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WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass., February 21, 2020—Williams College senior Summer-Solstice Thomas has been named a Luce Scholar by the Henry Luce Foundation for the 2020–2021 academic year. Each year, between 15 and 18 college seniors, graduate students, and young professionals are chosen for this recognition, which provides funding, language training, and professional placement for college seniors and young professionals interested in working in Asian countries.
Each year, approximately 70 colleges and universities nominate candidates with limited experience in Asia or who might not otherwise have an opportunity to work in Asia. Luce Scholars can possess an academic background in any field besides Asian studies. Thomas, an environmental studies major from Santa Cruz, Calif., is interested in studying how toxic industrial chemicals enter and interact with the environment to affect public health disproportionately across axes of race, socio-economic status, and geography. Her undergraduate thesis, which will result in two forthcoming papers, analyzed patterns of PCB, or polychlorinated biphenyl, pollution across the Housatonic River floodplain to better inform clean-up of the carcinogenic material. As a Luce Scholar, she plans to focus her research on environmental injustice, specifically through collaborations with grassroots organizations, to understand how power manifests across landscape to perpetuate inequality and illuminate how systems of privilege can be shifted to provide for a more healthy, just, and equitable world.
“I’m beyond thrilled for the opportunity that this fellowship presents professionally, but also for so much more than that,” Thomas said. “The chance to learn a new language, integrate myself into a new community, and be exposed to different perspectives will be valuable in so many ways beyond my career interests.”
At Williams, Thomas has served as a teaching and research assistant in the geosciences department. As a varsity track and field co-captain, whose team won the national championship in 2019, she is a five-time All American with a passion for cooperation and community. In summer 2019 she was a research intern at the Center for Health, Environment and Justice in Washington, D.C., where she spearheaded the design of new policies regulating air pollution in sacrifice zones. During her junior year, she studied abroad in Bolivia, Morocco, and Vietnam.
“I plan to pursue a career in civic science, an emerging field of research focused on advancing democratic issues and providing evidence-based counsel for civic decisions,” Thomas said. “I want to use science to empower and amplify the efforts of grassroots community groups to receive the protection from toxic chemicals they deserve.”
Thomas has continually made the Dean’s List at Williams. She has also won numerous athletic awards, including the Williams College Track and Field Coach’s Award 2018 and New England Indoor Field Athlete of the Year 2018. In addition, she served on the Captains Council, was an alumni mentor for the School of International Training, and a member of ABS: Anything But Straight in Athletics, helping to make Williams athletic teams more inclusive and welcoming to all identities.
“Summer has a sincere commitment to using her interests in environmental science to help people, especially those who are most at risk from the impacts of climate change,” said José Constantine, assistant professor of geosciences and Thomas’ thesis and research mentor. “She’s been inspired by initiatives happening across Asia to make climate change a central subject in primary school education. She’ll gain so much from this experience, and I’m excited to see where this opportunity will propel her career.”
Thomas is the fifth Williams student to be named a Luce Scholar. The most recent previous recipient was Sam Lewis in 2015.
Ariel Chu, who graduated from Williams in 2017, was also named a Luce Scholar for the 2020-2021 cohort. An aspiring writing professor, she hopes to aid young writers in articulating and challenging their identities.
The Luce Scholars Program was launched by the Henry Luce Foundation in 1974 to enhance the understanding of Asia among potential leaders in American society. The Luce Foundation aims to strengthen international understanding and foster leadership in academic, policy, religious, and art communities.
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.