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Kowal Named Ratte Award Winner

October 26, 2017

Katie Kowai BA ’17Katie Kowai BA ’17

Katie Kowal BA ’17, a physics and political science double major, received this spring’s Rena J. Ratte Award, the undergraduate college’s highest honor. Named for an esteemed teacher, the award recognizes a senior whose abilities and commitment have combined to produce work of the highest distinction.

Tell us about your experience at Lewis & Clark.

When I came to Lewis & Clark, I was ambitious, but I felt lost in terms of where my drive would lead. L&C takes its commitment to explore very seriously, and I had the opportunity to further delve into my interests and values. I double majored in physics and political science, studied abroad my junior year in the Dominican Republic, and continued to run track and field as a varsity athlete.

Throughout these experiences I came into contact with peers and professors who encouraged me to leave my comfort zone, which led me to take greater risks and develop a sense of purpose regarding who I wanted to be in the world. Lewis & Clark challenged me to grow up, but it was a safe place for me to try new experiences and have the courage to clarify my values.

What led you to major in both physics and political science?

Both subjects challenged my analytic abilities. Each discipline emphasizes the value of objectively tackling a problem by using logic to break down causal relationships.

During my first and second year at Lewis & Clark, I was also an educator for the Community Engagement and Leadership in Science (CELS) after-school program, which is organized by Lewis & Clark’s Graduate School of Education and Counseling. I worked with students to develop community-based science projects, which enabled them to use quantitative methods to answer questions they had about their surroundings.

During the summer of my junior year, I signed on to help develop and lead Xplore in its pilot year. Xplore is a new-student orientation program for first- generation college students interested in pursuing STEM [science, technology, engineering, and mathematics] majors. I ran this program with a team, and our focus was to make math and science more approachable and community oriented. From my experiences as a learner and a teacher, I grew determined to make math and science more accessible. These disciplines fostered my own empowerment, and I wanted others to have the same opportunity.

You were also one of the winners of the inaugural Shannon T. O’Leary award, which was created just this year to honor an exemplary physics professor and friend who was taken from us suddenly.

That was completely overwhelming. Shannon was one of my closest personal mentors, and I owe her a tremendous debt for helping me grow as a student, a woman, and a leader. My own accomplishments are due in huge part to Shannon’s belief in me. If I can continue to advocate for others in the same way that she supported me, that will be the beginning of paying tribute to how incredible she was.

Remarkably, you also won the AAUW (American Association of University Women) award, given annually to a senior woman of outstanding scholarship, character, personality, contributions to campus and community life, and potential for future achievement.

The AAUW award is my proudest achievement. This is partially because this was one of Shannon’s favorite awards. When she was on the awards committee for AAUW, she took her role very seriously. I think this is probably because it stands for some of her most cherished values: leadership and community involvement. I also value these commitments, and during my time at L&C I have strived to give back to a group of people who have given me so much. For people to have recognized my efforts means the world to me, and I hope Shannon is proud of me even if she is not with us.

What are you doing now?

In July, I began a two-year fellowship in science policy at the Science and Technology Policy Institute in Washington, D.C. This institute helps bridge the gap between research that is done in the labs and policy makers who can utilize this knowledge for public benefit. Lewis & Clark factored heavily into why I chose this job because I learned how much research depends on communication to be useful.

Recent Grads Win National Awards

Last spring, several of Lewis & Clark’s young alumni claimed a bevy of national awards and honors in recognition of their academic excellence and commitment to global service. Here’s a sampling.

Fulbright Winners

One graduating senior and three recent alumni will spend the 2017–18 academic year teaching or researching overseas after receiving prestigious awards from the State Department’s Fulbright Program. Lewis & Clark is one of the top producers of Fulbright award winners in the country, demonstrating a sustained commitment to international education and engagement.

Kristina Dill BA ’16 (chemistry), research award, Austria

Jessie Kennedy BA ’15 (German studies), teaching assistantship, Germany

Nicole Searl BA ’15 (psychology and German studies), teaching assistantship, Germany

Jessica Meyerzon BA ’17 (international affairs and foreign languages), teaching assistantship, Belarus

National Science Foundation Fellowship Winners

Five Lewis & Clark alumni were awarded NSF Graduate Research Fellowships. These fellowships are awarded to outstanding graduate students in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics disciplines. Fellows benefit from a three-year annual stipend of $34,000 along with a $12,000 cost of education allowance for tuition and fees.

Riley Coulthard BA ’15 (chemistry)

Olivia Foster BA ’13 (biochemistry/molecular biology)

Julia Huggins BA ’13 (biology)

Daniel Saxton BA ’12 (biology)

Yusef Shari’ati BA ’12 (chemistry)

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