Center for the Humanities

University of Rhode Island

Swan Hall, 175G 60 Upper College Rd. Kingston, RI 02881


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Previous Winners of Student Excellence in the Humanities



Kristina Canton ‘17 (History) was awarded the Thomas/Phi Alpha Theta prize for outstanding achievement in history. A senior from Warwick, she has completed 143 credits with a GPA of 3.88. She is a member of the Phi Eta Sigma National Honor Society and the National Society of Collegiate Scholars, and has been on the Dean’s List throughout her career at URI. In addition to her major in History and Public Relations and her minor in General Business, the range of courses in which she has excelled paints the perfect picture of a scholar of the humanities: Anthropology, Art, History, Classics, Communications, Economics, Greek, English, Journalism, Mathematics, Natural Sciences, Philosophy, Sociology, Psychology, Sociology, Theatre, and Writing. Moreover, several of these courses have been honors courses.

Charlie Santos ‘18 (Philosophy) is a superior student, an accomplished Theatre minor and a significant force for social change, one who represents the necessary face of young humanists at this moment of social fragmentation. He does not merely think about social justice through his minor in Justice, Law and Society; he works for them with integrity, compassion and panache. A winner of the Michael P. Metcalf Award from the Rhode Island Foundation, Charlie has studied improvisational performance in Finland, Michigan, Texas, and Canada. This summer he will attend the 2017 Conference for Pedagogy and Theatre of the Oppressed, and is developing an Honors Project emphasizing racial and social justice through the ethics of possibility. Currently Charlie is also participating in the Trinity Rep workshop on Theatre as Civic Practice. Charlie’s performative outreach invites others into dialogue about the human condition. When not campaigning for a more just society or teaching young people theatrical techniques, Charlie can be seen weekly in Wakefield at the Contemporary Theatre Company’s Micetro Improv, Friday nights starting at 9:30pm.


Michelle M. Drummey ‘18  (History) started the Graduate program in History in the Fall 2016. She has excelled as a student and TA. For His 506, she wrote “Cut from the Same Cloth: Performance, Costume, and Ritual,” exploring how performance, clothing, and ritual elevated clothing from an object of history to an object that contributed to ritual and a sense of community. Grounded in a reenactment of Lincolns’ second inaugural address in 1965, she carefully teased out how 1865 and 1965 spoke to each other. Michelle is exploring options for an M.A. thesis focusing on the development and practice of living history in New England museums. Michelle’s commitment to the liberal arts is also shown in her involvement with public humanities. From an intern at the Coggeshall Farm Museum, Bristol, RI (May 2016 – Aug 2016), where she produced “Clothing the Museum: A guide for the style and care of reproduction historic clothing at Coggeshall Farm Museum,” to many other internships throughout New England.


Beth Leonardo Silva ‘18 (English) is working on a PhD focusing specifically on unexpected family dynamics in Victorian novels.  Although she is only in the second year of her doctoral program, she already has one scholarly article forthcoming in the Victorian Institute Journal: “Rethinking the Familiar: Social Outsiders in Eliza Lynn Linton’s The Rebel of the Family and Rhoda Broughton’s Dear Faustina.She is currently completing another article for the Wilkie Collins Journal.  In November 2016, Beth presented a very well-received paper at the prestigious North American Victorian Studies Association conference.  In addition to her scholarship and teaching, Beth has played a pivotal role on the Core committee, digital committee, and implementation committee of the URI NEH grant team.  She has worked diligently with Kathleen Davis and others for the good of the humanities at URI and across the nation.



Reen Varkey ’16 (Italian and Applied Economics) originally came from Long Island to Rhode Island to study Italian and another discipline (originally the Doctor of Pharmacy program, but later she switched to Applied Economics). She is graduating with a double Bachelor’s degree at 19, after just two years at URI. Reen has continuously shown her love for the Humanities in all that she does: from studying abroad in Calabria, Italy last summer, to winning countless awards for Italian, to working in the Foreign Language Department Office, to being an Italian tutor, a teaching assistant for Philosophy, and a Religious Education instructor. She is a highly motivated and intelligent young woman, who has managed to maintain a GPA within the top 10% of her class while also being a member of many different clubs and organizations on campus. She speaks five languages, and her passion for languages really took hold back when she started to talk Italian in sixth grade.  She is hard working and always ready to help others and take on any challenge that is placed in front of her.

