Princeton University seniors Paige Allen, Amy Jeon and James Packman have been named co-winners of the 2021 Moses Taylor Pyne Honor Prize, the highest general distinction conferred on an undergraduate. The University is looking into ways to celebrate the honorees as a community later in the semester.
The Pyne Honor Prize, established in 1921, is awarded to the senior who has most clearly manifested excellent scholarship, strength of character and effective leadership. Previous recipients include U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, former U.S. Sen. Paul Sarbanes and the late Princeton President Emeritus Robert F. Goheen.
Allen, from Mountain Top, Pennsylvania, is an English concentrator who is also pursuing certificates in creative writing, humanistic studies, music theater and theater. She is a member of Phi Beta Kappa; a two-time recipient of the Shapiro Prize for Academic Excellence in 2018 and 2019; and a recipient of the Outstanding Work Award from the Programs in Theater and Music Theater in 2018, 2019 and 2020.
“I am deeply honored to receive the Pyne Prize alongside two brilliant peers,” Allen said. “I am filled with gratitude for the mentors who fostered my academic, artistic and personal growth; the friends who supported me with laughter and care through challenges big and small; and the family who believed in me long before I walked through FitzRandolph Gate. For me, the Pyne Prize acknowledges how blessed I am to have such a web of support driving my varied passions and aspirations.”
During her time at Princeton, she has immersed herself in the humanities, theater and literature.
“When I arrived on campus as a first-year student, juniors and seniors in the humanities and performing arts became my mentors,” Allen said. “They helped me feel included and welcomed at Princeton, showing me how they embraced — and often made their own — opportunities to pursue their passions. I’ve striven to instill that empowering energy in my individual interactions and the communities I shape.”
She continued: “By studying and telling stories in numerous forms, I have gained a better understanding of the power of narrative, the responsibility of storytellers and the practice of empathy.”
Allen is a member of the Behrman Undergraduate Society of Fellows, a group of juniors and seniors who are committed to the study of humanistic inquiry who meet formally once a month to discuss and debate matters of common interest in the company of a few members of the faculty and distinguished guests. She is also member of the Edwards Collective, a residential community of students within Mathey College who are interested in the arts and humanities. She has been extensively involved in the performing arts as an actor, director, stage manager and dramaturg, including serving as a former president of Princeton University Players, Princeton’s only entirely student-run musical theater group. As a Lewis Center for the Arts peer arts adviser, she serves as mentor and resource for students navigating the arts at Princeton with the aim of fostering a more accessible and inclusive environment.
Allen is exploring a wide range of storytelling in her senior independent work.
For her thesis to meet the requirements for English, creative writing and humanistic studies, Allen is writing “thematically linked short stories that examine the notion of the ‘monstrous’ — what society views as the ‘other,’ whether that be, for instance, sexual deviance, medical illness or witchcraft,” said her adviser Daphne Kalotay, lecturer in creative writing and the Lewis Center for the Arts. “To me, Paige’s ability to write characters who have been ‘otherized’ reveals her own depth of character: her empathy and emotional insight."
Kalotay continued: “Her stories find their inspiration both in her study of Gothic literature and in historical research, and she has been thinking deeply about the implications of some of the more shocking information she has found. I’ve also been greatly impressed to see her willingness to go back to the drawing board in order to write at times complete overhauls or significant revisions of stories, rather than simple edits.”
Her theater and music theater thesis projects illuminate the challenges of performance-based work during the pandemic.
For her theater thesis, she served as dramaturg for and acted in “Unbecoming,” by Emma Watkins, a 2018 alumna. Originally proposed as a live production, the project had to be rethought with the suspension of gatherings in theaters. Allen and director Eliana Cohen-Orth, also a senior, introduced the play to the four other Princeton students with whom they were sharing a house off-campus during the fall semester. As a quarantine pod, the team rehearsed and filmed the play in the house’s backyard; it aired in January. Equipment, costumes and props were shipped or delivered via contactless drop-off outside the house by the Lewis Center’s production staff.
For her thesis in music theater, she will perform the title role in “Lizzie,” a four-woman rock musical about Lizzie Borden. “While we are unsure exactly what the final form of the performance will be, given COVID-19 restrictions, I’m excited for the musical’s challenges as a singer and actor,” she said.
In summer 2019, Allen stage managed Princeton Summer Theater’s production of “Topdog/Underdog” and received funding from the Lewis Center’s Sam Hutton Fund for the Arts to learn about theatrical criticism and review performances in New York City, self-publishing those reviews to her blog, The College Critic. In summer 2020, she was an intern for the Shakespeare and Company Project, a digital humanities initiative at Princeton that stems from the Sylvia Beach papers.
Her first year at Princeton, Allen took the yearlong Humanities Sequence. As an alumna of that course, she was able to participate in a fall break trip to Greece in her sophomore year. In summer 2018, she participated in the Princeton-in-Aix-en-Provence immersive language study program. She was awarded the 2020 Princeton Bread Loaf fellowship at Oxford University, which was cancelled due to the pandemic; she was then awarded a 2020 fellowship for summer thesis research with Princeton’s English department.
