The Columbia College faculty Committee on Honors, Awards and Prizes has announced the names of the Class of 2014 valedictorian and salutatorian. The valedictorian is Margarete Diaz Cuadros, a biochemistry major with a concentration in evolutionary biology of the human species. The salutatorian is Samuel Walker, a comparative literature and society major with a concentration in philosophy.
Diaz Cuadros, who is originally from Lima, Peru, came to Columbia because of the science research opportunities. As a sophomore, she started working in the laboratory of University Professor and Nobel Prize winner Martin Chalfie, and “quickly demonstrated her mastery in the field of nerve cell development and function in the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans,” according to the faculty committee. During her time in Professor Chalfie’s lab, she went on to conduct a “mutagenesis screen,” which Professor Chalfie calls, “a gold mine” for his laboratory, opening many new avenues for research. After graduation, she plans to continue her research and pursue a Ph.D. in molecular genetics.
Diaz Cuadros is a recipient of the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center’s seventh annual Frank and Sara McKnight Award for Biochemistry, a national award for seniors who have conducted outstanding research in chemistry, biological chemistry, or biophysics or quantitative biology. She has also received research funding from the Columbia College Alumni and Parent Internship Fund for her research in Professor Chalfie’s Laboratory. She is a Kluge Scholar in the Columbia Undergraduate Scholars Program and enjoys preparing Peruvian cuisine and reading Latin American literature.
“Margarete has impressed Columbia and national faculty with her commitment to research, her creative thinking which allows her to identify details others might miss, and her phenomenal work ethic – all of which, combined with her gracious, generous and humble character, point to her becoming a leading scientist of her generation,” the faculty committee said.
Walker, who is from Westchester, N.Y., is a highly gifted scholar of literature, history, philosophy, according to faculty members with whom he has studied. He has also proven to be an “outstanding student” of foreign languages, mastering both French and German at a near native level, the faculty committee said. He took a year off from the College to study languages and spent a summer working with the Summer Bridge Program, tutoring rising first-year students in Columbia’s Academic Success Programs.
Walker is completing his senior thesis on perception and moral autonomy in Rousseau’s Second Discourse and Kant’s Conjectural Beginnings of Human History, in which he argues that both thinkers trace humanity’s problems to a dialectic between empirical and rational sources of motivation, but that they have different answers when it comes to how this dialectic should be resolved. The faculty members advising this work say that its scholarship is so advanced, it reads like the first draft of a doctoral thesis.
“Sam’s selection as the Salutatorian for the Columbia College Class of 2014 is a testament to his immense capacity and passion for learning,” the faculty committee said. “And it is a great tribute to Sam’s originality of thought and dedication to scholarship that he has excelled in these intersecting fields, impressing and delighting his professors across all his disciplines.”