunity presented to her.

Darby Sherwood stands by a window in UW's Hutchinson Hall.
Darby Sherwood. Photo by Danielle Barnum Photography.

During her time at the UW, Sherwood served as assistant director or director on several SoD productions, wrote numerous plays, adapted a few classics, did some acting, and interned at local children’s theaters. She even wrote an opera libretto as part of a Seattle Opera program pairing composers and librettists.

“I’m going on 14 years of teaching at the UW, and there’s not another BA student I can think of who has built such a considerable body of work or contributed so much to the productions at the School of Drama,” says SoD associate professor Jeffrey Fracé. “Darby possesses an unusual combination of adventurousness and attention to craft. She also brings infectious joy and enthusiasm to her projects.”

At the height of the pandemic, Sherwood completed Mrs. Lenin, a play she wrote with support from the Floyd and Dolores Endowed Fund, culminating in a live-streamed public reading of the play with professional actors. Sherwood also has leaned into writing for children’s theater; three of her adaptations will be presented by the Academy of Children’s Theatre in Richland, Washington over the next few years. She has taught at Seattle Children’s Theatre (SCT) for the past year, following a summer internship.

Sherwood was twice a recipient of the School of Drama’s Glenn Hughes Memorial Scholarship. She plans to continue working at SCT and writing new plays, with a focus on youth theater. She was recently featured in Perspectives, the College of Arts & Sciences newsletter.

Abigail Health

Dean's Medal in the Social Sciences
BA, American Ethnic Studies

Abigail Heath is committed to building a more equitable world.  In her scholarly work, she never loses sight of that goal.

As a first-year student, Heath reached out to a guest speaker in an American Ethnic Studies (AES) class to ask about internship opportunities. The speaker, Elmer Dixon, was a founding member of the Seattle Chapter of the Black Panther Party and now leads diversity training for corporations. He welcomed Heath as a research assistant in 2019, a position she has held throughout her time at the University.

Abigail Health headshot
Abigail Heath

Health also has participated in several research projects through a Ronald E. McNair Scholarship and a Mary Gates Research Scholarship. Her research topics have included the “colorblind” approach in legal discourse and its impact in public schools, and the implication of language access as a constitutional right for noncitizens in immigration court proceedings. And she has explored the digital archives of the African American Policy Forum to learn about its interventions in the Black Lives Matter movement.

“Abigail is a brilliant thinker,” says AES assistant professor La TaSha Levy, Heath’s mentor for an independent-study research project. “Easily one of the top students I have taught since joining the UW faculty six years ago, Abigail exhibits all of the qualities that make the college classroom such a transformative learning experience. Her passion for academic excellence, alongside her commitment to equity and social justice, has left an indelible mark."

In addition to her academic work, Heath held leadership roles in the UW Black Pre-Law Student Association, first as vice president and then as president, and served as a Davis Wright Tremaine Pre-Law Diversity Fellow. She plans to attend law school in the future.

“She is an all-around achiever, and one who has strongly demonstrated to all of us the generative possibilities of linking pursuits of knowledge with advocacies in the name of social justice,” says Rick Bonus, AES chair and professor. “I can think of no one better suited for such a distinguished award," adds Levy.

Piper Coyner

Dean’s Medalist in the Humanities
BA, Near Eastern Languages & Civilization
BA, Cinema & Media Studies

Feel free to compliment Piper Coyner in Persian. Or Spanish or French or Portuguese or Arabic. She’ll understand you in any of those languages. And there’s plenty to compliment, given Coyner’s stellar work at the UW.

Piper Coyner headshot
Piper Coyner

Accolades have been pouring in since Coyner’s first year. She received the UW President’s Medal as a freshman and again as a junior. This spring, she received the UW President’s Medal Four-Year Award — the top honor for graduating seniors.

“Piper is one of the most intellectually curious students I have worked with,” says Stephanie Selover, assistant professor in the Department of Near Eastern Languages & Civilization (NELC), who had Coyner in three of her courses. “She has a rare mind.” Selover recalls Coyner taking a course as a first-year student that included five graduate students. “As a freshman, she held her own in the graduate level discussion,” she says. “I could tell the graduate students were very impressed by her.”

Outside the classroom, Coyner participated in humanities research through the Svoboda Diaries Project, an ongoing project sponsored by NELC to digitize, edit, and study the journals of a British family that lived in Ottomon Iraq in the late 1800s.

In addition to studying several world languages at the UW, Coyner is fluent in another language: film. As head of the writing team for the UW Film Club, Coyner wrote film reviews and edited and published reviews prepared by a 20-person writing team. She also contributed to the film club’s weekly podcast. Along with her passion for film, Coyner is a voracious reader with a love of fiction.

Coyner received support from the Naficy Family Endowment for Persian Studies and the Maryhelen Whitlock Endowment Fund. She plans to pursue a career in either literature or law. “She is a very inquisitive and intelligent person who has time and again showed her great love of learning,” says Selover.

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