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Mar 01, 2014 Alumni News

Explo Alumna Wins Prestigious Prize at Princeton

Explo student and faculty alumna (2007 and 2013, respectively) Isabel Kasdin was recognized with Princeton University’s Moses Taylor Pyne Honor Prize, which ...

Lauren Frazier

Explo student and faculty alumna (2007 and 2013, respectively) Isabel Kasdin was recognized with Princeton University’s Moses Taylor Pyne Honor Prize, which is “the highest general distinction conferred to an undergraduate student.” Kasdin, a senior at Princeton, is a scholastic phenomenon who has positively impacted her college community in myriad ways, as she does wherever she goes.

Kasdin was honored with the Pyne Prize in a celebratory luncheon during Princeton’s Alumni Day in late February. Established in 1921, the prize is given to students who “most clearly [manifest] excellent scholarship, strength of character, and effective leadership.” The candidates for the Pyne prize are anonymously nominated by a faculty member and the recipients are then chosen by a selection committee, which includes the University Vice President, the Dean of the College, and the Dean of Undergraduate Students.

The Pyne Honor prize is the highest general distinction conferred on an undergraduate.

Kasdin exemplifies qualities of excellence in all aspects of her life at Princeton. A history major focusing on American studies, Kasdin is respected and commended by her professors: one professor calls Kasdin "one of the best students [she has] worked with, not only at Princeton, but in a 30-plus year teaching career.” But the prize itself was not a motivator for Kasdin: she's fueled by a passion to do what she loves.

It certainly wasn't something I was shooting for during my time at Princeton; I always just tried to do what I love and pursue opportunities or ideas that I had.

Kasdin excels outside the classroom and is a devoted leader on campus with wide-ranging talents and interests. She is the president of the Princeton Players, co-president of the University Chapel Choir, an Outdoor Action leader, and an Orange Key (Admissions) tour guide. Additionally, Kasdin advises peers on issues of studying abroad and selecting majors.

Passionate about the arts as well as the humanities, Kasdin is an extra special honoree for some professors at Princeton. One comments, “it’s wonderful that the prestigious Pyne Prize has honored a student whose excellent scholarship, strong character, and accomplished leadership have been demonstrated in the arts.”

[Izzy is] a very synthetic thinker; she thinks across periods and disciplines with grace and elegance.

Kasdin has tremendous ambition and momentum. Up next? As a recipient of a Gates Cambridge Scholarship, Kasdin will pursue her master’s degree in archaeology at the University of Cambridge. Her goal is to work as a museum curator in a “cultural heritage role.”

Kasdin is very appreciative of her time at Princeton and shares that the school “has provided [her] with unbelievable support to pursue crazy dreams.” Among these dreams fulfilled? “Singing in Vienna on Mozart’s birthday,” taking “a production to an international theater festival,” and taking part “a Q+A with Stephen Sondheim.”

Princeton has provided me with unbelievable support to pursue crazy dreams.

Kasdin's Explo experience "dates back to the early 80s, when [her] dad's college roommate was an Explo instructor." Kasdin always enjoyed spending time with this particular family friend, and she set her sights on attending Explo when she was in high school. Explo turned out to be a great fit for Kasdin, both a student and as a staff member.

Explo was one of the most thrilling intellectual communities I've ever had the privilege of being a part of. I still remember the courses I took. Children's Literature stands out. I remember staying up in my common room writing in the styles were were learning about and loving every minute of it.

Explo was a place where a person like me, who loves learning for the sake of learning, could really thrive. I also didn't feel pressured to be acting the role of the smart kid all the time. I so loved the space it provided to just be silly with my friends.

Last summer, Kasdin (who goes by “Izzy” in most settings) worked at Explo at Yale as an instructor and residential advisor. She taught personal essay writing, a CPR certification course, a workshop in crew, and oversaw countless activities at the Program. She was a truly valuable, multi-talented, tireless member of the Explo faculty, just as she was as a part of our student community.

As a staff member, it was so inspiring to be surrounded by people who were unbelievably passionate about their fields of study and always eager to talk or listen to other people do the same.

The grace with which Izzy is able to run on all cylinders, breaking only to sing opera or discuss gender studies, is just one of the things that made her a natural at Explo and so successful in other pursuits. An exceptional person who embraces curiosity in the best possible ways, Isabel Kasdin is definitely one to watch. We couldn’t be prouder to call her an alum!

Lauren Frazier

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