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 Three women are top scholars in Class of 2016

Commencement 2016Standard
Three women with the highest academic rank in the Class of 2016 will study in Ph.D. programs in the fall.

​​​​​​​​​​​​Three students in the Providence College Class of 2016 — Meghan C. Lescault, Rebecca Marisseau, and Cayla Stifler — share the highest academic rank. Each studied in the Liberal Arts Honors Program and finished with a GPA of 3.99 — the equivalent of A in every class with one A minus. 

The three have been accepted into Ph.D. programs with full tuition and stipends beginning in the fall. They will be recognized for their achievement during the Academic Awards Program on Saturday, May 14, at 11 a.m. in Peterson Recreation Center. Lescault will present the Class Oration on behalf of all three. ​

Meghan C. Lescault, humanities major

Meghan C. Lescault ’16 (Walpole, Mass.) majored in humanities with minors in classics and French. She will enter a Ph.D. program in classics at Brown University to research “Classical Reception in Late Antiquity” — specifically, how Virgil is incorporated in the writings of St. Augustine. Her goal is to be a college professor, and she says teaching in the Development of Western Civilization Program at PC would be “the absolute dream.”

Lescault used the umbrella of PC’s humanities major to customize her study in the classics. She took courses in Latin and Greek, mythology, and ancient history. In 2014, she participated in a Maymester trip to Greece to explore “The Rise of the Polis and the Birth of Classical Greece.” During her junior year, she founded the PC Classics Society and became its president.

Research was an important part of her studies. She was a research assistant for Dr. Robin J. Greene, assistant professor of history, and Dr. Colin G. King, assistant professor of philosophy. Last summer, she received an Undergraduate Research Grant to study “Speech and Silence in Virgil’s Aeneid,” which became a 75-page thesis. 

Meghan is a student that I’ll always remember,” said Greene. “A superb young scholar, she even completed the first honors thesis on Latin philology in PC history, writing an original study of Virgil’s Aeneid. What has always most impressed me, however, is her work beyond the classroom. She has been an active and tireless voice in promoting classics at PC, even going so far as to found the Classics Society.”

Lescault found time to be a resident assistant for three years, working in Meagher, Aquinas, and Suites residence halls, and was a member of the Student Advisory Council for the Office of Academic Affairs. 

At the Academic Awards Ceremony, she will be recognized for having the highest concentration in humanities and will receive the Leroy D. Aaronson Prize for Classics and the Director’s Award for the humanities. She is a member of Theta Alpha Kappa, the theology honor society, and Pi Delta Phi, the French honor society.  

Lescault wanted to attend PC from the time she was a young girl. It’s the alma mater of her father, Dr. Michael W. Lescault ’78, ’82G, ‘88G, & ’92Ph.D., a lecturer in history at the College.

“It’s the people who make PC — the faculty, staff, and students,” Lescault said. “It’s been an amazing ride.”

Rebecca Marisseau, history major

Rebecca Marisseau ’16 (Tuftonboro, N.H.) achieved the highest GPA in both history, her major, and business studies, her minor. She will enter a Ph.D. program at Brown University to research early American material culture — the study of objects and the sense of identity derived from them — with plans to teach at the college level or work in a museum one day.

For her thesis, Marisseau explored material culture by looking at transferware pottery in the early American Republic. Transferware ceramics were manufactured in England and shipped to America for sale after the Revolutionary War, decorated with patriotic designs that appealed to American nationalism. 

Thanks to her adviser, Dr. Steven C. Smith, assistant professor of history, Marisseau presented her research earlier this year at a conference at the McNeil Center for Early American Studies at the University of Pennsylvania. With a grant from PC’s Center for Engaged Learning, she conducted research at the Winterthur Museum in Delaware, a leading institute for the study of American material culture.  

“In addition to her work ethic and skills as a writer, Rebecca possesses tremendous historical instincts,” said Smith. “I am confident that Rebecca will make an important, long-term impact in the field of early American studies. Her unique interdisciplinary intervention, which seeks to bring together histories of everyday objects, the history of print, and the development of the market economy, will soon become standard reading for scholars in the field. Rebecca embodies what it means to be a Providence College graduate.”

