NELC Major Piper Coyner Awarded UW President's Medal

Submitted by Bret Windhauser on

The community that I found through NELC afforded me a sense of purpose and belonging that made me feel unique and cared for amongst a sea of undergraduates.

During the 2020 Winter Quarter, the University of Washington Undergraduate Academic Affairs office announced that undergraduate Near Eastern Languages and Civilization major Piper Coyner would receive one of the three distinguished President's Medals.  As the freshman medalist winner, Coyner's first-year achievements, highly rigorous course load, and involvement in the University of Washington's Honors program are recognized.  Coyner takes courses in the Near Eastern Languages and Civilization department including classes on archeology, regional cultures, and history as well as the Persian language.  NELC student, Bret Windhauser, recently interviewed Piper Coyner on her experiences as an undergraduate student in the NELC program.

Please describe your UW experience as a freshman.

My freshman year was difficult socially and emotionally, as I’m sure it is for a lot of students, but my academic pursuits helped me to stay grounded and focused. The community that I found through NELC afforded me a sense of purpose and belonging that made me feel unique and cared for amongst a sea of undergraduates.

What led you to major in Near Eastern Languages and Civilization?

 I was very interested in ancient history when I was younger. I think that almost every kid goes through an Ancient Egypt phase, but my fascination with the Near East persisted. In my senior year of high school, I took a course in modern Middle Eastern history and I absolutely loved the subject. It was then that I decided to major in NELC, and my decision to attend UW was in large part influenced by the strength and reputation of the NELC department. I registered for Persian 101 in my first quarter, and I found a wonderful and supportive community of scholars through NELC.

Has the NELC staff/ faculty encouraged or supported your achievements thus leading to your award, if yes, how? 

I believe that the NELC department has the brightest and most caring faculty at the university. Every NELC-affiliated person I’ve met has been incredible and has shared their intellectual passions with me, while also encouraging me to pursue my own interests. Shahrzad Shams, who has been my Persian professor for the past two years, has been incredibly supportive and encouraging of my academic interests. She is the best teacher and mentor that one could ask for. Stephanie Selover is absolutely one of the kindest, most hard-working people I know, and her fascinating courses have had a huge impact on my intellectual and academic journey. Selim Kuru is always so gregarious, kind, and fun to be around. Gabe Skoog is the best advisor, and every chat with him leaves me feeling reassured, hopeful, and supported. Bret Windhauser has been an amazing TA, and Hadar Khazzam-Horovitz and Gary Martin are brilliant, inspiring professors whose classes I have loved. Every NELC faculty member is incredibly kind and fascinating in their diverse academic interests, and I am blessed to be affiliated with such a wonderful department.

What are your future plans as a NELC student?

I’m not sure what the future brings. I find myself excited by so many different aspects of NELC that I almost wish that I had more degree requirements! Since I’m double majoring in Cinema and Media Studies I’m excited to be taking a class on Middle Eastern film with Aria Fani. I’ll also be taking advanced Persian with him next year, and I would love to begin learning another Near Eastern language at some point. I’ll be improving my French this summer and studying Maori for a semester in New Zealand, but other than that I’m keeping my options open.

What do you think are the benefits of a NELC education?

In an era of increased globalization, it’s incredibly valuable to learn about other cultures, to see the world the way that other people might, and to engage with a different literary canon and artistic world. Studying the diverse cultures and languages of the Near East improves critical thinking skills and prepares students for a huge variety of careers. Learning Persian has afforded me constant moments of joy, satisfaction, and pride in myself, and learning about another culture has opened up my world. The small department has made me feel at home and provided me a sense of community that I’ve struggled to find elsewhere. I am so grateful to be part of NELC, and I encourage everyone to take a course in the department!