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Seven undergraduates receive annual U. academic awards

<h6>Courtesy of University Office of Communications / The Daily Princetonian&nbsp;</h6>
Courtesy of University Office of Communications / The Daily Princetonian 

On Sept. 29, the University announced seven recipients of four annual undergraduate awards: Aleksa Milojevic ’23 and Karena Yan ’23 for the Freshman First Honor Prize; Anthony Hein ’22 and Claire Wayner ’22 for the George B. Wood Legacy Sophomore Prize; Noah Kim ’21 and Alexandra Rice ’21 for the George B. Wood Legacy Junior Prize; and Taishi Nakase ’21 for the Class of 1939 Scholar Prize.

The prizes recognize exceptional academic achievement, with each recipient excelling academically and giving back to the University community. While the prizes are traditionally released during the University’s opening exercises, the COVID-19 pandemic made an in-person event impossible this year.

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A mathematics concentrator from Belgrade, Serbia, Milojevic — awarded the Freshman First Honor Prize — is involved in the organizational team for the Princeton University Math Competition (PUMaC), serves in a technical role in Princeton Triangle Club, and recently finished an internship at the Mathematical Institute of Belgrade.

“I first got interested in math in the seventh grade,” Milojevic told The Daily Princetonian. “I guess the aspect of working so hard on a difficult problem and reaching a satisfying solution was and is really enjoyable for me.”

Milojevic credited the award to his professors, “whom learning from was an exceptional experience in itself.” 

“They made me want to put a lot of effort in and out of class and push myself to achieve at a high level,” he said.

Milojevic plans to continue mathematics in graduate school and eventually contribute to complex, collaborative research.

Freshman Prize co-recipient Yan, from Morganville, N.J.,  is an operations research and financial engineering (ORFE) concentrator pursuing a certificate in environmental studies. Yan is passionate about sustainability, mental health education, and the arts. She serves as co-leader for the sustainability-centered Greening Dining and as tech chair for Triple 8 Dance Company and contributes to Letters to Strangers, the Arch & Arrow Literary Collective, and Princeton Body Positivity.

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“I was surprised when I got the award,” Yan said. “I never really looked towards winning awards and didn’t even know they existed. I am definitely grateful and honored.”

She noted how her University experience has changed over time — she considered concentrating in civil and environmental engineering before realizing that ORFE allowed her “to incorporate my love of math with sustainability.”

Yan’s future plans are uncertain, but she is interested in working at the intersection of climate modeling and environmental law.

Hein, a B.S.E. computer science concentrator from Colonia, N.J., was one of two recipients of the George B. Wood Legacy Sophomore Prize. Hein is pursuing certificates in statistics and machine learning, robotics and intelligent systems, and applied and computational mathematics. He is the treasurer for the Princeton PUZZLES club and a teaching assistant in several computer science and electrical engineering courses.

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Hein also serves as chief technology officer at the ‘Prince.’

Hein found the award especially meaningful due to his experience prior to college.

“I come from a public school, and it wasn’t written in the stars for me to do well at Princeton,” Hein said. “By getting this award, I get some feedback that I’m doing alright and shouldn’t worry about what’s to come.”

When asked about future plans, Hein said, “I try to take things on a step-by-step basis and so I have no idea what’s to come in five to 10 years. Hopefully it’s something fulfilling.”

Wayner, also awarded the Sophomore Prize, is a civil and environmental engineering (CEE) concentrator from Baltimore, Md., pursuing certificates in environmental studies and sustainable energy. She serves as the president of the Princeton Student Climate Initiative, leader of the Princeton Birding Society, and chair of the Undergraduate Student Government Sustainability Committee.

“I feel a lot of gratitude for being recognized, especially post-COVID,” Wayner said. “It sort of serves as validation and encouragement to keep going.”

Wayner plans on working in energy and environmental policy, with her long-term goal being to help combat climate change. Last spring, she received a Scholars in the Nation’s Service internship and was named a 2020 Udall Scholar.

“I’ve always been interested in sustainability,” Wayner said. “Our generation has the burden of dealing with so many environmental issues and I’m trying to get an early start in tackling them.”

Wayner is a former opinion columnist at the ‘Prince.’

Awarded the George B. Wood Legacy Junior Prize, Kim is a neuroscience concentrator from Vancouver, Canada, pursuing a certificate in cognitive science. He is currently conducting research with Professor Michael Graziano on the relationship between awareness and attention. He is also co-president of the Kidney Disease Screening and Awareness Program (KDSAP), founder of Music for Bridging Humanity, and a percussionist in the Princeton University Orchestra.

“For me, the award isn’t that big of a deal because it doesn’t change anything,” Kim said. “I’m still going to pursue what I love and strive for success, whether or not I get recognized.”

He noted that his parents’ reaction, though, “was certainly a highlight.”

“I plan to go to med school but take a gap year in between to pursue further clinical research,” Kim said. “I’m definitely excited to see what comes next.”

Junior Prize co-recipient Rice is an economics concentrator from Middleton, Wisc., pursuing certificates in political economy and music performance. She serves as a music director emeritus for the Princeton Pianists Ensemble, a senior analyst at Tiger Capital Education, and a teaching assistant for several economics courses.

“It would’ve been amazing to be honored at opening exercises,” Rice said. “But it was just as special a moment virtually, as I still could share it with all my friends and family.”

She attributed her recognition to “a combination of taking courses that really interested me, having great conversations with professors, and a lot of luck.”

Rice is currently writing a thesis on gender gaps and wage inequalities under the guidance of economics professor Janet Currie and is considering a variety of post-graduation plans.

Awarded the Class of 1939 Scholar Prize, Nakase is an ORFE concentrator from Melbourne, Australia, pursuing a certificate in applied and computational mathematics. Nakase has a passion for epidemiology and is working with Dr. Marc Choisy at the University of Oxford to tackle issues of variable vaccination coverage rates in North Vietnam. He also serves as an undergraduate preceptor for organic chemistry.

“I was pretty surprised and excited about receiving the award, and it certainly feels good after three years of commitment,” Nakase said.

He plans on getting a master’s degree in epidemiology in the United Kingdom and returning Australia for medical school.

“I definitely want to continue solving problems related to infectious diseases, because, as has been proven recently, they will always pose a threat to humanity,” Nakase noted.

The University will present each of the winner’s former high schools with grant funding to encourage education opportunities for advanced students.

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