As a second-semester junior, Marisseau held an internship at the American Academy in Rome. She worked in an archaeology collection of Greco-Roman artifacts while also taking courses on Pompeii, the Renaissance, the Italian language, and photography. 

“I don’t consider myself to be super smart,” said Marisseau. “The most important thing is what you put into the work. You have to put your soul into it and be proud of every assignment you do. At the end, it’s not being valedictorian that matters to me, it’s that I was proud of all the work that I did.”

Marisseau found an escape from studying through membership in the Art Club for four years and being its vice president for two. The club’s members are not art majors but students who enjoy gathering once a week for projects ranging from “Pinterest to professional,” Marisseau said. They decorated cupcakes, painted murals in residence halls, did henna at Relay for Life, and created bracelets for Autism Awareness. 

Through Campus Ministry, Marisseau also participated in a Habitat for Humanity trip to New Jersey.

When she was a high school senior, she was accepted to what she thought were all her top-choice colleges, along with PC, which she had never visited. 

“Something told me to come tour, and I fell in love with the campus and the emphasis on educating the whole person, and I never looked back,” Marisseau said.   

My experience has been true to what I wanted from the beginning. I have been educated as a whole person — not just a great student, but one with a faith life, a social life, all the good stuff. I’m not belittling academics, because the Liberal Arts Honors Program is very rigorous. I’m talking about the extra element. Providence College believes it’s important for you to be a happy person, too, and not just a high academic achiever.”

Cayla Stifler, applied physics major

Cayla Stifler ’16 (Glen Rock, Pa.), who majored in applied physics with a minor in mathematics, will enter a Ph.D. program in quantum physics at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. She would like to be a researcher in industry or in a government laboratory. She is interested in quantum computing, which applies the principles of quantum mechanics to computers, improving their security and encrypting ability. 

Stifler brought her love of research to the laboratories of Dr. Stephen J. Mecca '64 & '66G, professor of physics, and Dr. Seth T. Ashman, assistant professor of physics. She also worked as a paid tutor in math and physics through the Office of Academic Services.   

“With science, you get to ask questions, but you don’t ask questions just for the sake of asking questions,” said Stifler. “You have a way of figuring out the answer to your own question. How can I test it, how can I find out? That is really exciting to me.”

Stifler also spent her summers as a researcher. During 2015, she was at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Brookhaven Laboratory in Upton, N.Y., where her research into characterizing ion beams was published in the Review of Scientific Instruments, a journal of the American Institute of Physics. In 2014, she attended a National Science Foundation program at Rutgers University in experimental particle physics. 

In Mecca’s S-Lab, Stifler helped with projects to improve health and sanitation in Ghana. 

During her sophomore year, she modeled the flow of nuisance dust in a rural village. She spent her junior year solving a heat-flow issue for the microflush toilet filter-digester developed by the lab. Her work made it possible for the toilet to be introduced in Lebanon, which has a colder climate than Ghana. A poster on her research was presented and a paper has been submitted for publication, Mecca said. This year, Stifler worked to develop and test a smart phone-based voltmeter and wrote a software application for it. 

During her junior and senior year, Stifler worked in Ashman’s lab on spectroscopy projects. She recorded light patterns in atoms using a diode laser and measured the magnetic field of rubidium atoms by constructing coils.

Stifler is one of three physics majors in the Class of 2016 and will be recognized at the Academic Awards Ceremony for having attained the highest GPA in the concentration. 

PC’s small size “did allow me to really have easy access to professors and really get to know them and feel comfortable with them,” she said.

And despite the time she devoted to her studies, Stifler said it was never difficult to find the time to do research. 

“I do a lot of stuff on weekends. I’m in the lab most of the time,” Stifler said. “Being a physics major, I have more flexibility than in the other sciences. There are fewer required labs, so I had my afternoons free.”

Stifler said her passion for science comes from her mother, who was a biochemist before her two daughters were born and made sure to introduce them to science when they were younger. 

One of her favorite classes at PC linked science with the humanities. Genes and Gender combined philosophy and bioethics with scientific research and was taught by Dr. Maia F. Bailey, assistant professor of biology. 

“Cayla is well on her way to becoming a first-rate physicist,” said Mecca. “She has taken every course and experience our department has to offer, including multiple research projects. It has a been a joy to be witness to her achievements at PC and to know that she is on track to a successful career in science.”​​


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