Thomas Porter ’16 (History and Journalism) is a senior with a double major in History and Journalism and a GPA of 3.69.  He has impressed his history professors with his zeal for research and commitment to using the study of history to understand contemporary questions. In the Fall 2015 semester, Tom finished an excellent capstone project on the relationship between the drug laws and racial prejudice in the early twentieth century. He demonstrated the deep and systemic racist history and rhetoric behind the laws, exploring some of the most disturbing material in American history to write this capstone, for which he received an A. For Professor Rob Widell’s Documenting Rhode Island course, he led a team of students on a project exploring the impact of deindustrialization in Rhode Island that can be viewed at He is currently working on a radio documentary about the Pawtucket Red Sox and their fans, under the mentorship of Professor Miriam Reumann, exploring what the team means to the city of Pawtucket. Not surprisingly, Tom is a member of numerous academic honor societies: the National Society of Collegiate Scholars, Phi Eta Sigma National Honor Society, and Phi Alpha Theta History Honor Society.  A former Eagle Scout, Tom also participated in URI’s Freshman Leadership Program. A dynamic personality, Tom is also a feature on WRIU, 90.3 FM, URI’s radio station. He is the station’s general manager and he does play-by-play for URI’s football, hockey, basketball, and baseball teams. He also is a sportswriter for The Good 5 Cent Cigar.


Laura Hoglund ’16 (History)  came to URI from the University of Wisconsin – Oshkosh with a very strong undergraduate record.  She will graduate this semester with an MA in History, Archaeology and Anthropology (A&A) and the unique distinction of being the only student in the history of the A&A program to complete all the required course work, write a thesis and defend it within 2 years.  This achievement owes much to her high intellect, tremendous organizational skills and great determination.  The opening line of Laura’s application statement to URI read: “For me, history is about stories.”  Laura is an astute and perceptive historian, with a gift for uncovering hidden stories.  In March of 2015, she published an article in the Providence Journal titled “The Rebels of Rhode Island Go Way Back.” This stemmed from her work in Professor Scott Malloy’s class on Rhode Island History where she showed that the burning of the Gaspee was part of a pattern of resistance rather than an isolated event.  Likewise, Laura’s master’s thesis blends her capacities as a storyteller with her innate investigative curiosity.  Titled Rail Ports: The Collaboration of Railroad and Coastal Steamboat Companies in New England in the 1840s, Laura’s work looks at the emergence of a transportation system in the northeast United States during the 1830s and 1840s, and in particular the routes between Boston and New York.  It was during this period that steamship and railroad companies started linking up with each other and stagecoach operators to offer faster and safer travel.  While new steam technologies offered the prospect of great improvements for travelers and potentially huge financial rewards for operators, the risks were also substantial.  It was by no means clear which route or operator would come to dominate.   Laura’s creative use of business records enabled her to investigate these complicated historical processes by getting inside one of the emerging operators, the Long Island Rail Road Company (LIRR).  The LIRR Company raised enormous amounts of speculative money, built a substantial rail-track infrastructure, attracted significant financial backers including the Cornelius Vanderbilt, but eventually failed hopelessly and ended up with a railroad to nowhere. Laura’s investigation of the LIRR has unraveled a complex matrix of personal, financial, technological variables that contributed to the company’s eventual demise; one that draws striking parallels with the modern world.  Her work is almost certainly publishable.

