Top of the Class: Valedictorians and Salutatorians of 2016

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Dartmouth honors 15 top-ranked seniors—eight valedictorians and seven salutatorians.

Valedictorians and Salutatorians
(Photos by Eli Burakian ’00 and Robert Gill) 

Dartmouth will recognize 15 top honor students this year—eight valedictorians and seven salutatorians—at the annual commencement ceremony.

Valedictorians for the 2016 graduating class are Michael Dettmer ’16, Robert Klingenberger ’16, Christopher Leech ’16, Ke Li ’16, Robert Scales ’16, Jonathan Vandermause ’16, Sarah Waltcher ’16, and Bingyue Wang ’16. All eight will march to the Dartmouth Green at the head of the Class of 2016, be recognized from the podium, and be afforded all the honors and privileges of their achievement.

A selection committee representing the dean of the faculty and the dean of the college selected Vandermause to deliver the valedictory address to the College at commencement.

“The committee considered breadth and depth in the students’ academic pursuits and co-curricular activities,” says Dean of the College Rebecca Biron. “We especially valued student records that exemplify the full exploration of the liberal arts advantage in undergraduate education.”

Dartmouth’s valedictorians—and salutatorians Stephanie Alden ’16, Claire Beskin ’16, Michael Blank ’16, Gina D’Andrea-Penna ’16, Mary Decker ’16, Axel Hufford ’16, and Alexander Liao ’16—have all been named Rufus Choate Scholars, a Dartmouth honor for students in the top 5 percent of their class.

Twelve of the honorees conducted research alongside Dartmouth faculty members as James O. Freedman Presidential Scholars.


Michael Dettmer ’16

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The economics major from Fort Worth, Texas, plans to join Morgan Stanley—where he completed a summer internship—as an investment banker post-graduation. He has also interned for Bank of America Merrill Lynch, First Rate Inc., and at the district office of Texas Congresswoman Kay Granger. At Dartmouth, he played on the men’s club volleyball team, served as treasurer of Psi Upsilon, chaired the Generations Project, and was a member of the investment committee of the Dartmouth Investment and Philanthropy Program. He also spent a summer studying in Berlin with the German department’s language study abroad program—a highlight of his Dartmouth experience.

“It was the most adult I’ve felt—being in a foreign country with very little structure and lots of time to explore Berlin. And now I’m fluent in German,” he says.

His academic interests include market efficiency, film, and computer science. His Dartmouth courses in the latter, he says, taught him the value of persistence in solving problems. “I had never had an academic experience like that before—it shifted the focus from how well can I do on a test, to can I solve this?”

An early Phi Beta Kappa inductee and a recipient of the Phi Beta Kappa Sophomore Prize, he has received four citations for academic excellence in his coursework.

Robert Klingenberger ’16

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After graduation, Klingenberger, a double major in math and economics from Hinsdale, Ill., will work as an analyst at Morgan Stanley’s Healthcare Group, where he completed two internships. His long-term goal is to earn a graduate degree in economics. He served as co-president of the Dartmouth Investment and Philanthropy Program; chief financial officer of Dart Dorm Rentals, LLC; treasurer of Alpha Chi Alpha; student leader at the Aquinas House Catholic Student Center; trip leader for 2015 Dartmouth Outing Club (DOC) first-year trips; and teaching assistant and grader in the economics department.

He also traveled to Jordan and Israel as part of the course “Public Policy 85: Global Policy Research Practicum,” led by Charles Wheelan ’88, a senior lecturer in economics and a policy fellow at the Nelson A. Rockefeller Center for Public Policy. “It was just an unbelievable experience to be able to study such a complex issue and then go actually learn about it,” Klingenberger says. “We all came away humbled because we realized that there’s no way to fully understand it, but by going we gained a much better understanding of the situation.”

He interned in business development at RMB Capital in Chicago. An early inductee to Phi Beta Kappa and a recipient of the Phi Beta Kappa Sophomore Prize, he worked as a presidential scholar with Douglas Irwin, the John Sloan Dickey Third Century Professor in the Social Sciences, as a Presidential Scholar; was a Department of Economics Research Scholar; and completed an honors thesis in economics on the municipal bond market, which began as a paper for an upper-level seminar with Associate Professor of Economics James Feyrer.

He earned 11 citations for academic excellence for his coursework. The Chicago Bears and White Sox fan says he enjoys playing golf and watching old movies.

