Princeton honors top students at Alumni Day

Princeton University recognized the winners of the highest honors it awards to students at Alumni Day ceremonies Saturday, Feb. 20.

Senior Connor Diemand-Yauman received the University's Moses Taylor Pyne Honor Prize, and graduate students Vaneet Aggarwal, Melinda Baldwin, Charles Conroy and Joseph Moshenska were presented as co-winners of the Porter Ogden Jacobus Fellowship at a luncheon in Jadwin Gymnasium.

The Pyne Honor Prize, the highest general distinction conferred on an undergraduate, is awarded to the senior who has most clearly manifested excellent scholarship, strength of character and effective leadership. The Jacobus Fellowship, which supports the final year of graduate study, is awarded to students whose work has displayed the highest scholarly excellence.

The previously announced winners of the top honors for alumni also were honored at the luncheon: 1964 graduate Jim Leach, a longtime U.S. congressman who now chairs the National Endowment for the Humanities and was this year's Woodrow Wilson Award recipient; and U.S. Army Gen. David Petraeus, who oversees the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as commander of the U.S. Central Command and was this year's James Madison Medalist. Petraeus earned his master's in public affairs and a Ph.D. from the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs in 1985 and 1987, respectively.

Both alumni award winners spoke during the morning in Richardson Auditorium, Alexander Hall.

Diemand-Yauman was announced as this year's winner of the Pyne Honor Prize on Feb. 9.

Award winners

At a reception before the Alumni Day luncheon in Jadwin Gymnasium, President Shirley M. Tilghman (right) and Dean of the Graduate School William Russel (left) congratulated the winners of the University's highest awards for students: (from second from left) Jacobus Fellowship recipients Joseph Moshenska, Vaneet Aggarwal and Melinda Baldwin; and Pyne Prize winner Connor Diemand-Yauman. Unable to attend the event was Jacobus Fellowship winner Charles Conroy. (Photo: Denise Applewhite)

Jacobus Fellowships

Aggarwal, a doctoral student in the Department of Electrical Engineering, earned his bachelor's degree in electrical engineering from the Indian Institute of Technology Kanpur. At Princeton, he has won his department's excellence in teaching award for his work as an assistant in instruction. His research and his dissertation focus on wireless communication networks and the challenge of optimizing their performance. He has identified the weakness in existing analytical models and has developed alternatives to address the operational inefficiencies they fail to take into account.

In addition, Aggarwal has produced what his dissertation adviser Robert Calderbank describes as essentially a "second thesis," in which he develops "an entirely new approach to the grand challenge of reliably determining error thresholds that are both necessary and sufficient to support fault tolerant quantum computing." The significance of his work in this area has been recognized through funding by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency's highly competitive Quantum Entanglement Science and Technology program.

"A challenge that many very talented new Ph.D.s find very difficult is to identify a problem that is new in the sense that it is different from the theme of their thesis and to attack it successfully without the guidance of their adviser," said Calderbank, a professor of electrical engineering, mathematics, and applied and computational mathematics. "In essentially writing two theses in completely different fields, Vaneet has passed that stage in career development and is already functioning as an independent researcher."

Baldwin is a Ph.D. candidate in the Program in History of Science. She earned her undergraduate degree summa cum laude from Davidson College, where she majored in chemistry and history, laying the groundwork for a master's degree in the history and philosophy of science at the University of Cambridge.

Baldwin's dissertation, "Nature and the Making of a Scientific Community, 1869-1939," explores the history of one of the world's foremost scientific journals, Nature, and its emergence as an exemplar of modern scholarly communication in the sciences. In addition to chronicling this journal's rise to global prominence, she hopes her dissertation will "contribute to a broader understanding of the structure of 19th-century British science and the development of early 20th-century international scientific relations," as well as yielding insights for today, as scientists adjust to the new medium of online publications.

Baldwin received a National Science Foundation grant for her trips to the United Kingdom to conduct archival research. Her adviser Michael Gordin, a professor of history, said that Baldwin is among the outstanding graduate students who "show tremendous promise to really shape their fields as they mature as scholars. … I have never failed to be impressed at her professionalism, her knowledge, the clarity of her writing, and her scholarly scope and range."

Conroy, a doctoral student in the Department of Astrophysical Sciences, earned his B.A. with honors in physics and astrophysics from the University of California-Berkeley. He played a pivotal role in a major survey of distant galaxies, co-writing five papers and shepherding this project to a successful close when his undergraduate thesis adviser became ill.

At Princeton, Conroy has demonstrated mastery of both the observational and theoretical aspects of galaxy evolution. His dissertation on "The Stellar Population Synthesis Technique" sheds new light on a critical tool for gauging the physical properties of galaxies by probing the significant -- and little studied -- uncertainties inherent in this technique. He has written nearly 20 papers for refereed journals, has presented colloquia at several prestigious institutions and is sought as a participant in workshops and meetings.

"When people ask me about my students, I almost always forget Charlie, because he does not FEEL like a student, but instead like a valued peer and colleague," said his adviser James Gunn, the Eugene Higgins Professor of Astronomy. "When it is all done, I doubt that he will have learned nearly as much from me as I from him."

Moshenska, a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of English, is a graduate of the University of Cambridge, where he earned first class honors in English literature as well as the Procter Visiting Fellowship that brought him to Princeton.

His dissertation, "'Feeling Pleasures': The Sense of Touch in the English Renaissance," examines the diverse ways in which this controversial sense was perceived and portrayed in 16th- and 17th-century England -- from the poetry of Edmund Spenser and John Milton to the exploits of Greatrakes the Stroker, whose healing touch astounded and confounded his contemporaries. Drawing on the intellectual legacy of both earlier and later epochs, Moshenska addresses a sense that has been largely overlooked by scholars.

His adviser Leonard Barkan, the Class of 1943 University Professor of Comparative Literature, called Moshenska "one of those once-in-a-generation students who seem to have come fully formed, possessing mature capacities in both philology and methodology, but who also … seem to grow by leaps and bounds in the process of their scholarly education."