Tekla Iashagashvili has had many rewarding memories at Franklin & Marshall College. But three days in early April may top them all.
It began on a Tuesday, when she met with Margaret Hazlett, dean of students, who told her she had earned the Williamson Medal, the College's most prestigious award for student achievement. Iashagashvili received the medal at F&M's May 13 Commencement, recognizing her contributions as a scholar and a student leader.
"I was stunned when Dean Hazlett told me," Iashagashvili said. "I will never forget that moment. It's very humbling to think that on a campus with so many excellent students, by a vote of the faculty, I was the one student selected."
But her excitement didn't end there. "On Wednesday, I got an email saying that I was accepted into the master's degree program in sociology at the University of Cambridge in England," she recalled. "And on Thursday, I found out I had been named a member of Phi Beta Kappa. It was such an exciting week!"
Iashagashvili, from the Georgian capital of Tbilisi, graduated summa cum laude with a double major in business, organizations and society and in sociology. Her academic research has focused on how the museums’ ability to create sociocultural and political narratives through public texts and layouts. She began that research in summer 2016, using a Marshall Fellowship to travel to the Louvre in Paris and the Uffizi in Florence. She recently presented her senior thesis, “The Louvre Narratives: Production of Identity at Public Art Museums,” and plans to continue her research during her year at Cambridge.
"I find it interesting that museums have not been studied more extensively as institutions that actively shape the social landscape," she said. "They are often viewed as these temples of knowledge that convey information, devoid of a political agenda. In reality, these institutions have historically played an important role in endorsing political and cultural ideologies. Studying how the Louvre talks about the artifacts and cultures displayed within its walls is one way to trace these ideologies; perhaps more importantly, it also raises questions about the role of museums as social actors."
Jerome Hodos, associate professor of sociology, served as Iashagashvili's thesis adviser. "Tekla is almost certainly the most intelligent, capable and accomplished student I have ever taught," he said. "She is not just curious, but intellectually ambitious, and she has the abilities to back up her ambitions. I have seen her develop tremendously during her time on campus."
Iashagashvili was president of Black Pyramid Senior Honor Society and a statistics and accounting tutor at the Quantitative and Science Center this academic year. She has served as associate chair of Club Council for the past two years and a three-year member of the Common Hour Committee. She was a session organizer for last fall's Day of Dialogue and her time on the International Student Advisory Board included service as an International Center student mentor.
As a four-year student assistant in the Office of Admission, Iashagashvili says her work is very rewarding. "International students really don't get to visit and tour American campuses," she noted. "I came to F&M because someone made a personal connection with me at a college fair; she really helped me see how I could succeed here. I started interviewing international students by Skype in my second semester; it's a huge responsibility, but so gratifying. I love meeting students on campus who I interviewed. In fact, a couple of students I worked with this year doing those Skype interviews in Admission were interviewees of mine."
Ann Steiner, Shirley Watkins Steinman Professor of Classics and Don at Bonchek College House, recalled an essay written by Iashagashvili in 2014. "Tekla outlined her plans and startled me with her final statement. She said she hope to take what she learned at F&M back to 'rebuild my country.' That kind of large idea and spirited worldview has emerged many times since—in her Marshall project, which became her senior thesis; in her participation in Bonchek events; and in her leadership of student organizations across campus."
Indeed, Iashagashvili looks forward to her return to Georgia someday.
"I really do want to take my knowledge and experiences back to Georgia and make a real difference there," she said. "I received this tremendous opportunity at F&M—one that surpassed all my expectations—because of the people there, especially my parents and teachers. I don't know when I will go back or exactly how I will make a difference. But sometime in the future, when I've I gained more experience, I'll know when the path makes itself clear."