Christopher Leech ’16

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The computer science major from Pittsburgh, Pa., worked for The Dartmouth as a news writer and news editor and as co-editor of “Dartbeat.” He also served as programming chair of Alpha Chi Alpha and as a teaching assistant for courses in the computer science department. Through a presidential scholarship, he worked with Professor of Computer Science Hany Farid on improving facial recognition software. He has received nine citations for academic excellence in his coursework. As a participant in the Rockefeller Center’s First-Year Fellows Program, he interned in Washington, D.C., with the Bipartisan Policy Center, working on the financial regulatory reform team. He was a business consultant intern at Applied Predictive Technologies, and last summer worked as a forward-deployed engineer at Palantir Technologies, the firm he plans to join post-graduation in Washington, D.C.

Leech says, “I came into college thinking I would be an economics major, but I took ‘Computer Science 1’ with Professor Farid and it lit a fire in my mind for computer science.” Another unexpected favorite academic experience came when, to fill a distributive requirement, he took a course on Japanese culture with Associate Professor of Asian and Middle Eastern Languages and Literatures James Dorsey. “My horizons have been expanded,” he says. “There are so many cool things out there that I’ve been exposed to that I didn’t really know about prior to Dartmouth.”

Ke Li ’16

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A double major in economics and math from Beijing, Li says Dartmouth’s liberal arts curriculum “allowed me to discover and explore my passion.”

She served as director of external affairs and president of the Global China Connection; investment board member and co-chief development officer of Smart Woman Securities; co-leader of an Alternative Spring Break trip with the Dartmouth Center for Service (formerly the Tucker Foundation); presenter for the Center for Service’s Language in Motion programs; and as a student adviser of the Leadership, Education and Development (LEAD) Program at the Tuck School of Business.

She also participated in an economics department exchange program to Oxford University, and has completed internships with E. J. McKay & Co. in Shanghai and Bain & Company in Hong Kong. A Phi Beta Kappa early inductee and recipient of the Phi Beta Kappa Sophomore Prize, she earned first place in the Thayer Prize Mathematics Exam and in the 2015 Bain Cup Greater China Case Competition. She was a Women in Science Project intern, and a participant in the Rockefeller Center’s Management and Leadership Development Program, which she completed with distinction. As a presidential scholar with Andrew Samwick, the Sandra L. and Arthur L. Irving ’72a, P’10 Professor of Economics, she researched financial aid policy. After graduation, she plans to join McKinsey & Company in Boston as a business analyst.

“Dartmouth was my first time being so far away from family and friends in China, so in the beginning I was really homesick,” she says. “But starting from my DOC Trip, I’ve been truly grateful for the welcoming community here, and now Dartmouth has become my family.”

Robert Scales ’16

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An economics major from Hinsdale, Ill., Scales plans to join Blackstone Group in New York City as a private equity analyst. A Phi Beta Kappa early inductee and recipient of the Phi Beta Kappa Sophomore Prize, he has received four citations for academic excellence in his coursework and the Economics Department Outstanding Achievement Award. His paper on the relationship between bilateral-trade linkages and stock market co-movement was accepted to Georgetown University’s Carroll Round international economics conference. The paper was written for an economics seminar with Nina Pavcnik, the Niehaus Family Professor in International Studies.

“I really enjoy the rigor and the nature of coming up with academic ideas,” says Scales. “It entails a level of pragmatism and creativity that is fairly unique. I love the process of coming up with an idea, looking for data, and the continual refinement of the methodology.”

As a Rockefeller Center First-Year Fellow, he interned at the Washington, D.C., Superior Court. He also interned with Tuckerman Capital and with Goldman Sachs’ Technology, Media & Telecom Group. He served as moderator of the Palaeopitus Senior Society; class treasurer and member of the senior executive committee of the Class of 2016; executive board member of the Council on Student Organizations; alumni relations chair, recruitment chair, and social chair of Sigma Alpha Epsilon; and chargé d’affaires and member of the secretariat of DartMUN. He competed as a member of the Fed Challenge Team and traveled to Spain on a Language Study Abroad Program through the Department of Spanish and Portuguese. A Red Sox fan, Scales enjoys golf, traveling, and public speaking.

