2024 Howard B. Woolston Award Recipient Announced

Submitted by Therese A. Mcshane on
Brieana Smith receives the Howard B. Woolston Award from Professor Katherine Stovel, graduation 2024.

Each year, the Howard B. Woolston Award for Academic Excellence is given to a graduating senior in the Department of Sociology. Howard B. Woolston was an active member of the Department of Sociology at the University of Washington from 1919 until 1948, serving as chair between 1919 and 1929. The Woolston Award was established in 1956 and is the first – and thereby oldest –endowed fund in the department.

Nominees usually have at least a 3.70 grade point average in sociology, and a GPA of at least 3.50 overall. Students are nominated for the award by faculty, instructors and teaching assistants in the department.

This year the awards committee has selected Brieana Smith as the winner of the Howard B. Woolston Award.

Brieana’s journey to this award, and to her graduation from UW is an impressive one. Briana has an impeccable academic record, she has a GPA of 3.95, has been on the Dean’s list every quarter, and she is graduating with Majors in Sociology, and Anthropology.

But Brieana’s path is also somewhat unusual. She returned to college after a two-decade hiatus, eager to understand the causes and effects of political Christianity. But it was not just her interest in religion and politics drove her desire to return to school.

“I have always loved to learn and to read and I spent my time away from school teaching myself Latin and logic and reading up on (at the time obscure) topics like Hamas and Christian Nationalism,” says Smith. “I spent my entire adult life longing to go back to school, and for a long time I thought I might be too late. I no longer think this. My delay gave me the life experience, focus, and drive to excel in academia in ways that would have been impossible for my twenty-year-old self.”

Beyond the classroom, Brieana threw herself into research opportunities at UW, working on projects ranging from building a database of historical population centers in Palestine to interviewing Evangelical pastors about their role in forming congregational values. She also wrote a fascinating honors thesis about the emergence of a new group of “exvangelicals” who have broken off from highly politicized Evangelican churches.

In the words of one of her advisors, “Brieana has a refreshing sense of curiosity and a wide range of scholarly interests.... She possesses the skills needed to engage in discovery and research, and I have been especially impressed by her willingness to read studies adjacent to her topic in order to better understand her own research project. Brieana represents, in my opinion, the kind of student scholar that the Woolston award was intended to honor.”

Congratulations Brieana Smith!