Williams College Senior Senior Receives Luce Scholars Fellowship

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WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — Williams College senior Summer-Solstice Thomas has been named a Luce Scholar by the Henry Luce Foundation for the 2020–21 academic year.

Each year, between 15 and 18 college seniors, graduate students, and young professionals are chosen for this recognition, which provides funding, language training, and professional placement for college seniors and young professionals interested in working in Asian countries. Approximately 70 colleges and universities nominate candidates with limited experience in Asia or who might not otherwise have an opportunity to work in Asia. Luce Scholars can possess an academic background in any field besides Asian studies.

Thomas, an environmental studies major from Santa Cruz, Calif., is interested in studying how toxic industrial chemicals enter and interact with the environment to affect public health disproportionately across axes of race, socio-economic status and geography. Her undergraduate thesis, which will result in two forthcoming papers, analyzed patterns of PCB, or polychlorinated biphenyl, pollution across the Housatonic River floodplain to better inform cleanup of the carcinogenic material.

As a Luce Scholar, she plans to focus her research on environmental injustice, specifically through collaborations with grassroots organizations, to understand how power manifests across landscape to perpetuate inequality and illuminate how systems of privilege can be shifted to provide for a more healthy, just, and equitable world.

"I'm beyond thrilled for the opportunity that this fellowship presents professionally, but also for so much more than that," Thomas said. "The chance to learn a new language, integrate myself into a new community, and be exposed to different perspectives will be valuable in so many ways beyond my career interests."

At Williams, Thomas has served as a teaching and research assistant in the geosciences department. As a varsity track and field co-captain, whose team won the national championship in 2019, she is a five-time All American with a passion for cooperation and community. In summer 2019 she was a research intern at the Center for Health, Environment and Justice in Washington, D.C., where she spearheaded the design of new policies regulating air pollution in sacrifice zones. During her junior year, she studied abroad in Bolivia, Morocco and Vietnam.

"I plan to pursue a career in civic science, an emerging field of research focused on advancing democratic issues and providing evidence-based counsel for civic decisions," Thomas said. "I want to use science to empower and amplify the efforts of grassroots community groups to receive the protection from toxic chemicals they deserve."

Thomas has continually made the Dean's List at Williams. She has also won numerous athletic awards, including the Williams College Track and Field Coach's Award 2018 and New England Indoor Field Athlete of the Year 2018. In addition, she served on the Captains Council, was an alumni mentor for the School of International Training, and a member of ABS: Anything But Straight in Athletics, helping to make Williams athletic teams more inclusive and welcoming to all identities.

"Summer has a sincere commitment to using her interests in environmental science to help people, especially those who are most at risk from the impacts of climate change," said José Constantine, assistant professor of geosciences and Thomas' thesis and research mentor. "She's been inspired by initiatives happening across Asia to make climate change a central subject in primary school education. She’ll gain so much from this experience, and I’m excited to see where this opportunity will propel her career.”

Thomas is the fifth Williams student to be named a Luce Scholar. The most recent previous recipient was Sam Lewis in 2015.

Ariel Chu, who graduated from Williams in 2017, was also named a Luce Scholar for the 2020-21 cohort. An aspiring writing professor, she hopes to aid young writers in articulating and challenging their identities.

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Williamstown Author's Book is a Massachusetts Book Awards 'Must Read'

The Massachusetts Center for the Book has announced the "Must Read" long lists in the 20th annual Massachusetts Book Awards.

The awards recognize significant works of fiction, nonfiction and poetry for adults and young readers written by Massachusetts authors and published during the preceding calendar year.  

This year's long list for Middle Grade/Young Adult books includes "The Next Great Paulie Fink" (Little, Brown), by Williamstown resident Ali Benjamin. The book is a funny and touching story about being thrust into the spotlight as a new kid and outsider in a small rural middle school.

"What a lucky group our state's tween and teenage readers prove to be. Our Middle Grade and Young Adult Must Read picks include an incredible swath of history, along with stories about artistic inspiration, fantasy, and the growing pains of surviving realities both ordinary and everything but," said Michelle Hoover, coordinator of MassBooks 20 and author of "The Quickening" (2010 Must Read) and "Bottomland" (2016 Must Read).   

In August, the center will announce the award winner and two honors titles in each of the five award categories with the hope of celebrating all titles in the program at a 20th  anniversary reception in the fall. 

"In the midst of a public health crisis, we take heart that we can announce another exciting year for Massachusetts writing," said Sharon Shaloo, executive director of MCB. "These awards confirm the strength and vitality of our extensive community of authors and  illustrators working in our academic and literary economies. We look forward to  promoting the long lists in every way we can throughout the spring and summer."

The Massachusetts Center for the Book is a public-private partnership, chartered as the commonwealth affiliate of the Center for the Book in the Library of Congress, and charged with developing, supporting and promoting cultural programming to advance the cause of  books and reading.

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