Jonathan Vandermause ’16

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A double major in physics and math from Green Bay, Wisc., Vandermause begins work toward a PhD in physics at Harvard this fall. At Dartmouth, he spent two consecutive leave terms conducting research in Assistant Professor of Physics and Astronomy Chandrasekhar Ramanathan’s laboratory, funded by the Office for Undergraduate Research, and was first author (with Ramanathan as coauthor) of a paper, “Superadiabatic control of quantum operations,” published in the journal Physical Review A.

“My best experience was working in a research lab with Professor Ramanathan,” Vandermause says. “He is a great mentor who gave me a lot of freedom to pursue my own ideas. He also pushed me hard to do the best work that I could. It was just a terrific exposure to the process of scientific research.”

Vandermause gave a talk at the 2016 American Physical Society March Meeting in Baltimore and was the only undergraduate to present a poster at the 2015 Gordon Conference on Quantum Control of Light and Matter. He won first place in the 2015 Neukom Prize for Undergraduate Research in Computational Science competition and received an undergraduate research award to conduct research at the Institute for Quantum Computing. As a presidential scholar, he completed a project on NMR quantum computing and received a Goldwater Scholarship honorable mention. He was also president of Chi Gamma Epsilon, wrote opinion columns for The Dartmouth, and performed with the Barbary Coast Jazz Ensemble on valve trombone and euphonium, and with the Dartmouth College Wind Ensemble on euphonium.

Sarah Waltcher ’16

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An English major from New York City, Waltcher plans a career in education, and will teach sixth-grade science in Brooklyn next year. She completed a teaching fellowship with Breathrough New York, part of the Breakthrough Collaborative, a nonprofit organization that prepares students in underserved schools for college and helps prepare new educators. Through Breakthrough, she taught biology, literature, and speech and debate to seventh- and ninth-graders, served as a ninth-grade team leader, and received the 2015 Breakthrough Teaching Excellence Award. At Dartmouth, Waltcher was a teaching assistant for two community-based learning courses and for “Environmental Studies 80: Writing Our Way Home,” with Visiting Professor Terry Tempest Williams.

With the Student Enrichment at Dartmouth (SEAD), she served as a summer mentor in Hanover and as a winter intern at the Bronx Center for Science and Mathematics. She was a student program assistant for the Dartmouth Leadership, Attitudes and Behaviors Program, a volunteer with Big Brother Big Sister/SIBS, an admissions tour guide, and a trip leader and Vox crew member for DOC first-year trips. In addition, she participated in the Office of Pluralism and Leadership’s intergroup dialogue program, and in Voices, an original production written by and for Dartmouth women—an experience she describes as “amazing in terms of what a community can do when it comes together and does work around a topic that means a lot to its members.”

Waltcher was vice president of standards for Kappa Kappa Gamma, a member of Palaeopitus and Phoenix senior societies, and traveled to Buenos Aires as part of a Spanish language study abroad program. Her presidential scholar project with Associate Professor of English Michael Chaney investigated the work of the slave artisan Dave the Potter. She has received five citations for academic excellence in her coursework.

“Dartmouth has made me a much more aware person—of my place in the world, and of our collective place in the world,” she says. “It’s been a fantastic educational experience, and I’ve been lucky to find really fantastic relationships that will stick with me after graduation.”

Bingyue Wang ’16

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A computer science major from Wuhan, China, Wang will join Google—where she interned her junior summer—as a software engineer. A member of the Dartmouth Asian Dance Troupe, Wang participated in the Rockefeller Center’s Global Leadership Program and spent a term studying Spanish, photography, deejaying, and tango in Buenos Aires. For her sophomore summer, she returned to China, where she researched image recognition at Wuhan University.

Through the John Sloan Dickey Center for International Understanding, she participated in a ThinkImpact project through which she started a mini-snack bar in a village in Ghana—which she was inspired to visit because of a Dartmouth friend who is Ghanaian.

“My best experience of Dartmouth has been interacting with people from very different backgrounds,” she says. “I had never met a person from Africa before, but when I stepped down from the Dartmouth Coach my first year, the first person who greeted me was from Ghana. We were on the same first-year trip, and we realized we had a lot of background in common. We became really good friends.”

A Phi Beta Kappa early inductee and recipient of the Phi Beta Kappa Sophomore Prize, she earned six citations for academic excellence in her coursework, and her senior thesis, “Learning Device Usage in Context: A Continuous and Hierarchical Smartphone Authentication Scheme,” received high honors from the computer science department. An intrepid traveler, she has lived in or visited 20 countries on four continents.

