Each year, the College of Arts & Letters presents two Varg-Sullivan Endowed Graduate Awards to graduate students for their outstanding achievement in the arts or letters. This year’s winners are Emma Creamer, Outstanding Achievement in the Arts recipient, and Ye Ma, Outstanding Achievement in the Letters recipient.
Paul Varg and Richard Sullivan are former Deans of the College of Arts & Letters who dedicated their professional lives to excellence in the college. This award endowment was established in their name. Recipients are selected based on best performance/exhibition at a national or international event in the arts and best presentation at a national or international event or best-published article in the letters.
Outstanding Achievement in the Arts
Emma Creamer is a master’s student in the Arts, Cultural Management, and Museum Studies program. This is her second semester at MSU. She was nominated for Outstanding Achievement in the Arts for her work on “History Told Slant,” an exhibition at the Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum at Michigan State University that re-examines the museum’s collection through conversations of social and racial justice and colonial histories of exploitation.
Creamer joined the project through the SEEK Research and Exhibition Graduate Fellowship, a role that primarily considered doctoral candidates. However, her knowledge and work with issues of decolonization in museums and her critical assessment of the museum’s role in questioning imperialist power structures earned her the role. The fellowship, designed to be a semester-long, was extended because of Creamer’s contributions and love of museum work.
“It became clear that there was much to be gained by extending the term of our work together,” said Steven L. Bridges, Senior Curator and Director of Curatorial Affairs. “Thus, Creamer continues to hold the position of graduate fellow in support of this exhibition, as we successfully extended the position through the remainder of academic year 2021-22.”
As a graduate fellow, Creamer designed an interactive component for the exhibit, which invites visitors to write or draw their response to the exhibit’s content, introducing unique perspectives into the museum. She also conducted video interviews with professors, curators, and a museum director that play alongside the exhibition’s works of art, offering new layers of understanding to the experience of the artwork. Creamer used her knowledge of decolonization to write labels for archeological materials in the exhibition.
“My academic and personal interests lie primarily in how community-based participatory practices in the heritage sector can help mitigate the effects of colonialism on cultural institutions. To win an award for working on an exhibit that examines this exact issue and implementing the engagement strategies for promoting community-based work in a museum space is an amazing honor.”Emma Creamer
“I’m honored to have been able to work beside the wonderful staff at the Broad Art Museum on the ‘History Told Slant’ exhibition,” Creamer said. “I owe this opportunity in large part to Steven Bridges, who curated the show. Steven gave me the chance to provide input and create spaces for community engagement in the exhibition, which is helping create a dialogue between community members and the museum staff.”
Creamer has a B.A. in Anthropology from the University of Michigan.
“My academic and personal interests lie primarily in how community-based participatory practices in the heritage sector can help mitigate the effects of colonialism on cultural institutions,” she said. “To win an award for working on an exhibit that examines this exact issue and implementing the engagement strategies for promoting community-based work in a museum space is an amazing honor.”
Outstanding Achievement in the Letters
Ye Ma is a Ph.D. student in the Linguistics program. She was nominated for Outstanding Achievement in the Letters for an article she wrote, titled Chinese,” which was published by the Journal of Psycholinguistic Research.
“I am deeply honored to receive this award. It’s encouraging to be recognized for my research on language processing,” Ma said. “I’d like to express my sincere thanks to my family and all the people in the department who have supported my academic growth.”
The article Ma wrote contains the results of her first experiment, an eye-tracking study that examines the semantic and real-time processing of aspectual verbs, such as begin, continue, and finish.
The study offers several key contributions to efforts toward understanding the architecture of the human parser, the sentence-processing system. The study proves the correctness of a prominent hypothesis, the Structured Individual Hypothesis (SIH). The SIH argues that the specific properties of aspectual verbs make them harder to process. In addition, Ma presented a compelling argument for modifying the SIH based on the results of her study.
“I am deeply honored to receive this award. It’s encouraging to be recognized for my research on language processing. I’d like to express my sincere thanks to my family and all the people in the department who have supported my academic growth.”Ye Ma
The paper is the first Ma has published. She has a second paper that is nearly ready for submission. In addition, she has an idea and design for a third experiment that explores aspectual verbs in Mandarin. Her work requires both knowledge of highly abstract Linguistic theory and experimental skills.
“It is hard to credit just how amazing her understanding of the issues must be to even know what to look for, nevermind find,” said Alan Bretta, Professor of Linguistics, and Brian Buccola, Assistant Professor of Linguistics, in their nomination letter. “Ye Ma has momentum, drive, and the kind of insight that augurs well for her career as a psycholinguist.”
Ma has an M.Ed. in English Language Teaching from Beijing Normal University and a B.A. in English Education from Xi’an International Studies University.