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Students win prestigious scholarship and awards

By Fiona Lockyer
On December 4, 2012

  • Elizabeth Stoker ’13 received the Marshall Scholarship. Courtesy of BrandeisNOW
  • van Buren
  • Adamia

Tucked away in the Usdan Student Center is a small office that directs all fellowship efforts on campus. Joined by active professors, these are the forces that support the fellowship and award searches for students at Brandeis, whether they are searching in University or outside channels. This academic year, this support system has already seen great success: Last week, it was announced that four bright Brandeisians had made proposals that won prestigious awards. These ranged from plans to help midwives in Timor Leste to academic endeavors in Christian ethics. Shota Adamia '15, Natan Odenheimer '15 and Sarah van Buren '13 have been announced as the 2012 Maurice J. and Fay B. Karpf and Ari Hahn Peace Awards winners, and Elizabeth Stoker '13 is the fourth-ever Brandeisian to be awarded the Marshall Scholarship.

Sunday school to university theology

Elizabeth Stoker came to Waltham from Texas unaware of what she would learn from her undergraduate career. She had been active in her church previously, teaching Sunday school courses weekly to younger members of the church. During her Brandeis career, she majored in English and Sociology, with a minor in Near Eastern and Judaic Studies, which helped her to define her academic interests in the sociology of religion. Now, she plans to follow her interests in Christian ethics to a doctorate degree, and hopefully to a university teaching position.

"I can't stand to leave" university life, Stoker said in an interview with the Justice. As a professor, she will continue to pass on the information that surprised her so much in college-the sociology of religion, or what she calls "the part of religion that people live."

For Stoker, who will use her Marshall Scholarship to study at the University of Oxford for a Masters of Philosophy in Christian Ethics, Christianity warrants study for its important role in politics.

"[Christianity] is so polemical. Maybe not everybody has a strong opinion on Hinduism or Shinto, but everybody has an opinion on Christianity and where Christianity sits in politics," she explains. Moreover, the social role of Christianity influences the narratives on different categories of society, including those with disabilities, like Stoker, who herself has epilepsy.
Stoker's work does not end at Christianity, however. "I have been very involved with the Interfaith Chaplaincy; I think it's a fantastic program here," she says. As a coordinator of the Waltham Group's Hunger and Homelessness group, she believes that Brandeis is a very pluralistic and tolerant place.

Giving birth to a new culture

International time-traveler Sarah van Buren will lose one day on the way to Timor Leste, but somehow gain two days on her way back, she says in an interview with the Justice. While she is not exactly sure how the time change will work, she is sure of her plans in Timor Leste, a small island in the South Pacific where she will spend winter break.

Working through a student group where she is the director of internal operations, Project Plus One, van Buren will use her peace award to work to integrate domestic violence training into midwifery at a clinic where she has previously volunteered in Timor Leste.

Growing up in Japan, she "was raised in a community that was very open about the way that they treated women and women as defined as second-class citizens in many ways."

As a Biology and International Global Studies double major with minors in Peace and Coexistence Studies and Women and Gender Studies, she hopes to become an obstetrician/gynecologist who can address the reproductive needs of women in South Asia.

"I'm really focusing on health as a means of empowerment."

"Not necessarily conflict"

"It's not necessarily [about] conflict, ... it's more [about] disparities among people," Shota Adamia explains in an interview with the Justice about his Peace Award project.

For three weeks this winter, he will not focus on the ethnic conflict in Ireland in terms of how many people have died, but rather on the people who remain. From Dublin to Galloway, Adamia plans to travel to numerous small towns to gather people's narratives and photos.

He says that his interest in the conflict in Northern Ireland, where Protestants and Catholics divided on the status of Northern Ireland have been in conflict for decades, is based on the lack of awareness that he has observed both at Brandeis and in the United States in general. "There are so many places in the world that don't get coverage or awareness," he explains.

His findings will be displayed on campus next April in a public exhibition, and hopefully in his home country of Georgia.

Finding a home in diversity

Natan Odenheimer is a proud Jerusalemite, and he is an optimist.

It is easy to see how the diversity of his hometown colors his college experience. At Brandeis, he studies Philosophy and Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies as a double major. Last year, he used a Crown Center for the Middle East Studies Summer Travel grant to travel to Jordan, where he stayed with an Arab-Israeli friend and learned Arabic. This year, he has won a Peace Award that will allow him to bring past Israeli combat soldiers and Arab-Israeli community leaders together to better know each other.

"It's not making bridges for peace," he says in an interview with the Justice. In fact, "I don't even necessarily want to talk about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict," he continues. But he does want to address what he found to be a difficulty in adjusting back to civilian life after four years as a combat soldier in the Israeli army, that "for many people, [the division between enemy and friend] is between enemy Arab and friend Jewish, or not even Jewish, but Israeli-not-Arab."

"I never thought that if someone is Arab, he's bad, yet when for three-and-a-half, four years that you go through [the army], Arabs are the enemy, and it's something you embrace and you're less open," he explains.

His peace project will seek to show these two groups that they do not always have to be in opposition. Like the other students who have won awards last week and in the past, Odenheimer is using his optimism to propel his role in a movement toward more peace.  

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