“Every place I’ve been to is a story that has changed me in different ways,” she says. “Dartmouth is not just an academic place where I learned how to solve a problem or build a website; it’s an experience that I will remember for my life.”


Stephanie Alden ’16

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A biological chemistry major from Pepper Pike, Ohio, Alden plans to work at the National Cancer Institute next year—part of a postbaccalaureate Cancer Research Training Award program—while applying to medical school. She served as editor-in-chief of the Dartmouth Undergraduate Journal of Science (DUJS), as an eating disorder peer adviser, and as a tutor for organic chemistry. Through DUJS, she founded a STEM Outreach Program that brought DUJS members to area schools to help science classes and clubs. She worked as a research assistant in a neuroscience lab at Case Western Reserve University, focusing on Alzheimer’s research, and as an associate consultant at Simon-Kucher & Partners. She was a presidential scholar and a full-time, funded researcher in Associate Professor of Chemistry Ekaterina Pletneva’s lab, where she also completed her senior honors thesis research on metalloproteins. She calls the work she put into her thesis “my best experience of Dartmouth.”

“My thesis was a nice way to apply everything I learned in my chemistry classes to something that I find really interesting and that has really cool applications,” she says. “I was looking at how changing different amino acids can affect the protein structure. It’s fun.”

A Phi Beta Kappa early inductee, she received 10 citations for academic excellence in her coursework, was a finalist for a Marshall Scholarship, and received a Goldwater Scholarship honorable mention.

Claire Beskin ’16

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A double major in economics and Chinese from Atlanta, Ga., Beskin will be working in the securities division of Goldman Sachs Hong Kong next year. At Dartmouth, she was the co-chief development officer of Smart Woman Securities, an officer of the Environmental Conservation Organization and of Alpha Phi, a member of the Phoenix Senior Society, a drill instructor for Chinese, and a volunteer with the Haven after school program. She completed internships with Goldman Sachs Hong Kong, Sandler Capital Management, and the Georgia Department of Economic Development. The recipient of eight citations for academic excellence in her coursework, she was a presidential scholar with Sarah Allan, the Burlington Northern Foundation Professor of Asian Studies. She won the PRAY Prize for Excellence in Language (Chinese), and completed a senior honors thesis in the Department of Asian and Middle Eastern Languages and Literatures.

At Dartmouth, she discovered a love of running. “I hated running in high school, but here I became friends with runners, and slowly but surely they started taking me along. It’s an important part of my life now”—so much so that she’s recently started running in half marathons.

Her favorite run in Hanover is on the Mink Brook Trail, she says. “I go on a run with friends and it’s like killing two birds with one stone: I come back, I’ve exercised, and I’ve had a great one-on-one conversation with someone for an hour.”

Michael Blank ’16

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Blank, who is from Lake Forest, Ill., double majored in economics and math. He was a teaching assistant for the math department, a peer tutor in economics, and competed in intramural sports. He spent a term at Oxford University through the economics department’s exchange program. He has received four citations for academic excellence in his coursework, twice received Edson Memorial Prizes in the government department, and was a Phi Beta Kappa early inductee. As a presidential scholar, he worked with Associate Professor of Economics James Feyrer on quantitative easing research.

“Professor Feyrer was one of my earliest mentors here,” Blank says. “He’s just always available, always willing to talk and to help me. At the same time, when we’ve done something together, he has a lot of faith in me and is willing to give me a good amount of space to do my own work.”

He enjoys playing golf and basketball, and reading about baseball and economics. After graduation, he plans to join the Federal Reserve Bank of New York as a research analyst, and is considering pursuing graduate study in economics.

Gina D’Andrea-Penna ’16

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A neuroscience major from Brunswick, Md., D’Andrea-Penna plans to begin graduate school in neuroscience at the University of California, San Diego this fall. At Dartmouth, she wrote about fashion and food for the Dartmouth Fashion Council and Spoon University blogs, respectively. She ran with the endurance racing club team, was a member of the National Society of Collegiate Scholars, and conducted research in the Reading Brains Lab and, as a Presidential Scholar and research assistant, in the lab of Professor of Psychological and Brain Sciences Peter Tse ’84. She studied the Holocaust and traveled to Poland to help restore a Jewish cemetery as part of Project Preservation. She has worked as a skills trainer for a person with an intellectual disability, as a bakery clerk, and as an intern at the National Institute of Mental Health. She received the Benjamin J. Bener ’69 Undergraduate Research Fellowship, was inducted into Phi Beta Kappa, and has received nine citations for academic excellence in her coursework.

