Gifted student researcher and Presidential Scholar earns 2013 Cheverton Award

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The 2013 Cheverton Award winner Priya Shah ’13 was presented with the top undergraduate award by Jerry Price, Ph.D., vice chancellor and dean of students, at the Campus Leadership Awards ceremony Friday, April 26.

A student double majoring in history and Spanish who traveled to Peru to assist in faculty research and edited the award-winning history journal Voces Novae has been awarded the 2013 Cheverton Award.

Priya Shah ’13 is a leader and a scholar, the embodiment of what the Cheverton Award honors, say her mentoring faculty members.

“Priya is a rare natural leader among students. She came in to Chapman four years ago in her freshman semester and started taking the most difficult courses in our history curriculum without any hesitation  and rose right to the top of the class as a freshman,” says Bill Cumiford, Ph.D., associate professor in the Department of History.

But Shah was quick to share the credit.

“I am forever thankful for all of the support that the Chapman community has provided me. I am especially thankful to Dr. Leland Estes, Dr. Pilar Valenzuela, Dr. William Cumiford and Dr. Alexander Bay for being amazing advisers, and for always encouraging me and pushing me to be my best,” she says.

A Presidential Scholar, Shah has amassed a long list of accomplishments and activities during her four years at Chapman. Chief among them is her work as a research assistant for Pilar Valenzuela, Ph.D., associate professor of languages, who created the
Kawapanan Project
to document two endangered languages in the remote town of Jeberos in the Peruvian Amazon. Shah traveled to Peru three times to assist with the project and also conducted her own original research into languages while there. Such scholarship is already a contribution to the field, Valenzuela says.

“Priya is not only a highly sophisticated student and a demonstrated independent researcher, but she has developed a genuine appreciation for the indigenous peoples of Latin America, their cultures, histories, and languages,” Valenzuela says. “Through her involvement in language documentation efforts in the Peruvian Amazon, Priya has done work that will help strengthen indigenous identities as well as preserve distinct world views and traditional knowledge.”

In addition, Shah has contributed generous amounts of time to multiple campus and community projects, ranging from helping to compile the oral history of Chapman University for its 150th anniversary to tutoring at the public library in her hometown of Irvine.

After graduation, Shah will start on her doctoral studies at Duke University, where she plans to study history with a focus on Colonial Latin America, and volunteer as a tutor for at-risk children in Durham, N.C.

The Cheverton Award is given annually to the outstanding graduating senior and is the highest student honor at Chapman University. The original bronze Cheverton Award cup was a gift of the class of 1929 and is on exhibit in Argyros Forum.

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Dawn Bonker

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