Kara Watts ’17 (English) earned her B.A. at Colby-Sawyer College, and her M.A. degree at Middlebury College. She has come to prominence at URI as an original thinker, a talented and lucid writer, and an inspiring teacher not only in her primary field of Modernist literature and culture, but also in the area of Shakespeare studies. The recipient of multiple competitive travel grants, a Teaching Excellence Award, and the Distinguished Service Award in the English Department, Kara has presented her research at a range of national and international conferences, including the Modernist Studies Association, the Northeast MLA, the American Conference for Irish Studies and the Dorothy Richardson Conference in Birkbeck, England. She has published her work in such diverse venues as Pilgrimages: The Journal of Dorothy Richardson Studies, the FSC Review, and Psychoanalysis, Culture and Society, and her essay on Hamlet is forthcoming in a collection on The Retro-Futurism of Cuteness.  Her ground-breaking dissertation: “Modernism’s Charming Aesthetics: Critical Enchantments in Twentieth Century Literature,” mines the possibilities of the unexpected aesthetic category of “charm” and brings some of the most interesting impulses within contemporary Affect Studies to bear on the works of Modernist writers such as Dorothy Richardson, Sylvia Townsend Warner, Mary Webb, Virginia Woolf and Gertrude Stein. A reader for the Ocean State Review, advisory board member for the URI Center for Humanities, grant writer for the URI Grad conference, and Graduate TA mentor for the URI Office for the Advancement of Teaching & Learning, Kara is also a multi-talented teacher, inspiring students in courses ranging from Modernist-themed Literature courses to Women and Literature, from Freshman Comp to Introduction to Shakespeare.  Kara is the epitome of what it means to be a well-rounded scholar and teacher in the Humanities.



Rebecca Carroll ’15 (French, Spanish, and Film/Media) is a student who has demonstrated a love of world literatures and film throughout her experience at URI. She brings valuable insights to each of her classes, and the work that she completes demonstrates an ability to draw on broader knowledge in the humanities in order to strengthen her analyses, whether in French, Spanish or English. For example, for her final paper in a French 412 class, she did a feminist reading of select films by directors of North African origin in France, and this project stood out because of the quality of the written work, the strength of the argument, and the originality of the approach as did her original work in the Francophone African Literature course.  Becka displays a commitment to global communication. When selecting a venue to improve her French skills she chose the Université Laval, Quebec, where she was the only URI student. Becka’s interest in the humanities extends beyond the classroom. She was selected among Spanish majors to serve as a program Spanish Ambassador. She is an excellent leader as President of the URI Film Collaborative, the mission of which includes to “educate, create, advocate, and inform through cinematic art.” Becka is an effective collaborator with other students on film sets and at her job in the Harrington Hub.  This year, she has spearheaded the URI Life in a Day film project, which is currently in pre-production. Becka accomplishes all of this while maintaining a 3.88 grade point average.


Kruse pict.Sarah Kruse ’15 (English) came to URI from Portland State University in Oregon where she achieved the highest honors (summa cum laude) as an undergraduate majoring in Film Studies and Theater Arts, and as a Masters Student in English. An unusually gifted thinker, at URI, Sarah has distinguished herself for her rare ability to work with equal inspiration and aplomb as a literary theorist and a creative writer, having won multiple first place honors in the English Department’s Graduate competitions in both the Critical Essay (in two consecutive years) and Creative Nonfiction (2011, and 2013). Sarah has presented her research nationally on a range of writers and philosophers from Anne Carson to Kierkegaard, Wittgenstein, Celan, Adorno, Wallace Stevens, and Roland Barthes, and she has published work on Slavoj Zizek and Marcel Proust. Thanks to a URI Center for the Humanities Research Grant, Sarah was able to consult the long-neglected manuscript editions of Gertrude Stein’s Tender Buttons in Yale University’s Beinecke Library, the effects of which, in Sarah’s hands, have been to re-orient our understanding of a foundationally radical experiment with language and the conditioning principles of human perception. How do we perceive what we perceive when we think we are perceiving color and language? Sarah’s dissertation on what she calls “the color of grammar” works at the intersection of early twentieth century visual art, philosophy, and avant-garde poetry boldly to answer this question with the help of Wittgenstein, Paul Celan, Blaise Cendrars and Mina Loy. Currently a blogger on contemporary poetry for Harvard University’s Poetry Room, an invited contributor to Brown University’s on-line literary forum, Anomalous, and the Managing Editor of Barrow Street Press, Sarah shows a keen dedication both to the time thought takes and the necessity for public discourse.



