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JMC awards 10 outstanding students senior awards, Kautz Prize recipients named

May 10, 2022 - Beth Brauer

James Madison College students are known as leaders both in the classroom and beyond. This year’s spring and summer graduates continue to set the bar high for current and incoming JMC students.

The college gave 10 students a total of 11 Outstanding Senior Awards. In the area of Comparative Cultures and Politics, or CCP, the following students were named: myrah rafiah beverly, Troy Distelrath, Rosa Razmi and Keegan Sullivan.

Distelrath was also honored for his contributions in Social Relations and Policy, or SRP. The other award recipients in SRP are Abigail Dejene, Qing Guan, Jonathan Suan and Jack Wheatley.

Rafael Paz received the Mary Dye International Relations Student Award, and Jacob Hall received the award for Outstanding Senior in Political Theory and Constitutional Democracy, also known as the Jack Chapin Memorial Prize.

Each student receives a physical award or framed certificate and a cash prize of $500; when multiple recipients are named in an academic area, they divide the cash prize equally.

“To be recognized for academic excellence and exemplary community engagement by the faculty members who have taught you and watched your growth in the areas where they have expertise is quite an honor. All of these students should be quite proud,” said Linda Racioppi, professor and associate dean for James Madison.

Amanda Flaim, an assistant professor whose research is focused on human rights policy and development programs in Southeast Asia, nominated beverly, Razmi and Distelrath in the area of CCP.

“Myrah commits herself to putting the intellectual insights of CCP into everyday political practice. Related to her extensive volunteer commitments in multicultural outreach and understanding, myrah worked full-time throughout her college career, both advancing MSU’s offerings in less commonly taught and Indigenous languages and serving as a creative film consultant to the Mekong Culture WELL project,” said Flaim.

Distelrath’s contributions as both student and researcher also won him praise by Flaim who said, “Troy’s publishing on relevant issues like the housing crisis in Detroit and the climate crisis in the Mekong Delta has positioned him to work with various departments across campus; he was awarded a fellowship with the Institute for Public Policy and Social Research and was a finalist for the prestigious Truman fellowship.”

Razmi was nominated in part for her research and efforts to advance greater awareness of Middle East politics, Iran and Muslim feminisms. “In addition to her impressive GPA, Rosa Razmi has dedicated her time to improving JMC student governance through the years and serving as Student Senate President,” said Flaim, “She is also a pleasure to work with and has cultivated an inclusive student environment at JMC.”

Sullivan was nominated by Racioppi who wrote, “Keegan is an academically outstanding student who is making an impact through his work with the Sierra Club and other groups and his deep commitment to and interest in environmental policy and social justice.”

Rashida Harrison, assistant professor of SRP, wrote of Dejene, “Abigail Dejene serves as founding director of MSU’s Prison Reform Advocacy Group, or PRAG, a student organization that aims to educate students on issues relating to mass incarceration. She is an excellent student, residential adviser and committed citizen to the James Madison College.”

Professor Gene Burns nominated Qing Guan, a triple major in SRP, International Relations, or IR, and economics. “Her SRP professors have been highly impressed with the subtlety and elegance of her writing and her facility with every academic subject she encounters,” Burns wrote in his recommendation. Guan is the MSU nominee for the James C. Gaither Junior Fellows Program.

Anna Pegler-Gordon, a professor whose classes focus on Asian American history, immigration policy and citizenship, nominated Jonathan Suan of whom she wrote, “Jonathan has been a highly engaged student since the moment he arrived on campus…. Jonathan immediately joined the Asian Pacific American Students Organization, or APASO, starting as residence hall representative in his first year and working his way up to vice president.”

Nominated by Louise Jezierski, associate professor of SRP, Wheatley was selected for his academic achievements, particularly the research he completed for his senior honors thesis. Jezierski commended Wheatley on his work examining right wing mobilizations and political and ideological factions in the U.S. The focus of his thesis was how emergent right-wing groups mobilized within university settings.

Robert Brathwaite, associate professor of international relations, nominated Paz for his exceptional contributions in his courses inside and outside of Madison and for his leadership across campus.

Kirstin Brathwaite, co-field chair of international relations and assistant professor wrote, “Rafael has put his academic and leadership experience to work as a research assistant and as a Congressional intern for the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute. As he heads to graduate school, we are looking forward to seeing what Rafael does next!”

And finally, Jacob Hall, who has a double major in CCP and Political Theory and Constitutional Democracy, or PTCD, is this year’s recipient of the Jack Chapin Prize, which is supported by an endowment created by Jack Chapin, a JMC alum, who went on to earn a Ph.D. in political theory. The Chapin Prize is awarded to a Madison student who demonstrates both excellence in academic ability and great moral character.

list of senior award recipients 

In addition to the Outstanding Senior Awards, the Kautz Prize is another award presented to a James Madison student during the spring semester. Established in memory of alumnus Steve Kautz (’81), who earned his Ph.D. from the University of Chicago and became a scholar and professor of democratic leadership and American political theory, Kautz went on to become the dean of MSU’s Honors College and an associate dean in the College of Social Science.

The 2022 Kautz Prize winner is Jack Carlson (PTCD ’23) for his studies under the supervision of Ben Lorch, assistant professor of political philosophy, on the topic of federalism and the question of states’ rights. Carlson’s final paper for the independent study is currently under review for publication in the undergraduate Compass journal.

Due to the irregular academic year in 2020-21, the 2021 award recipient was also announced simultaneously. Isabelle Thelan (PTCD ’21) is the 2021 recipient. In the paper for which she earned the Kautz Prize, “Adam Smith and Egalitarian Virtue Ethics,” “Thelan argues Smithian virtue promotes human equality because the types of virtues that we can develop reflect the circumstances in which we live and there is no hierarchy of virtues in Smith’s thought,” wrote Brianne Wolf, assistant professor of political theory.

Thelan is currently a student in the Baylor University political science doctoral program where she continues to explore topics such as Augustinian political thought, the relationship between politics and religion, the role of mercy in political life and the family as a political institution.