Asked about her favorite Dartmouth experience, D’Andrea-Penna says, “It’s hard to pick one—I’ve learned a lot from my classes and enjoyed interacting with my professors. Even though I’m a neuroscience major, some of my favorite classes were with Professor of Religion [Emeritus] Ron Green in the religion department. Most recently, completing my thesis was an invaluable experience, and I will need these skills to succeed in the field that I am pursuing.”

Mary Decker ’16

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After graduation, Decker, a neuroscience major with a minor in biology from Helena, Mont., will join the Computational Social Neuroscience Lab at the University of California, Los Angeles, as lab manager. She  served as vice president and secretary of Dartmouth Primary Care Progress, and as a neuroimaging research assistant for Professor of Psychological and Brain Sciences William Kelley, with whom she worked as a Presidential Scholar on the structural metrics associated with obesity. She was a Dickey Center Global Health Initiative Scholar and a biology department teaching assistant. She has interned with the Institute of Population Health and Development in Hanoi, and shadowed physicians at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center and the Mayo Clinic. The recipient of nine citations for academic excellence in her coursework, she is a Phi Beta Kappa early inductee, and was a Neukom Scholar at the Neukom Institute for Computational Science.

Following in the footsteps of fellow Montanan and A River Runs Through It author Norman Maclean ’24, Decker took a train to Hanover her first year. But adjusting to Dartmouth took time, she says. “I was homesick and lonely for probably the first two years. Then I realized that there’s no right way to do Dartmouth—everyone has their own experience.”

Of her major, she says, “The brain is, maybe with deep space and the Marianas Trench, the final frontier for human exploration, and it’s just so interesting to learn about that.”

Axel Hufford ’16

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Hufford, a double major in government and Asian and Middle Eastern studies from Rye, N.Y., is joining Deloitte Federal Consulting as an analyst in strategy and operations. Hufford has served as student board president of Dartmouth College Hillel, president of J Street U, publications manager and senior editor of World Outlook magazine, a senior editor and arts and entertainment editor of The Dartmouth, and scholarship chair and social chair of Zeta Psi. He spent a term in Washington, D.C., on the government department off-campus program, and has interned with the U.S. Department of Justice Office of International Affairs, the Center for American Progress, and the office of Congresswoman Carol Shea-Porter (D-N.H.). He was also a 2012 Obama Fall Organizing Fellow. He has received six citations for academic excellence in his coursework, and as a presidential scholar worked with Lewis Glinert, a professor of Asian and Middle Eastern Languages and Literatures, on a project titled “The Federal Reserve and the markets: A communicative analysis.” He enjoys hiking and canoeing.

“One thing that’s so great about Dartmouth is the number of communities that interact with one another,” says Hufford. “One of my biggest and closest communities is Hillel and the Jewish students on campus—we are a small group, but we are very tight, close as a family. At the same time, Dartmouth lets everyone be in one sort of larger overall community.”

Alexander Liao ’16

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An economics major from Basking Ridge, N.J., post-graduation Liao will be an investment banking analyst with the financial institutions group at Goldman Sachs in New York, where he interned for two terms. He was also a business development intern with the food tech startup Plated. On campus, he served as a voting member of the Undergraduate Finance Committee and Student Assembly, an investment analyst for the Green D Founders Fund (which provides capital to alumni-run ventures), a senior interviewer for the admissions office, a tutor and grader in the math department, summer co-publisher for The Dartmouth, and an executive of Sigma Alpha Epsilon. He was also elected to the Committee on Standards/Organizational Adjudication Committee. An early inductee to Phi Beta Kappa and the recipient of four citations for academic excellence in his coursework, Liao completed presidential scholar research at the Tuck School of Business with Associate Professor Steven Kahl ’91, focusing on the development of venture capital. He received the Economics Department Outstanding Achievement Award.

“Dartmouth offers an incredible number of opportunities to develop as a leader and as a thinker,” says Liao. “I’m going to miss the ready access to the outdoors and the inclusiveness of the Dartmouth community that I’ve seen in my time here, particularly in student life and in academic programs, where professors have been incredibly generous in giving their time to students.”

(Photos by Eli Burakian ’00 and Robert Gill)

Hannah Silverstein