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English Major Awarded Prestigious Beinecke Scholarship

Author: Ben Horvath and Carrie Gates

Vienna Wagner Vienna Wagner

Junior Vienna Wagner, an English major in Notre Dame’s College of Arts and Letters, has won a 2014 Beinecke Scholarship.

Awarded to students who show “exceptional promise” to become leading scholars, the scholarship supports graduate study in the arts, humanities, and social sciences.

“The Beinecke Scholarship is the premier national fellowship for juniors in the liberal arts,” said Jeffrey Thibert, assistant director of national fellowships in Notre Dame’s Center for Undergraduate Scholarly Engagement (CUSE). “Vienna’s recognition as a Beinecke Scholar indicates that she is among the most outstanding arts, humanities, and social sciences juniors in the United States.”

While approximately 125 U.S. colleges and universities are invited to nominate one of their students for the award, only 20 recipients are chosen each year. Wagner is the fifth Notre Dame student to receive the prestigious award in the last seven years.

“I think Notre Dame students have been so successful,” Thibert said, “because of the strength of our undergraduate programs in the College of Arts and Letters. This, coupled with the increased awareness of the Beinecke Scholarship on campus, has allowed us to receive a very impressive slate of applicants for the Notre Dame nomination each year.”

A Special Opportunity

Re:Visions Spring 2014 Re:Visions Spring 2014

Wagner said she first learned she had won the scholarship during a fiction writing class when Professor Valerie Sayers, chair of the Department of English, announced it to the class.

“I was very excited,” Wagner said. “It hopefully will open up many opportunities to me that weren’t possible before.”

The scholarship will not only help support Wagner during her graduate studies, but also provides funding for her to visit graduate schools as she researches and selects a program. Wagner, whose English major includes a concentration in creative writing, plans to pursue an MFA in poetry or fiction writing and is looking into Ph.D. in literature programs. Following her graduate studies, she would like to teach creative writing and American literature at a liberal arts college.

Although she began her undergraduate career as a pre-med student, Wagner said she felt drawn to writing and literature, and changed majors after her freshman year.

“I have enjoyed creative writing since high school,” Wagner said. “I can’t imagine not writing fiction and poetry.”

Outside of the classroom, Wagner has sought many opportunities to further develop her writing skills. She serves as a writer and editor for Re:Visions, a student magazine published by the creative writing program.

The summer following her freshman year, Wagner interned at the non-profit Indiana Writers Center where she gained experience in editing, publishing, and teaching elementary and middle school students.

“It was fantastic,” she said. “I really saw a measurable improvement in my students’ work, and I enjoyed learning about my students’ experiences and sharing my love of poetry and fiction writing with them.”

A Mentor in Faith

Her faith, Wagner said, is an integral part of her Notre Dame education. On campus, she volunteers with Iron Sharpens Iron, a student-led Christian fellowship program, and serves as a mentor-in-faith for Notre Dame Vision, a program within the University’s Institute for Church Life, which encourages students to consider and respond to God’s call.

Wagner will work with other Notre Dame Vision mentors on campus this summer, leading groups of high school students during a series of week-long conferences exploring the role of God in their lives.

With funding from the Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program (UROP), Wagner has also completed two independent research projects while at Notre Dame. For the first, she visited local monasteries and investigated prominent figures in Catholic history in order to write a collection of poems about Catholic saints.

For her second project, Wagner worked with Assistant Professor Matthew Wilkens and a team of graduate students using new techniques to perform computational literary analysis.

“Working with Professor Wilkens gave me insight into the varieties of new research that people in literary studies can do with technology and digitalized texts,” she said. “Because I primarily researched the lives of 18th- and 19th-century authors, I gained a sense of how historical studies and cultural studies can be applied to literature.”

Wagner plans to conduct two separate thesis projects during her senior year—one researching American author Flannery O’Connor, and a second creative project for which she will write a collection of poems focused on faith in the face of violence and poverty.

“My professors, particularly my UROP advisers Orlando Menes and Matthew Wilkens, have been incredibly supportive. Because I have taken a wide range of English courses, I feel prepared to tackle such large projects.”

Notre Dame’s Center for Undergraduate Scholarly Engagement (CUSE) provides students across the university with opportunities for research, scholarship, and creative projects. The center assists them in finding faculty mentors, funding, and venues for the publication or presentation of their work. It also promotes applications to national fellowship programs and prepares students in their application process. For more information, please visit