The Perfect Balance

Mary Naydan '15

Mary Naydan '15, recipient of a 2014 Beinecke Scholarship.

by Christine Baksi

Within minutes of being notified that she received a competitive Beinecke Scholarship, Mary Naydan ’15 was flooded with e-mails from English department faculty. News of Dickinson’s first Beinecke recipient spread quickly, and many were eager to congratulate her.

“I was notified by the Beinecke Foundation at about 5 p.m. and was really looking forward to telling my professors the next day, but instead e-mails poured in from the entire department,” says Naydan, adding, “That’s what’s great about Dickinson; we have the ability to work one-on-one with individual professors and to get to know them really well and for them to get to know us.”

Cultivating a scholar

Naydan is quick to credit professors, family members and peers for guiding and encouraging her through Beinecke’s intense, five-month application process, which required a 1,000-word personal statement describing her background, plans for graduate study and career aspirations. “I couldn’t have done it without them,” she says.

Working closely with Assistant Professor of English Jacob Sider Jost, Naydan conducted research that helped inspire a future path of intellectual inquiry in graduate school. Assistant Professor of English Siobhan Phillips provided critical analysis of Naydan’s personal statement. “She was one of the people who kept me sane,” says Naydan. Associate Professor English Susan Perabo taught Naydan while she studied abroad at the Dickinson-in-England Norwich Humanities program, and Damon Yarnell, interim dean of advising and Beinecke liaison, helped clarify the application process.

Support and recognition of Naydan’s writing and research talents trace back to English 220, a writing-intensive methods class with Professor of English Wendy Moffat. “Mary submitted what I remember being the best piece of writing from a first-year student in 10 years,” says Moffat, adding that Naydan has “the perfect balance of intelligence, hard work and humility.”

So, last spring, when the Beinecke Foundation selected Dickinson to join an elite group of approximately 125 nominating colleges and universities, Moffat thought of Naydan, who recalls, “I was abroad and got an e-mail from Professor Moffat, and the subject line was something like, ‘let me know the fastest way to contact you.’ ” Naydan describes that exchange as being “very Moffat.” “She and Dean Yarnell told me what a great opportunity it was and encouraged me to apply,” says Naydan.

Mapping her future

The Beinecke Scholarship will provide Naydan, a junior English major and education minor from North Wales, Pa., with $34,000 toward graduate school. She is one of only 20 students from Ivy League, selective liberal-arts and top-tier research institutions nationwide to receive the prestigious scholarship.

A program of the Sperry Fund, the Beinecke Scholarship seeks to encourage and enable highly motivated students to pursue a graduate course of study in the arts, humanities and social sciences. Students must attend a nominating college or university, and those institutions may nominate only one candidate.

Naydan, a John Dickinson Scholar, is considering several top schools, including Yale, Columbia, Brown and Stanford universities, to explore 20th-century literature and historical memory, topics that she explored during her semester abroad. “I took a course, The Contested Past: Literature and the Politics of Memory. It sparked my interest in literature’s role in shaping collective memory, how we remember traumatic historical events and how literature challenges and internalizes the narrative,” says Naydan.

Phillips, who serves as Naydan’s advisor, says, “Mary wants to make her ideas matter. She sees the big picture as well as the critical details.”

Intellectual curiosity

At Dickinson, Naydan has been awarded substantive roles in faculty-led research and book projects through Dana Research Assistantships, a program that allows students to work closely with faculty on scholarly and creative research. Last summer, she assisted Sider Jost in investigating the social and financial world of 18th-century poets. “I discovered the potential of the digital humanities to facilitate ambitious research,” says Naydan, who utilized various databases to investigate how poets in the 1730s made a living. “It gave me insight into the process of prolonged scholarship on the same subject with an end goal of changing the critical conversation."

“The project put Mary’s gifts as a researcher on full display,” says Sider Jost. “Mary is hardworking and brilliant and approached our project with an irrepressible curiosity. Throughout our work together, she pushed me to think about how we could be most efficient in our use of online research tools, showing a nose for the intellectual possibilities of the digital humanities.”

Naydan is currently working with Assistant Professor of Spanish and Portuguese Carolina Castellanos, editing her book project and researching the academic publishing process. She is actively involved on campus as a peer tutor in the Norman M. Eberly Writing Center and as a member of the Belles Lettres Literary Society, among other activities. She also is a volunteer tutor at Lamberton Middle School near campus through the Kappa Delta Pi Homework Help program and is pursuing teaching certification for secondary grades 7-12.

“Mary possesses great intellectual humility,” says Moffat. “In an understated way, she conveys that she’s going somewhere, rather than that she’s arrived.” Phillips adds, “Mary has a rare acuity of thought and holds herself to such high standards. When I read her work, I see the future of my profession, and it’s an exciting future.”

Published April 16, 2014