A path-breaking book on the aftermath of the Vietnam War, a musical composition to honor the earth, a slim volume of love poems, and an essay exploring magic in Shakespeare’s "The Tempest" all were recognized recently for achievements in creativity and research by the Virginia Tech chapter of Phi Beta Kappa, the nation’s oldest academic honor society.

Sturm Award for Excellence in Performance and Creative Arts

The Mu of Virginia Chapter of Phi Beta Kappa offered Sturm Awards for Excellence in Creative Arts or Performance to Dwight Bigler, associate professor and director of choral activities in the School of Performing Arts in the College of Architecture, Arts, and Design, and Sophia Terazawa, visiting assistant professor of English in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences.

At the April 2022 premiere of "Mosaic for Earth," Bigler’s rousing work for choir and orchestra, 250 musicians thronged the stage in the Moss Arts Center to offer up an emotional plea for better stewardship of our world. Bigler’s composition draws on texts by acclaimed environmental writers and poets, including Terry Tempest Williams and N. Scott Momaday, to celebrate the wonders of nature and explore humanity's impact on and responsibility for the environment.  

In "Anon," published by Deep Vellum in 2023, Terazawa offers up a collection of love poems about an adverb. A poet and performer of Vietnamese-Japanese descent, Terazawa infuses her work with shimmering images and names — gibbons, langurs, the river Ljubljanica, Quan  Am — and repetitions of “anon,” or soon: “Later, soon, Anon, how do I write to you, an adverb?”

For Jeffrey Loeffert, director and professor in the School of Performing Arts and chair of the selection committee for the Sturm Award for Excellence in Performing and Creative Arts, the works by both Bigler and Terazawa “are representative of high-impact scholarship that can be recognized by the general public but with a level of sophistication that is admired by experts in the field.

“Dwight Bigler's environmental oratorio for choir and orchestra, 'Mosaic for Earth,' and Sophia Terazawa's collection of poems, 'Anon,' display the full breadth of creative scholarship among our faculty at Virginia Tech,” Loeffert said. “'Mosaic for Earth' is impressive in scope and stunningly gorgeous, and 'Anon' showcases an exquisite command of language.”

Sturm Award for Excellence in Research

Amanda Demmer, assistant professor in the Department of History in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences, was honored with a Sturm Award for Faculty Excellence in Research for her book "After Saigon’s Fall: Refugees and US–Vietnamese Relations, 1975-2000," published by Cambridge University Press in 2021. Demmer examines how the normalization of American relations with Vietnam after the Vietnam War hinged on a mutual humanitarian interest in aiding refugees. Other historians have called "After Saigon’s Fall" compelling, comprehensive, and consequential in its contributions to thinking about the Vietnam War and, more broadly, how American wars end.

The book stood out among a field of strong competitors for the Sturm Award because it combined “not only really good scholarship, but very accessible writing,” said Peter Potter, publishing director for the University Libraries and chair of the selection committee. “Even though the book examines a historical subject, it still has a great deal of relevance today. The fact that this is her first book is just extraordinary for the amount of research that went into it.”

John D. Wilson Essay Contest Award

Given annually to recognize excellence in undergraduate writing, the 2023 John D. Wilson Essay Contest prize for best analytical or interpretive composition was awarded to Stephanie Sheets, who graduated this spring with degrees in English, creative writing, and professional and technical writing, for her scholarly essay “Shakespeare’s Soft Rejection of Magic in The Tempest as Informed by Elemental Discussion and the Learned Magician Figure in Agrippa’s The Philosophy of Natural Magic.”

Evan Lavender-Smith, assistant professor of creative writing, lauded the essay’s nuanced analysis and persuasive views. “With precision and elegance, Stephanie examines the character of Prospero, decoding his role as the convergence point of wild and learned magic,” he said. “This essay stands as a testament to the intellectual rigor and analytical depth that the John D. Wilson Phi Beta Kappa Essay Contest seeks to promote.”

Winners of the Wilson Essay Contest and the Sturm Awards are presented with cash prizes at the Phi Beta Kappa spring initiation ceremony. Nominations are accepted in the spring of each year. Learn more about the awards.

Written by Melody Warnick