In addition, Allen is a head Writing Center fellow, a member of the Undergraduate Advisory Council for the English department, a mentor for the Humanities Sequence, a former editor of Tortoise: A Journal of Writing Pedagogy, an Orange Key Tour Guide, a leader in The Wesley Foundation with the United Methodist Campus Ministry-Chaplaincy and a former head editor of The Prospect section of The Daily Princetonian.
After graduation, she plans to pursue a master’s degree in gender and sexuality studies in the U.K. and continue engaging in critical and creative methods of storytelling and knowledge sharing.
Jeon, from San Diego, California, is a Princeton School of Public and International Affairs (SPIA) concentrator who is also pursuing a certificate in statistics and machine learning. She is a recipient of a 2019 Shapiro Prize for Academic Excellence, as well as SPIA's R.W. van de Velde Award for outstanding junior independent work.
“I feel deeply honored and blessed to receive this prize, which I credit not to myself alone but to the many professors, administrators and preceptors who encouraged and mentored me over the years,” Jeon said. “To me, Princeton represents the people who have enriched my life and studies, from the friends who laughed and worked alongside me to the campus communities that welcomed me. Most of all, I give thanks to my family, who guided and supported me every step of the way.”
She said that an opportunity at Princeton that greatly impacted her was interning at the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service advocacy office in Washington, DC, through the Office of Religious Life’s Religion and Resettlement Project in summer 2019.
“[It] was a richly meaningful and rewarding experience. I spent my weekends interviewing refugees and asylees to document their oft-overlooked roles in America’s development,” Jeon said. In a news story on the University homepage, she recounted one interview with a Cambodian man who resettled in Tennessee in the 1960s and faced discrimination when restaurants and gas stations refused to provide him service.
“United States history is not just black and white,” she said. “Many different minorities and people of color settle and participate in this history. I think that being able to meet with someone, even a stranger, and listen actively and graciously to their story is an important skill. It is a great privilege to have someone entrust me with their story, and the process has provided so many moments of heartfelt connection and newfound learning.”
Motivated by a deeper awareness of refugees’ personal stories and experiences, she spent weekdays during her internship advocating on Capitol Hill. “In meetings with government officials, I underscored the power of communities from diverse origins as well as the economic and political benefits of welcoming refugees,” she said. “For me, these living histories also illustrated America’s continued struggle with discrimination and anti-immigration sentiment, which inspired my junior research paper and now my senior thesis.”
Her senior thesis empirically measures nationalist attitudes and support for immigration.
“I conducted surveys in the U.S. and Spain to investigate how varying levels of patriotism align with different attitudes toward immigrants,” Jeon said. “Building upon my findings in these two countries, I hope to one day develop a global survey to assess these different dimensions of nationalism.”
“Amy is a deep and independent thinker,” said her adviser John Londregan, professor of politics and international affairs. “Her senior thesis challenges the standard view of nationalism as a monolithic entity. Instead, she posits that there are multiple types of nationalism, some tied to economic interest, some to out-group hatred and others having to do with pride in one's traditions.”
He said her research process is all the more impressive, considering the challenges students face in the pandemic. “She quickly took [her] insight beyond the speculative stage, designing and implementing an opinion poll to investigate nationalism in the US and Spain. She is now distilling the results. One is accustomed to seeing this level of insight coming from the best of one's academic colleagues on the faculty; it is nothing short of astonishing to encounter it in a senior juggling the logistics of COVID-19, graduate school applications and the vagaries of an uncertain future. This sort of statement usually ends with a statement that one expects to see great things out of the person in question. In this case it's not a question of anticipation, it's something I've already seen.”
Outside the classroom, she has engaged in several service initiatives. During her four years at Princeton, she has been a volunteer tutor-mentor and project leader for Community House — working with low-income middle school students in the Princeton area, and recruiting and coordinating Princeton student volunteers — and led outreach efforts with Manna Christian Fellowship on campus. In summer 2018, through Princeton Internships in Civic Service, Jeon managed operations for over 100 elementary school students in a national summer literacy program at a charter school in Red Hook, Brooklyn, organizing logistics and materials, and communicating with families.
In summer 2020, she worked virtually as an intern for the Atlantic Council’s GeoEconomics Center in Washington, DC, researching fiscal policy and creating data visualizations. She has continued her research with the Atlantic Council throughout her senior year.
Jeon is a member of Butler College, where she is a peer academic adviser. In addition, she is former director of program and Whig Party chair of the American Whig-Cliosophic Society; a member of the Princeton Debate Panel; and the recipient of the 2020 MacLean Orator Prize, awarded by the Woodrow Wilson Honorary Debate Panel to the best speaker in the junior class. She is also a mentor with Princeton Women in Economics and Policy; a violinist in the Princeton University Sinfonia Orchestra; a Last Lectures organizer on the 2021 Commencement Committee; and an Orange Key tour guide and guide selection officer.
After graduation, Jeon plans to attend law school and ultimately pursue a career in nonprofit advocacy and policy work.
James Packman, from Atlanta, Georgia, is a psychology concentrator who is also pursuing a certificate in East Asian studies. He is a 2019 recipient of the Shapiro Prize for Academic Excellence and the Howard Crosby Warren Junior Prize in Psychology.
