Radcliffe Institute Recognizes Top Harvard Theses with Awards

Outstanding Work in Medical Anthropology and Original Poetry
Victoria Koski-Karell and Justin Wymer with Dean Cohen. Photo by Jessica BrilliVictoria Koski-Karell and Justin Wymer with Dean Cohen. Photo by Jessica Brilli
May 17, 2012

Karla Strobel

The Captain Jonathan Fay Prize is awarded annually to the graduating Harvard College senior who has produced the most imaginative work or original research in any field. The Fay Prize selection committee is convened by the dean of the Radcliffe Institute, Lizabeth Cohen, who is also the Howard Mumford Jones Professor of American Studies in the History Department.

This year, two Fay Prize recipients were chosen from more than 80 Thomas T. Hoopes Prize winners for outstanding scholarly work or research. “The work of Victoria Koski-Karell and Justin Wymer was so distinguished and distinctive that we felt compelled to honor both students and both theses,” said Dean Cohen, when presenting the awards at Radcliffe’s annual Strawberry Tea. “Their fields of study, anthropology and poetry, are very different, but we found that both students shared an exemplary commitment to original, inquisitive, and rigorous work.”

Victoria Koski-Karell’s thesis, Coping with Kolera: Encountering the Unknown in North Haiti—which incorporates anthropology, biology, and history—was lauded by the Fay Prize selection committee for its “originality of research” and commended for its real-world application and recommendations that “will save lives.”

Justin Wymer’s thesis of original poetry, Genius Loci, was selected by the committee for both “pushing poetry in a strange and shocking direction” and its “fresh, original voice.”

Koski-Karell’s thesis, Coping with Kolera: Encountering the Unknown in North Haiti, examines the devastating cholera epidemic that broke out in Haiti following the earthquake in 2010.

Koski-Karell was in Haiti when the earthquake hit. For her thesis, she returned to interview patients, family members, caregivers, Vodou and Catholic priests, and health-care providers in northern Haiti to establish how Haitians view cholera; how patients, families, and communities cope with symptoms; and how the sick seek treatment—all woven together with an understanding of Haiti’s history and its biological, political, and social conditions. The result is a study that not only sheds light on the disease and its treatment, but also could change the way cholera prevention and treatment is approached in Haiti.

Her advisor Felicity Aulino, a teaching fellow in Anthropology at the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, describes the thesis as “passionately conceived, rigorously researched, and impeccably executed” and states that it “will make an important contribution in her home field of medical anthropology as well as become a powerful tool for global health promotion.” 

Koski-Karell says that one reason she is drawn to anthropology and ethnography is because those areas of study “give a voice to people who often don’t have the opportunity to be heard.” She will continue to listen to those voices and to be inspired by Dr. Paul Farmer. After graduation, Koski-Karell will join Physicians for Haiti as a cholera advocacy intern to help improve water and waste infrastructure.

Justin Wymer’s thesis, Genius Loci, features 51 poems that describe “the spirit of a place” where Wymer has lived or visited. Wymer’s poetry evokes vivid imagery of both rural and urban settings, from the ravines of his home state of West Virginia to city life in New York and Cambridge.

Wymer describes his poetry as “sensorial, exfoliating, colorful, and restless.” His favorite poems from the collection include “Vesper,” which he wrote for his mother Sandy Wymer, and “Genius Loci” which was inspired by the sounds of a beautiful spring day that Wymer encountered walking outside of Harvard’s Currier House. “The nature of places I am visiting or in which I am living contributes to the imagery of my poems. The pulse of the poem itself always comes from what I see in the world that doesn’t necessarily make sense to me right now. I try to see an image in my immediate field of vision that relates to that spiritual inquiry and then I constantly try to make relations and to elucidate what that feeling is.”

Jorie Graham, Harvard’s Boylston Professor of Rhetoric and Oratory and Wymer’s advisor, praised Genius Loci as “one of the most remarkable collection of poems I have seen from a young poet at Harvard. He seems to me to be writing a new poetry, one that American poetry needs, and yet, like all deeply innovative art, in it and through it, the essentials of the poetic tradition in English are breathing.”

Wymer will continue to push the boundaries of contemporary American poetry after graduation, when he joins the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, one of the nation’s leading graduate programs for poets and fiction writers.

“We have no doubt that these two recipients will continue to distinguish themselves in the years ahead, and we look forward to following their work,” said Dean Cohen after presenting the Fay Prizes. She noted that the selection committee was impressed by the exceedingly strong submissions for the Fay Prize and listed all the nominees:


  • Thomas Dolinger, “‘This Incommensurably Wide Way’: John Ashbery and the Long Poem”
  • James McAuley, “Decision in Bordeaux: Eduardo Propper de Callejón, the Problem of the Jewish Refugees, and the Actor-Network Theory in Vichy France, 1940‑1941”
  • Fay Prize Winner Justin Wymer, “Genius Loci”


  • Ross Anderson, “On the Origin of Micaceous Spherules from the Neoproterozoic Bonahaven Formation, Islay, Scotland” 
  • Rachel Hinman,“Measurement of the ZZ Production Cross Section and Limits on Anomalous Triple Gauge Couplings at √s=7  TeV”
  • Alexandro Trevino, “The Contribution of Secretory Leukocyte Protease Inhibitor to the Generation and Maintenance of Inflammatory Pain”

Social Sciences

  • Caitlin Carey, “An fMRI Investigation of Automatic Simulation in Schizophrenia”
  • Jocelyn Karlan, “Bilingual Bi-Personality: How Language Shapes Implicit Attitudes and Self-Concept”
  • Fay Prize Winner Victoria Koski-Karell, “Coping with Kolera: Encountering the Unknown in North Haiti”

About the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study

The Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University is dedicated to creating and sharing transformative ideas across the arts, humanities, sciences, and social sciences. Learn more about the people and programs of the Radcliffe Institute at www.radcliffe.harvard.edu

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