Joe Barrett ’14 and Isabel Kasdin ’14 were this year’s recipients of the 2014 Moses Taylor Pyne Honor Prize. The Pyne Prize is the University’s highest general distinction, awarded to an undergraduate who displays excellent scholarship, strength of character and effective leadership.
Barrett, a history concentrator, said he was notified he had been awarded the Pyne Prize on Feb. 7.
“When I found out I had won, I felt very honored and lucky,” Barrett said. “I was completely surprised.”
Barrett said that after graduation, he and a few other graduating seniors will work on developing volunteer-based GED tutoring programs in prisons. The GED tests are a group of five subject tests which, when passed, certify that the test taker has skills equivalent to a high school education.
Sean Wilentz, who is a professor of American history as well as Barrett’s senior thesis adviser, said he was delighted to find out about Barrett’s award.
“I can’t recall when, if ever, an advisee of mind has won the Pyne Prize — and I’ve had the privilege to teach some amazing undergraduates,” Wilentz said.
Barrett said his thesis “uses the lens of government-run volunteer programs to explore the planning of the War on Poverty during the Kennedy administration and first year of the Johnson administration.”
He noted that because he wrote a junior paper on the Peace Corps, he is more specifically focusing on the founding of the Peace Corps and VISTA, another domestic volunteer program.
“From our discussions of his thesis, it’s also evident that he has strong convictions and a sense of obligations about public affairs,” Wilentz said. “The combination is marvelous, especially so when handled with the balance as well as dedication that Joe displays.”
In December 2012, Barrett founded Students for Prison Education and Reform, an organization to mobilize students to expose and fight against the systematic inequalities and societal costs of mass incarceration.
Barrett has also volunteered with and helped to expand the Petey Greene Prisoner Assistance Program, a program that has been shown to raise GED passage rates as well as improve test scores at a rate of one grade level per semester.
Barrett explained that the Petey Greene Prisoner Assistance Program “has helped me continue this personal growth and expanded my understanding of what it means to work for social justice.”
Additionally, Barrett has served as a leader and leader trainer for Outdoor Action, which he said challenged him to think about different modes of leadership.
Barrett noted that another major influence on him was Princeton’s Bridge Year Program, which enabled him to travel to Varanasi, India prior to starting his freshman year.
“[The program] challenged me to engage in meaningful ways with other cultures, gave me an academic passion and influenced me to develop a less naïve, more nuanced and still evolving, long-term idealistic vision,” Barrett said.
Kasdin, also a history concentrator, was told that she had received the award on Feb. 10.
Kasdin said that Deputy Dean of Undergraduate Students Thomas Dunne asked her to stop by the ODUS office in West College to sign a form for the Princeton University Players, but once she had arrived she was brought into a room where Dean of the College Valerie Smith and Dean of the Undergraduate Students Kathleen Deignan told her she had won the Pyne Prize.
“I was completely floored,” Kasdin said. “It’s honestly still sinking in. I had no idea I was even in the running — it came as a total shock.”
After graduation, Kasdin will be attending the University of Cambridge, getting a Master of Philosophy in Archaeology in the Archaeological Heritage and Museums track as a Gates Cambridge Scholar.
“I hope to deal with contested heritage, learning how best to tell the stories that are difficult to discuss, and becoming more literate in the sociopolitics of the past,” Kasdin said.
She added that she envisions starting a career as a museum curator and working in a cultural heritage management role, potentially within the Cultural Resources Division of the National Parks Service.
Visiting professor Franklin Odo ’61 GS ’75, who taught Kasdin in a small seminar class last semester, said that she “was an outstanding student who brought energy and intelligence to the seminar and who was thoughtful about encouraging fellow students to take the lead in discussions.”
Odo added that he was pleased to hear the news because he believes she is certainly deserving of the award.
Kasdin has also been honored with the Shapiro Prize for Academic Excellence and was the winner of the Westminster Conservatory Voice Scholarship Competition in 2012. She is currently president of the Princeton Chapel Choir and former president of the Princeton University Players.
“While I’m sure the Pyne Prize committee looked at the number of student organizations I lead or the shows I’ve directed, I hope they also noticed that at the heart of all that is one of my favorite parts about being a leader — I love being a mentor,” Kasdin said. “I have really enjoyed having the opportunity to help other people make the most of what this university has to offer and what their talents allow them to achieve.”
Former recipients of the Pyne Prize include the late University President Robert F. Goheen ’40 and current Associate Justice of the Supreme Court Sonia Sotomayor ’76.
The winners will be honored at Alumni Day on Feb. 22.