Award Winners Recognized for Building Bridges

Two recipients of the Franklin Miller Award work to form connections across academic fields and with their classmates.


The Franklin Miller Award recognizes students who make a difference in the Kenyon community, something that this spring’s recipients — Olivia Rataezyk ’24 and Jess Besca ’24 — take particularly seriously as they advocate for their disciplines and their peers.

Olivia Rataezyk ’24
Olivia Rataezyk ’24.

Rataezyk, a biology and art history major from suburban Seattle, has studied topics as divergent as bird flight biomechanics and Soviet monuments. And while her research on both fronts has been noteworthy — she recently presented at a Slavic studies conference — it’s her desire to connect both worlds that has helped her stand out.

“I feel like there's a lot more overlap between art and biology than people may immediately think,” Rataezyk said. 

During research trips to natural history museums across the country, Rataezyk has been known to lead impromptu tours for her science peers at art museums during their downtime. And in the classroom, she’s apt to comment on the artistry with which a bird specimen has been prepared or bring a book of detailed anatomical sketches of birds to an art history seminar.

“Things like this are a great way to bridge this imaginary divide between art and science,” she said. “It's prompted really interesting conversations.”

Rataezyk’s desire to share her passion across departments at the College has not gone unnoticed by faculty members like Natalie Wright, an assistant professor of biology who leads a lab where Rataezyk is studying how proportionally larger flight muscles in male house sparrows impact their flight abilities.

“In her art history classes, she regularly contributes insights into scientific illustration as art, and reminds her classmates that, contrary to much popular opinion, science and art go hand in hand, and that scientists appreciate the aesthetic beauty in their work,” Wright wrote in her nomination.

A Cascade Science Scholar and Summer Science Scholar, Rataezyk also is a curatorial associate at The Gund. She aspires to work at a museum in Washington, D.C., after graduation and eventually pursue her interest in art law — specifically fair use and copyright — by attending law school.

Jess Besca ’24.

Besca is a psychology major and philosophy minor from New York City who found her passion translating research into advocacy efforts after taking “Psychology and the Law” with Associate Professor of Psychology Margaret Stevenson.

“I couldn’t sit with what I was learning and just move on,” Besca said. “All this research exists about discrimination, about racism, about stereotyping, child maltreatment. My question was, ‘How do we teach people this? How do we disseminate this?’”

Her answer was multi-faceted: As a research assistant in Stevenson’s lab, Besca diligently coded videotaped mock jury deliberations for data analysis. She also spearheaded an op-ed on child sexual abuse prevention education that was published by a local news outlet.

“Science and research are so important to make these problems tangible in different ways, but I was like, ‘How can we know this and allow things in our world to continue the way they are?”

 Outside of the classroom, she has helped lead the Sexual Respect Peer Alliance, for which she received certified sexual assault advocacy training, helped peers in crisis, and offered educational programming.

Stevenson said that Besca, who worked as a child advocate last summer for a Houston-based nonprofit, has excelled in both her research and its applications.

“I am impressed by Jess' research here at Kenyon and even more impressed by how she has worked to translate psychological research into meaningful real-world change through her advocacy efforts,” Stevenson wrote in her nomination.

A member of the Owl Creek Singers a capella group, Besca aims to get more real-world experience this summer before heading to graduate school and eventually working for an organization that is informed by science and advocacy. 

The Franklin Miller Awards are given to students who make unusual or significant contributions to the academic environment of the College. The awards are named for Franklin Miller Jr., a longtime member of the faculty and a distinguished physicist, teacher and textbook author.

The awards were established by Edward T. “Chip” Ordman ’64, who credits receiving a modest, named award as a student with helping him get into graduate school. The award is meant to give that same small, but meaningful, encouragement to deserving students whose efforts and ingenuity make a difference in the life of the Kenyon community.

Nominations are accepted in September and March of each year.