Undergraduate Academic Affairs

March 14, 2016

2014-15 President’s Medalists contribute to a world of good, as undergraduates

Bryan Nakata

Each year, undergraduate students of the highest caliber are selected for the prestigious President’s medal. Medalists’ academic pursuits demonstrate interdisciplinary interests, and their co-curricular and extracurricular activities show breadth and depth of expertise.

The freshman medal is awarded to the sophomore with the highest scholastic standing for the first year of his or her coursework. The sophomore medal is awarded to the junior with the highest scholastic standing for the first two years of his or her coursework. The junior medal is awarded to the senior with the highest scholastic standing for the first three years of his or her coursework.

This March, the 2014-15 President’s Medalists will be recognized by President Ana Mari Cauce at a reception in their honor.

Caleb Perez

Portrait of Caleb Perez in his lab

2014-15 freshman medalist Caleb Perez.Bryan Nakata

In high school, Caleb Perez found his interest in grades and test scores had started to diminish. Perez wanted to contribute more than just his transcript to world, and found it challenging to gather motivation for school work.

Thanks to a research internship the summer before his junior year, he discovered his answer in the biomedical field. Through this experience, he studied the effect of changing certain genomes of the West Nile Virus to find an effective treatment. The importance of the research sparked a passion in him.

“The potential impact of my work resonated deeply,” says Perez. “Of course, I’m not claiming to have single-handedly cured the virus, but even the possibility that I was taking the first steps toward an actual antiviral drug was exhilarating.”

His excitement for the lab led Perez to an impressive string of research opportunities. Over the course of three internships, he made multiple presentations at the National Institutes of Health in Washington, D.C. Even with the time committed to continuing his research, Perez graduated as valedictorian of his class.

Caleb Perez, freshman medalist

Major: Bioengineering

Hometown: Kapolei, HI

Additional honors: Mary Gates Research Scholarship, Annual Dean’s List


Perez began his undergraduate career at the  University of Washington in 2014 and he quickly jumped  into undergraduate research opportunities. While pursuing his bachelor’s degree in bioengineering, he also works in a lab under the direction of Dr. Ying Zheng in UW Medicine.

Outside the lab, Perez is active in  Bioengineers Without Borders, a student organization that works to develop low-cost, sustainable medical technologies for low-resources settings. Since his freshman year, he has also made the Dean’s list annually and received a Mary Gates Endowment Research Scholarship. He plans on continuing with bioengineering research as he earns his bachelor’s degree, then going on to graduate school.

Although several years have passed since high school, he hasn’t lost sight of what started his passion. “Medicine touches so many lives every single day, and research allows me to be at the forefront of it all,” Perez explains. “Biomedical research has provided me with the kinds of impactful opportunities that I was searching for.” Throughout his time at the UW, Perez plans on continuing with biomedical research and then earning a graduate degree. After that, he plans to begin a career in research so he can continue to contribute to the world.


Portrait of 2014-15 sophomore medalist Maria Osborne

2014-15 sophomore medalist Maria Osborne.Bryan Nakata

Maria Osborne

Growing up in a small town on Vashon Island gave Maria Osborne an appreciation for a tight-knit community, but also a deep desire for exploration. Her patience was rewarded when she went on an 8,000 mile road trip across the US and Canada and later even traveled to Himeji, Japan where she stayed with family. However, no matter where she traveled, she brought her Vashon Island values with her.

Maria Osborne, sophomore medalist

Majors: English and mathematics

Hometown: Vashon Island, WA

Additional honors: Dean’s List, Washington Scholar

“Most of my values come from my hometown, including a deep love of art. I’ve been dancing since I was two years old, doing visual art since middle school, and reading avidly ever since I learned how to read. Those things have always been as important to me as any academic pursuit,Osborne describes.

When Osborne came to the UW, her diverse range of interests complicated her ability to choose a major. She discovered a solution to her problem, however, through interdisciplinary track in the Honors Program. One of the main reasons she applied was to “have the opportunity to take interesting classes about varied and sometimes obscure subjects.” Her broad scope of interests also shows in her majors; Osborne is currently pursuing a bachelor’s degree in both English and mathematics.

To add to her various skills, Osborne doesn’t like to limit herself to particular activities, fields or interests outside of school either. She also works as a software programmer and computes data for oceanography. To build upon her fascination with arts, she continues to add to her already extensive background in dance. This includes “several years experience as an assistant teacher, substitute teacher and private instruction of dance (mostly ballet) working with middle-school age students.”

Ultimately, Osborne is thinking of multiple career paths that will combine her broad range of skills. “I don’t yet have any concrete post-graduation plans, but those experiences have made me consider doing something in education, probably relating to middle or high school level math.” Her alternate choices include a career in editing or publishing, or going to graduate school. Whichever she chooses, Osborne’s future employers will undoubtedly appreciate the contributions she’s able to make as a result of her wide array of skills and extensive background.


Portrait of Junior medalist Calvin Le

2014-15 junior medalist Calvin Le.Bryan Nakata

Calvin Le

Calvin Le’s interest in furthering his academics stems from back when he was a student at Wilson High School in Tacoma, WA. Le’s chemistry teachers at Wilson strongly influenced his decision to come to the UW and study biochemistry.

While his initial attraction to biochemistry was sparked by his instructors, it was Le’s passion for its underlying ability to influence many — if not all — aspects of biological functions that propels him forward in the field. Le says that a thorough understanding of the underlying mechanisms of biochemistry  “can be used to come up with effective treatments for disease.”

Calvin Le, junior medalist

Majors: Biochemistry and neurobiology

Hometown: Tacoma, WA

Additional honors: CRC Freshman Achievement Award, UW Academic Excellence Award, Annual Dean’s List, Hyp Dauben Award

Through his honor courses and upper-division chemistry work, Le was also introduced to studying the brain and behavior. “I thought this line of research was particularly interesting because it integrated a lot of the techniques I learned over my undergraduate studies to very specifically study different regions of the brain,” he explains.

Since then, he has worked at a lab at Seattle Children’s Research Institute where he studies the behavior of reward and motivation through a variety of biochemical techniques. At the research institute, Le draws from his experience in healthcare such as volunteering at several different hospitals through the Franciscan Health hospital system. Of the many patients he encountered, those in the mental health ward impacted him the most. Those experiences motivated him to pursue a research career in neurodegenerative diseases.

“After seeing the effects that [mental health] diseases could have on the patients and their families, I knew I wanted to work towards providing treatment for [them],” Le describes.

In addition to school and research, Le is a dedicated tutor. Over the summer, he helps teach chemistry to 8-10th graders through the Robinson Center for Young Scholars. During the school year, he works with the Dream Project, a UW college-access and retention program. He finds tutoring rewarding because of the opportunity it gives him to “inspire other students, many of them low income or first-generation, to pursue higher education.”

Whether contributing to students’ growth in their knowledge of chemistry, or discovering the next breakthrough in research, Le will continue to help communities small and large.