May 15, 2008
Vol. 27 No. 16

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    Third-year in philosophy named Beinecke scholar

    By Julia Morse
    News Office

    Nathana O’Brien spent six months studying abroad in Germany and Austria last year.

    Nathana O’Brien came to the College with a passion for science—but after one philosophy course, she said, “I did a complete 180.”

    “I’m a perfect example of why the Core curriculum is such a wonderful thing and how you can find your true self by expanding your horizons,” said O’Brien, a third-year who was recently named a 2008 Beinecke scholar. “I came to Chicago because I loved science, and when you love science, this school is one of the best places to be. Then I took a philosophy class and fell completely in love.”

    O’Brien, a double concentrator in Philosophy and Germanic Studies, said that while she had heard of the Beinecke scholarships, she never dreamed she would even apply—let alone receive one.

    “I look around this campus and see all of these incredibly brilliant people every single day, and I don’t walk around thinking of myself that way,” she said. “It takes a certain level of self-confidence to apply for something like this. The only reason I got to the point where I felt ready to apply was because of the inspiration and astounding support from my professors and advisers, for which I am very grateful.”

    As a Beinecke scholar, O’Brien will receive a total of $34,000 toward graduate study. Beinecke scholarships are awarded annually to no more than 20 students nationwide for graduate study in the arts, humanities and social sciences. O’Brien is the third College student in the last three years to receive the award.

    John Boyer, Dean of the College, said, “Nathana is a very creative and intellectually curious student, and a superb writer. She clearly merits the high honor that the Beinecke represents.”

    Until December, O’Brien had spent six months studying abroad in Germany and Austria, where she said she was able to “really tap into my passion for language and translation.”

    Outside of her philosophy classes and her work as co-president of the Philosophy Club, O’Brien enjoys working as a docent at the Smart Museum of Art, where, she said, she particularly enjoys educating young visitors about things they cannot find anywhere else. “It’s so much fun and truly rewarding,” she said.

    Her love of philosophy comes through in another one of her pastimes: writing children’s books. One day, she hopes to publish books that incorporate philosophical ideas for children.

    “Children ask so many questions, so many philosophical questions, that don’t always get answered,” O’Brien said. “Part of being a philosopher is to reawaken those questions, and I think it would be amazing to make books available to kids that could help them to think about questions which many adults see as impossible to answer.”

    O’Brien will spend the summer before her final year in the College enjoying two of her other passions: traveling and poetry. She will travel to Israel, where she will be translating the works of one of her favorite poets, Abraham Sonne.

    “I’m so glad I made the decision to come to the University of Chicago,” she said. “It’s been tremendous, and I’m sure it will continue to be incredibly rewarding.”

    The Beinecke scholarship program was established in 1971 to honor wealthy brothers Edwin, Frederick and Walter Beinecke, who are best remembered for their Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library donation to Yale University in 1963.