Undergraduate Academic Affairs

March 2, 2021

Celebrating the 2019–20 President’s Medalists

Undergraduate Academic Affairs

From the thousands of undergraduate students at the University of Washington, three are selected each year for the prestigious President’s Medalist Award.

Sam Colgan, Natasha Lavides and Nuria Alina Chandra are the medalists for 2019–20, selected by a committee for their high GPAs, rigor of classes and numbers of Honors courses. All three are students in the Honors Program completing the Interdisciplinary Honors track.

Each medalist has carved a unique path at the UW, but they’re united in their passion for their chosen areas of study — from psychology to computer science to economics and English. While the pandemic prevents us from holding the customary UW Undergraduate Medalists Reception, each recipient received their medal, along with a message from University President Ana Mari Cauce and a special celebratory gift, at their home. Read on for more about these exceptional students who embody the Husky Spirit.

Meet this year’s medalists:

Sam Colgan, junior medalist

head shot of Sam ColganMajors: English and economics
Hometown: Seattle, WA

Twelve years after Sam Colgan moved to Seattle, he began his first quarter at the UW — just a mile from his family’s first home in the Ravenna neighborhood. Coming full circle made Colgan think about how the city has changed over the last decade.

“Much of my time at the UW has involved critically reexamining the city by learning about early Seattle history,” says Colgan, who was inspired to dive deeper into how redlining and gentrification have shaped the city’s race and class dynamics.

Driven to better understand Seattle history as well as the current housing crisis and rising cost of living, Colgan decided to study economics. Double-majoring in English as well, he’s learning how to explain those greater forces at work through his own story — and the stories of others.

“I’m particularly interested in the causes and consequences of gentrification, globalization, homelessness and urban decay,” says Colgan, an Interdisciplinary Honors student whose sights are set on graduate school for economics. “I think I could be effective at representing the economic dynamics for a popular audience.”

Colgan credits the UW’s emphasis on interdisciplinary education for broadening his horizons and encouraging him to study subjects outside his majors, from epidemiology to artificial intelligence.

In his free time, Colgan writes short fiction and enjoys jotting down story ideas and developing character sketches. He has also interned on a political campaign and volunteered as a tutor for students who are first-generation Americans.


Natasha Lavides, sophomore medalist

Head shot of Natasha LavidesMajor: Psychology
Minor: Education, learning and society
Hometown: Kirkland, WA

Growing up on Seattle’s Eastside, Natasha Lavides fantasized about attending college in a different city or state. All that changed when she started applying to schools.

“I realized how much I appreciated where I grew up and how meaningful it was to stay close to home,” says Lavides about why she chose the UW. Beyond the proximity to family and friends — her support system — the University’s breadth of programs gave the psychology major the chance to discover her calling.

“I love working with people, and if there’s one thing I want to do for the rest of my life, it would be that,” explains Lavides, who currently helps other students as a peer academic advisor and advising student associate.

For Lavides, finding a supportive community at the UW has been as meaningful as finding her major. In addition to advising students, she’s worked as a research lab assistant and interned with the Asian Student Commission, giving her the opportunity to interact with a wide cross-section of campus.

After graduation, she’s thinking about a gap year before pursuing a graduate degree in clinical psychology. Whatever her career path, she will likely be a mental-health advocate.

“I hope that I can combat the stigma surrounding mental illness in marginalized communities and work on removing barriers for these groups,” Lavides says about her goals.

Nuria Alina Chandra, freshman medalist

Headshot of Nuria Alina Chandra Major: Biochemistry (current); computer science (intended)
Minor: Global health
Hometown: Olympia, WA

When a chemistry professor introduced Nuria Alina Chandra to the Python programming language, she was immediately hooked — and inspired to take more computer science courses.

Soon the biochemistry major, who had originally envisioned a career in medicine, realized that computer science better reflected her interests and strengths.

“Computer science combines my love of math and quantitative problem-solving in powerful ways that can reshape systems and improve people’s lives,” says Chandra, who grew up in Olympia and is minoring in global health. Being around fellow students and professors who care about their chosen field helped Chandra feel supported in her decision to switch majors.

Outside the classroom, Chandra is sharpening her skills as both a researcher and a writer. At the Seattle Children’s Pediatric Pain and Sleep Innovations Lab, under the mentorship of UW Medicine anesthesiologist Jennifer Rabbitts and with the support of the Mary Gates Research Scholarship, she is investigating how acute pain becomes chronic pain. She also writes for The Daily and edits for Voyage UW, a student-run travel magazine.

Although Chandra is still exploring possible career paths, she wants to combine her creativity and computational thinking to fix issues stemming from structural inequalities.

“I’m still very interested in medicine and health-care inequality,” says Chandra. “I hope to have a career that allows me to use the methods that I love to help solve problems that I care about.”

Note: All photos featured in this story were taken following appropriate safety protocols.