Annual Report 2022: Student Excellence
Celebrating the Class of 2022
On May 13, 2022, the HFA honored the class of 2022 at our Senior Recognition Celebration—the college’s first in-person celebration since May 2019.
Tiarra Cooper Wins 3MT
Tiarra Cooper Wins 3MT
Tiarra Cooper, PhD candidate in German & Scandinavian Studies, was named the winner of the Graduate School’s 2022 Three Minute Thesis competition. The Three Minute Thesis (3MT) challenges graduate students to describe their research in an engaging manner, using non-technical language, all in three minutes or less. Cooper’s presentation, “The Affective Experiences of Women Forcibly Sterilized Under the Nazi Regime, 1933–1945” was selected by the distinguished panel of judges as the winner in the live campus final, held on March 4 in the Old Chapel.
Maya Cunningham Receives Ford Fellowship
Maya Cunningham Receives Ford Fellowship
Maya Cunningham is an ethnomusicologist, a Fulbright Scholar, a cultural activist, a Black Music practitioner, and visual artist. Her research focuses on culturally responsive music education for African American students, African American cultural identity, and intersections between African/African American identities and traditional African and African American musics.
Every year the Ford Foundation Fellowship Program awards 75 predoctoral fellowships to outstanding scholars across the US in a competition administered by the Fellowships Office of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. The program seeks to increase the diversity of the nation’s college and university faculties by increasing their ethnic and racial diversity, maximizing the educational benefits of diversity, and increasing the number of professors who can and will use diversity as a resource for enriching the education of all students.
Out of a pool of over 1,800 applicants, Maya Cunningham, a PhD candidate in the W.E.B. Du Bois Department of Afro-American Studies, was selected for the prestigious Ford fellowship because she has demonstrated superior academic achievement, shows promise of future achievement as a scholar and teacher at the university level, and is well prepared to use diversity as a resource for enriching the education of all students. Ms. Cunningham is also a two-time Fulbright recipient.
Senior Leadership Award and William F. Field Alumni Scholar Awards
The Senior Leadership Award recognizes graduating seniors who have demonstrated outstanding leadership and service to the UMass Amherst community. Award recipients have distinguished themselves through important contributions to student organizations, campus jobs, academic excellence, and community service.
The William F. Field Alumni Scholar Awards were established in 1976 to recognize third-year students for academic achievements. The program was named in honor of William F. Field, the university’s first dean of students, for his outstanding support of academic excellence and his personal commitment to bringing out the best in every student.
2022 William F. Field Alumni Scholars
- Samantha Gallant ’23, English
- Tim Goliger ’23, Music & Dance
- Jemma Kepner ’23, Theater
The Senior Leadership and William F. Field Alumni Scholar Awards are sponsored by the alumni association
Zachary Glanz Named 21st-Century Leader
UMass Amherst honored the exemplary achievement, initiative, and leadership of some of its most talented graduating seniors during Undergraduate Commencement. Ten members of the 2022 graduating class were honored as 21st-Century Leaders, including Zachary Glanz.
Glanz majored in Middle Eastern Studies with a secondary major in Chinese Language and Literature. An ROTC standout throughout his four years at UMass Amherst, Glanz was named the Navy Federal Credit Union ROTC All-American Student of the Year, earning $5,000 for UMass ROTC. He ranks among the top 10 percent of Army ROTC cadets in the nation and was designated a Distinguished Military Graduate. Fascinated by foreign languages, culture, and history, he graduated with a command of Mandarin Chinese and Arabic and knowledge of Korean. He excelled in his Chinese courses and went on to study the language further through Indiana University Bloomington with a Department of Defense scholarship in the summer of 2020 and then in Taiwan with a Project Global Officers Scholarship in the summer of 2021. After commencement, Glanz will enter the Military Intelligence (MI) basic officer leader course in Arizona and will subsequently be commissioned as an MI officer in the United States Army, joining the 2nd Combat Aviation Brigade of the 2nd Infantry Division in South Korea in December.
Led by English professor TreaAndrea Russworm, at far right, Game Lab students worked together not just to study video games, but to create their own.
The Tides that Bind
How can we understand and study video games not only as a popular medium but also as a cultural art form?
Students in the UMass Game Design Lab—led by English professor TreaAndrea Russworm—ask questions like: How can we understand and study video games not only as a popular medium but also as a cultural art form? What are some of the ways in which we can formally think about how games have come to matter in our society? How can we use our passion for games, expansive imaginations, and humanities-centered training to create better games?
This year, Game Design Lab students worked collaboratively to design a new game called “The Tides that Bind.” The game’s narrative follows the character Esme as they reconnect with their estranged grandmother who lives in the mysterious coastal town of Malmer.
“I am so proud of our students for writing, drawing, animating, and programming this beautiful and cerebral game from inception to completion,” said Russworm. “It has been quite a year of lessons learned and memories formed, and their work is but one example of the bright future of Media Arts, of emergent and creative uses of technology and humanities literacies.”
Watch a documentary about the making of “The Tides that Bind” »
Probing the Mysteries of Language
Through an independent research study of her own design, Emily Knick ‘23 investigates how languages evolve and what such changes can teach us about how the brain produces and perceives language.
