Two science students have received the top academic honors for the Columbia College Class of 2015. Robert Lin CC’15, a mathematics and physics major from Bergen County, New Jersey, has been named valedictorian, and Stephanie Gergoudis CC’15, a biology major from Queens, New York, has been named salutatorian.
The awardees were selected by the faculty Committee on Honors, Awards and Prizes based on the strength, breadth, depth and rigor of their academic achievements, as well as on evidence of their intellectual promise, character and achievement outside the classroom.
Lin, who was described as a “spectacular student” and as a “rare student” by faculty members in the Departments of Mathematics and Physics, has excelled in his coursework, as well as in research across a range of disciplines.
“He has been an outstanding student with an alert and inquisitive mind, with a wide variety of scientific interests, creative ideas and remarkable persistence,” said Panagiota Daskalopoulos, professor and director of undergraduate studies in the Department of Mathematics.
Lin has worked in four labs, including those of Tony Heinz, the David M. Rickey Professor of Optical Communications in the Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science and professor of physics; Richard Hamilton, the Davies Professor of Mathematics; Norman Christ, the Ephraim Gildor Professor of Computational Theoretical Physics; and Bruce Berne, the Higgins Professor of Chemistry.
Berne said that in his 48-year career at Columbia, he has never before met an undergraduate student capable of engaging in such interdisciplinary work.
“Robert is truly impressive. He asks probing questions, is highly motivated, and is extraordinarily gifted,” he said.
Christ said Lin is also one of the strongest students he has worked with over the past 50 years.
“Robert has intense curiosity and broad interest in science and is driven to understand everything he encounters from many perspectives,” he said. “He has great talent, initiative, energy and appropriately high self-confidence, with a fearless approach to new problems.”
Lin said he feels extremely fortunate to have had the opportunity to learn from and work with all of these faculty members.
“Columbia has given me a truly ‘Core’ experience: a humanities core, a music and arts core, a math core, a science core,” he said. “The solid foundations I’ve gained from all my professors are invaluable.”
Gergoudis has also made crucial contributions to research during her time at Columbia, working in the laboratory of Eric Greene, assistant professor of biochemistry and molecular biophysics.
Green said Gergoudis was “absolutely outstanding in the lab,” and had the “‘golden hands’ that many undergraduates and graduate students can only wish for.”
“Everything she did worked, and worked the first time she tried,” he said. “I always attributed this to the care she put into understanding what she was doing, planning ahead for all of her experiments and being very careful while doing her work.”
Brent Stockwell, professor of biological science and chemistry, said Gergoudis demonstrated a depth of understanding of complex material and unique dedication to her academic work in his biochemistry course.
“She is extremely bright and was clearly able to engage intellectually with complex material in a sophisticated way,” he said. “Stephanie is also humble, personable, thoughtful and thoroughly enjoyable to interact with. She is one of my favorite students to talk with about biochemistry!”
She was also a “big hit with the students” as a teaching assistant for Introduction to Biology, said Deborah Mowshowitz, the course instructor and director of undergraduate studies in the Department of Biology. She has also served as a teaching assistant for Immunology.
“She is a wonderful student who has accomplished much, and is capable of even greater things,” Mowshowitz said.
Georgoudis said she wasn’t expecting this news.
“I feel inexpressibly honored and humbled. I really wasn't expecting it, given the brilliance of my classmates,” she said.
Both Lin and Gergoudis will be seated on stage during the Class Day ceremony on Tuesday, May 19. As salutatorian, Gergoudis will address the graduating class.