College junior Misha McDaniel won a Beinecke Scholarship to fund her graduate studies in English literature.
McDaniel is the 13th Penn student to receive the award since its first iteration in 1975 and is one of 18 Beinecke Scholars chosen from applicants across the United States this year.
The Beinecke Scholarship Program encourages and funds students to pursue opportunities in a graduate course of study in the arts, humanities, and social sciences. Each scholar receives $4,000 upon completion of undergraduate studies and an additional $30,000 while attending graduate school.
McDaniel, who is from Atlanta, plans to use the scholarship to pursue an MFA and Ph.D. in English literary studies. At Penn, she will graduate with a major in English literature with a concentration in creative writing, a minor in Africana Studies, and a certificate in French from the College.
“I’m really interested in the way authors use time or memory to either re-tell or un-tell Black history,” McDaniel said.
Although her primary academic area of interest is contemporary African-American speculative literature, McDaniel said her definition of literature includes films and music, and she defines speculative literature to encompass science-fiction, fantasy, and genres that are not realistic.
McDaniel said she credits her critical interest in literature to her creative side, which became apparent in elementary school as she began writing short stories in composition notebooks and reading them out loud to her grandparents.
“When I got to Penn I had to stop reading and writing because Penn took over my life,” McDaniel said. However, she said the junior research seminar, which focused on race in science fiction, helped her realize that she had the experienced ability to write critically about topics she loves.
McDaniel, who received the award last month, said the timing of the award felt strange in light of the global pandemic around her.
"I received [the email] and then I kind of looked at it for a while, and I then took a picture of it, and I sent it to my group chat. And then I went to a Zoom class. It was pretty lowkey,” she said.
She began the application process in late September while she was studying abroad at King's College London with the Penn in London English Program. There, she was taking three English classes and one Penn Theatre Arts class.
Center for Undergraduate Research and Fellowships Senior Associate Director for Fellowships Dr. Wallace Genser advised McDaniel during the application process and helped grant her permission to apply for the scholarship.
“We’re just thrilled for Misha. She’s a tremendously deserving applicant,” Genser said.
On campus, McDaniel is involved with Penn's student theater company, Quadramics, and works as the Harrison College House office manager. She is a Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellow, a PennKIPP Scholar, a QuestBridge Scholar, a Robeson Cooper Scholar, and has received recognition on the Dean's list.
McDaniel is considering applying to New York University; the University of California, Berkeley; the University of California, Los Angeles; Yale University; Columbia University; Harvard University; and Stanford University to pursue her graduate studies.