Packman is a graduate of Princeton-in-Beijing’s intensive fifth-year language program and has achieved near-fluency in Mandarin Chinese. He formerly served as Princeton University China Coalition’s assistant director of alumni outreach. In summer 2019, he was named the Scholar in the Nation’s Service Initiative (SINSI)’s Frank C. Carlucci ’52 Scholar and spent his internship in the Office of East Asian Affairs in the U.S. Agency for International Development. The goal of SINSI is to set outstanding individuals on the path toward public service careers in the U.S. government, focusing on both domestic policy and international affairs, through academic training that is integrated with work experience in federal agencies.
Packman said he had many people to thank for his being awarded the Pyne Prize.
“I am honored and humbled by this award. I am honored because the Pyne Prize recognizes all the support that my mentors, advisors, professors, friends and family provided to me. They believe not only in me, but also in the work I aspire to accomplish. I am humbled because I know that the privilege I enjoy contributed to the circumstances that enabled me to receive this award. Receiving the Pyne Prize reminds me that with great privilege comes great responsibility to give back to one's community and to serve humanity,” he said.
The primary goal of his senior thesis is to create a scale to assess anti-Semitic stereotypes, said Packman, who is conducting his research in the lab of Susan Fiske, the Eugene Higgins Professor of Psychology, and professor of psychology and public affairs.
“We're interested in testing the theory (called the ‘Stereotype Content Model’) that stereotypes focus on the warmth (i.e., good/bad intentions) and competence (i.e., ability to act on those intentions) of different groups. The theory predicts that the content of anti-Semitic stereotypes classifies Jewish people as low in warmth but high in competence (e.g., the anti-Semitic trope of Jewish people as evil schemers),” Packman said. “Our goal is to develop a scale to examine to what extent anti-Semitic stereotypes involve this content. Also, time permitting, we would like to investigate the interaction between anti-Semitic stereotype content and emotions like envy.”
Fiske said his thesis work is all the more impressive, considering he joined her lab in the fall of his senior year, six months behind because he changed topics over the summer.
“He came from behind, thoroughly reviewing the psychology of anti-Semitism, as well as designing, running and analyzing two studies,” Fiske said, “Most seniors are lucky if they can finish one study with a full sample. He will have run three rigorous, publishable studies on a topic that fascinates him but lacks research. He’s validating a prejudice scale that can track prejudice over time, correlating with hate crimes at the zip-code level.”
She continued: “Plus, he’s a team player, appreciated by everyone in the lab, modest and respectful. He has such an abundance of talent that we’ve discussed having him complete a year as lab manager doing further research before graduate school. He exemplifies the best we offer.”
To mark the occasion of Packman’s early induction into Phi Beta Kappa in fall 2020, Fiske wrote a haiku:
No games, James, scholar
In service to humankind,
Prized son of Princeton.
In fall 2020, with Johannes Haushofer, a visiting research scholar in psychology, Packman co-authored a chapter on socioeconomic causes and consequences of mental illness for “African Textbook of Clinical Psychiatry and Mental Health.” In recommending Packman for the Pyne Prize, Haushofer, who also taught him in class and advised his two junior papers, wrote: “James Packman is the most impressive undergraduate I have ever encountered at Princeton, Harvard and MIT, and I recommend him to you in the highest terms.”
A member of First College, Packman volunteered during his first year at Princeton for CONTACT, a suicide prevention and emotional support hotline, for which he also mentored new volunteers. In summer 2020, he was an intern with AYANA Therapy, a telemental-health startup dedicated to increasing access to psychotherapy for marginalized and intersectional communities. This academic year, he is serving as a mentor for Jewish first-year students during the COVID-19 pandemic at Princeton’s Center for Jewish Life (CJL)’s First Friends Program. He is also a student member of and consultant to CJL’s board of directors and was an inaugural member of its Jewish Leaders Advisory Board.
Packman plans to pursue a career as a clinical psychologist.
“I want to conduct research with the goal of making psychotherapeutic treatments more culturally accessible — and thus effective — for clients of marginalized backgrounds,” he said. “I plan to use this research to improve my own clinical practice and to help psychotherapists — the majority of whom are white — to become more culturally competent, flexible and effective in treating clients of diverse and intersectional identities.”
From 2018-20, Packman was president of and foil fencer with the Princeton Fencing Club and coordinated remote practices during the pandemic. He is also a standup comic. But he said one of the most impactful experiences he has had at Princeton is as president and one of the drummers for the Princeton University Rock Ensemble (PURE).
“As a student, I found my first family on campus in PURE. As a drummer, I found an incredible creative outlet in PURE, too. And as president, I was able to maintain and grow an organization that provided my band-family a place to hone their musical talents and create art in which they could take pride,” he said.
In addition to attending Princeton-in-Beijing during summer 2018, Packman’s international experience includes a Birthright trip to Israel, led by the CJL, in December 2019, and study abroad in spring 2020 at the University of Manchester, in the United Kingdom. While that program was cut short due to the COVID-19 pandemic, he returned to the US and continued his course of study in psychology remotely.