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Two graduates honored with Shannon T. O’Leary Award

June 30, 2017

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Graduating seniors Irene Duba and Katie Kowal were selected this May as the inaugural recipients of the Shannon T. O’Leary Award. The College established the award to honor Associate Professor O’Leary, who was a role model and advocate for women in science and math before her unexpected death in December 2016. The award, which was fully endowed by contributions from across the Lewis & Clark community and beyond, will be given annually to a female student in physics and/or math who demonstrates tremendous intellectual promise and community impact.

Irene majored in physics and minored in neuroscience at Lewis & Clark, earning honors in physics. She excelled in independent research, working in a condensed matter lab, a medical physics lab, and in Shannon O’Leary’s experimental optical physics lab, all while she was an undergraduate student. Irene completed a senior honors thesis under the mentorship of Physics Professor Bethe Scalettar, using fluorescence microscopy to study and model tiny particles in nerve cells. In addition to winning the Feynman Award in her sophomore year, and tutoring college and high school students, Irene revived and co-led the Physics Club, which is now an official chapter of the Society of Physics Students. Irene is fluent in Spanish and studied abroad in the Dominican Republic in her junior year.  

Katie double-majored in physics and political science at Lewis & Clark, earning honors in political science. As a physics student, she spent a summer at Duke University studying experimental nuclear astrophysics, attended two conferences, and co-led the physics club. Inspired by Prof. O’Leary, Katie worked to broaden access to science and math fields. She tutored high school students and helped launch a new-student program to welcome science and math students who are the first in their families to go to college. Katie was the winner of the Rena Ratte Award and the American Association of University Women Award, the two top college-wide academic awards for graduating seniors. She also won the Feynman Award in her sophomore year. Katie studied in the Dominican Republic during the fall of her junior year, and she ran track in the spring for three years. An interview with Katie can be found on the College’s website.

The Physics Department is incredibly proud of these two young women who are the first of many future winners of the Shannon T. O’Leary Award.