John Wrenn ’15 (History and Computer Science) has excelled both as a History major and as a Computer Science major. His completion of this unusual combination of majors reflects his wide-ranging intellectual interests. The History Department chose John last spring for the Margaret Thomas/Phi Alpha Theta Prize which is given to the outstanding junior History major. While his grades had much to do with that award, his grades alone do not measure his achievements. He has been a thoughtful and articulate participant in classroom discussions, and he has been ambitious to learn more than is required to receive grades of “A.” His ambitions are on display in the capstone research project which he is completing this semester on the effects of episodes of repatriation and expatriation on national identities in recent European history. The scope of this project could be cut by half and still be demanding. Despite John’s busy academic schedule he has found time for two campus jobs and an array of campus activities. He has worked as a systems technician and programmer in the Memorial Union for four years, and he has worked as a teaching assistant in CSC 211 for two years. He is one of the founders of the student organization Secular Student Alliance. John will start a Ph.D. program in Computer Science next fall at Brown University. This will not end his studies in History, because he will take advantage of Brown’s Open Graduate Education Program to work also toward a master’s degree in History.


Morgan Breene ‘14 became interested in underwater archaeology after studying abroad in the United Kingdom in the fall of her junior year. As a part of those studies, Morgan has received an undergraduate research initiative grant to study Napoleon’s 1799 siege of the port of Acre, now Akko, in Israel. The work Morgan completed while on this research trip both surprised and impressed Morgan’s professors and the scholars at the Israeli Antiquities Authority, as she submitted a game-changing technical paper. Breene has helped rewrite the naval history of the Napoleonic wars with her identification and interpretation of the shipwreck discoveries at Akko. As her professor Dr. Bridget Buxton wrote “Basically in maritime history it doesn’t get more significant than this.” Morgan is a Fulbright finalist to the University of Southampton in the UK to study maritime archaeology during Fall 2014, which is certainly no small achievement. As I wrote to the Center for the Humanities “Morgan Breene is way above others I know in scholarly achievement.” She has since gone on to be the recipient of the 2014 Marshall Scholarship Award. Don’t miss this video about the research that led to this prestigious award!



Beazley Kanost ‘14 (English) began her distinguished academic career (during which she never earned less than a perfect 4.0 GPA!) at the University of Oklahoma, where she took her BA in Psychology and English, and her MA in English Literature. She came

Photo from URI English Graduate Blog Chants giving her talk “Whose Cool? The Direction Truth Takes in Portrait of Jason”

to New England by way of Brown’s Creative Writing program, where she was awarded a M.F.A. in Fiction.  She is now completing a dissertation titled “Off the Hip: A Thermodynamics of the Cool,” under my direction  in URI’s English Doctoral program.  Kanost’s project takes what at first seems to be a trivial term—“cool”—and subjects it to serious scrutiny, tracing it from its emergence in an African American jazz and civil rights tradition, through its transformations and appropriations throughout U.S. history in the latter half of the twentieth century. Kanost’s revised first chapter has already been accepted for publication in a collection of essays on James Baldwin, and she has also published her creative writing in the literary journal Roger.  Kanost has been the recipient of many distinguished awards, including research grants from URI’s Center for the Humanities and the Graduate School to travel to the Shirley Clarke Archives in Wisconsin and the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh; first place in the English Department’s critical essay contest; and Teaching Assistantships at URI, Brown, and Oklahoma.  She teaches a broad variety of courses in literature, writing and film across the URI campus and at other area schools.      Click here for a review of her talk“Whose Cool? The Direction Truth Takes in Portrait of Jason”!

Tamisa Francois, Photo from The Harrington Rangers page.


Tamisha Francois, ‘14 (English and Film) is a major in both Film Media and English.  She is Vice President of URI’s Slam Poetry Club and loves all forms of art, but her favorites are writing, cinematography, dancing, acting, and performing the spoken word.  Tamisha is no stranger to the written word, as she was the Fall 2013 winner of the Paul Conway Memorial Essay Contest, in which students must submit an essay on “The Value of a Liberal Arts Education.”  As a Harrington Ranger, she coordinates a community service project to support a local women’s shelter and also meets with prospective URI students.  At the same time, she maintains an exceptional GPA among the Harrington Rangers, an impressive feat! Her interest in community service has also led her to tutor students at the Central School and has taken her to Haiti to help the people of her parents’ native country. In the future Tamisha aspires to establish herself as a uniquely skilled screenwriter and filmmaker. Her ultimate goal is to publish a series of books and subsequently adapt them into movies. Click here for a recording of Tamisha reading at URI Slam Poetry Open Mic Night.


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