At UMass Amherst, Emily Knick ‘23 discovered a passion for something that is a fundamental part of the human experience, yet most people rarely contemplate: language.
“We wake up every day and go around talking to each other, yet there’s so much we don’t understand about how we actually do it,” she said. “There’s a whole world out there to explore.”
Knick’s path to linguistics didn’t follow a straight line. Originally from Richmond, Va., she enrolled in a biology program at a community college and began taking classes in Japanese for fun, inspired by her love of Japanese films. She found herself fascinated by the linguistic aspects of learning a new language and wanted to delve deeper. She transferred to UMass Amherst as a first-year student largely because of the Department of Linguistics’ stellar reputation: consistently ranked second in the world after MIT.
At UMass, Knick has been able to combine her dual interests in Japanese and linguistics in an independent research project that investigates a change taking place in the pronunciation of certain consonants in Tokyo Japanese, a dialect spoken by those who live or were raised in Tokyo. Knick approached her professor, John Kingston, with the idea for the research project, and he agreed to advise her.
According to Kingston, most linguistics majors are exposed to research. “By doing research as undergrads, our students get to explore whether they are interested in continuing on in research, which means potentially applying to graduate school—typically in linguistics, but also in computer science and other fields,” said Kristine Yu, associate professor, who also advises Knick. “They get a sense of the challenges and whether it’s something they love doing, and it gives them a piece of work to show when they apply to graduate school.”
Knick’s interest in her research topic grew out of a UMass course she took on phonetics.
“I became interested in how people hear consonants. For example, if I say the words ‘pot’ and ‘bot,’ a listener can distinguish the meaning of each word because of the way they hear the ‘p’ and the ‘b’ sounds,” she explained. “In different languages, different acoustic properties are varied in order to distinguish between consonant sounds.”
Knick designed a two-part study to investigate a phenomenon among speakers of Tokyo Japanese. Consonants known as “plosives”—like the sounds made by P, T, K, B, D, and G—were starting to sound more similar to each other. Yet, Knick said, “Listeners don’t seem to have trouble distinguishing them, which I find very strange!” She recorded speech from Tokyo Japanese-speaking participants of various ages and sexes, both in Japan and in the United States. Knick analyzed the voice recordings using a software that produces visual representations of speech. This first part of the study, which she completed during her junior year, confirmed the pronunciation change, both at the sentence and word level. The change appears to be led by younger speakers, and females in particular.
“Younger speakers are producing sounds with less of the vocal fold vibration, also known as pre-voicing, and are instead using a short little lag, or period of silence,” Knick said.
Praising Knick’s innovative research study, Kingston said, “It gets at fundamental questions: What is triggering these changes? Who is leading the changes? Who is following? We don’t have good ideas yet about why language changes at the moment it does. Studying this case helps us understand these questions better.”
Next, Knick plans to conduct a perception study to investigate how people hear the sound change.
“I’m fascinated by how the brain processes language,” said Knick. “A lot of past psycholinguistic work assumes that the way the mind tells the mouth how to produce sounds is the reverse of how sounds are perceived. Yet … whether or not this assumption is correct is still unknown. A good way to investigate this is through sound changes, as I’m doing in my research.”
Beyond deepening her understanding of linguistic concepts and developing new skills in statistics, programming, and encoding, Knick said conducting research has allowed her to hone many other abilities, including organization, clear communication of academic concepts to diverse audiences, and speaking her second language, Japanese, in a real-world context. In addition, she said, “I’ve had to become more flexible and accept that experiments never go perfectly. This has extended into many other areas in my life!”
Knick is exploring pursuing a PhD in linguistics or psychology/cognitive science to study speech perception and neurolinguistics, or working in the field of data science—another skill set she developed through research.
She advised any undergraduate who is considering doing research to reach out to their professors, even if they don’t see an open research position listed. “The worst they can do is say no, but you’d be surprised how often they say yes,” she said.
“Don’t be afraid to ask questions,” Knick asserted. “Research isn’t about knowing everything; research is about not knowing things and wanting to find out the answer."
Internship Support Recipients
Internships can open doors to future careers. Too often, students are forced to choose between a low-paying or unpaid internship or working a summer job unrelated to their career aspirations. This year, 11 students benefitted from the HFA Internship Assistance Fund, which enabled them to gain valuable experience.
Sailor Cicchetti ’24
Western Massachusetts Labor Action
Isabel Graves ’23
International Institute of New England
Becca Griebno ’23
Three Sisters Sanctuary
Emily Hankins ’24
Griffen Museum of Photography
Claudia Maurino ’24
Riquezas Del Campo Co-operative Farm
Anaamika Nair ’23
Silver Spring, Maryland &
Swing Blue Alliance
Greater Boston Area
Kami Nguyen ’24
O Street Museum
Elijah Nosa ’23
Greater Boston Area
Jalique Pierre ’23
Monroe Randall ’23
Northampton Center for the Arts
Northampton, MA &
Pioneer Valley Symphony
Joshua Reis ’23