Best of 2020: 10 Stories about Solving Mysteries, Saving Lives, and Seeking a Safer, More Equitable Future

Deborah Cullen-Morales, Maurice Vann, Linnaea Tillett, and Fernand (Dean) A. De Los Reyes

It has been a year that many of us would rather forget. But despite the challenges of 2020, there are stories that we are happy to look back on. Here are 10 alumni, faculty, and students who are making discoveries, taking steps forward in their careers, bringing dreamed-of projects to life, and, in many cases, devoting their time and energy to saving others:

1. The Morgan Library & Museum’s garden, never before open to the public, is being illuminated by Linnaea Tillett (Ph.D. ’00, Environmental Psychology), who sees light as a link between our worldly and emotional lives.

2. A century-old mystery about leaf insects was solved by second-year Ph.D. student Royce Cumming, who has quickly become a world-renowned expert in this niche within the entomology world.

3. A new genus and species of ape was discovered by Professor Christopher Gilbert (GC/Hunter, Anthropology), who spotted a 13-million year old tooth in the dirt while taking a break during a fossil-hunting trip in India.

4. A conversation at a bar led Pablo Crespo (Ph.D. ’19, Economics) to collaborate on a breakthrough discovery involving 2,000-year-old burial tombs in the Altai Mountains of Mongolia, using a method that received coverage in The New York Times.

5. Despite the impact of the shutdown on his work, Ph.D. candidate Eric Angel Ramos (Psychology) is making his mark, including through his study on how “dolphins share food before getting frisky,” as The Daily Mail put it.  

6. In a novel “human experiment,” Professors Dianne Greenfield and Maria Tzortziou and the members of their labs are investigating how changes in activity associated with the pandemic are affecting the coastal waters of Long Island Sound.

7. Maurice Vann (Ph.D. ’20, Social Welfare) is devoting his scholarship — and his years of experience working in Baltimore’s corrections facilities, jails, and courts — to exploring ways to reduce intra-community violence.

8.  Deborah Cullen-Morales (Ph.D. ’02, Art History) started her new role as a program officer in the Arts and Culture program at the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, where she focuses on diversity and sees the current moment as a chance to “re-center and re-commit to equity as a true priority.” 

9. Alumna Valerie Gritsch (M.A. ’20, Liberal Studies) spent two years researching David Bowie fan culture, and made a pilgrimage to Brixton to explore how his fans transformed the London neighborhood in the wake of his death.

10. And a special thank you to the Ph.D. nursing students and alumni who were on the front lines of the pandemic, working to save lives at New York City area hospitals during those months when the city was hardest hit. We hope you are all finally getting a chance to rest, and to celebrate your amazing good work. 

Submitted on: DEC 22, 2020

Category: Alumni News | Diversity | Faculty | GCstories | General GC News | Student News