Sam O'Donnell '15 Awarded Beinecke Scholarship

Media contact:  Noelle Lemoine, communications assistant; tele: (413) 597-4277; email: Noelle.Lemoine@williams.edu

WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass., April 15, 2014—Sam O’Donnell, a junior at Williams College, has been awarded a Beinecke Scholarship in support of his graduate education. The scholarship grants $4,000 immediately prior to entering graduate school and an additional $30,000 during graduate school.

Sam_ODonnell2A classics and comparative literature double major from Ventura, Calif., O’Donnell plans to write a senior thesis in comparative literature next year, looking at classical texts through a postmodern lens. After graduation, he hopes to go directly into a Ph.D. program.

O’Donnell discovered his love of languages when he learned Spanish in high school. When he arrived at Williams, he followed what he calls “an instinctive feeling” about Greek, and found that it was a great fit for his interests. The summer after his first year, he took an intensive Latin course at UCLA and returned to Williams ready to embrace a major in the classics.

His interest in comparative literature came as a bit of a surprise. In the fall of his sophomore year, O’Donnell took a tutorial on postmodernism with Professor Christopher Bolton, which he describes as a “whirlwind—but one Professor Bolton was uniquely suited to ease me through.” O’Donnell says he enjoys finding intersections between the disciplines.

“Sam is both a skilled interpreter of literary texts and a rigorous reader of even very difficult and abstract critical theory,” says Bolton, who describes one of O’Donnell’s papers as revealing “something radical and radically contemporary in a 1,200-year-old text.”

O’Donnell says he feels lucky to have access to the faculty at Williams in both the comparative literature program and the classics department. Having worked closely with Bolton and Professor Edan Dekel in classics, he says he feels confident that should he have the opportunity to teach in the future he would like to “keep my door open for my students, as they always have for me.”

O’Donnell traveled to Israel with Professor Benjamin Rubin last summer to work on the archeological dig at Omrit and plans to return this summer. “I wanted to have a more tangible experience of ancient life,” he says. “It’s very grounding to see what a community actually looked like.”

When he turns his attention to graduate school, he plans focus on interdisciplinary programs that will allow him to pursue his interests in comparative literature and the classics. He hopes to study contemporary theoretical approaches to classics and the Indo-European epic tradition. “I know Sam will do wonderful work in graduate school, and I think he is truly deserving of this prestigious fellowship,” Bolton says.

Established in 1971 by the Sperry and Hutchinson Company to honor Edwin, Frederick, and Walter Beinecke, the Beinecke scholarship program seeks to encourage highly motivated students to pursue opportunities available to them and to be courageous in the selection of a graduate course of study in the arts, humanities, or social sciences. Each year, approximately 100 colleges and universities are invited to nominate a student for a Beinecke Scholarship; O’Donnell is one of 20 students across the nation to receive an award this year.

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Founded in 1793, Williams College is the second-oldest institution of higher learning in Massachusetts. The college’s 2,000 students are taught by a faculty noted for the quality of their teaching and research, and the achievement of academic goals includes active participation of students with faculty in their research. Students’ educational experience is enriched by the residential campus environment in Williamstown, Mass., which provides a host of opportunities for interaction with one another and with faculty beyond the classroom. Admission decisions on U.S. applicants are made regardless of a student’s financial ability, and the college provides grants and other assistance to meet the demonstrated needs of all who are admitted.

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