James F. Jakobsen Award Winner Spotlights, 2011

Congratulations to the 2011 Conference Winners!

At the 13th Annual James F. Jakobsen Conference, the following University of Iowa Graduate and Professional Students won awards for their graduate work. Please browse their profiles and get to know winners a little better.

Ezra L. Plank

Ezra L. Plank
Hometown: 
Malibu
Home State: 
California
Home Country: 
United States
What are some of your interests outside of school?: 
In Iowa, I love disc golfing in the fall and ice fishing in the winter; when home back in California, I like mountain climbing in the Sierras or combing tidepools along the beach. Anytime, I love adventuring abroad outside the US (meeting new people, discovering various perspectives on life), finding hole-in-the-wall restaurants, listening to live music in coffeeshops, getting into theological debates, harvesting honey from beehives, and eating sushi.
Who is your most significant mentor?: 
Two individuals have been very important mentors to me in my graduate work at Iowa. The first is Michelene Pesantubbee, a scholar who marvelously modeled how to use both historical data and theory. Her commitment to challenging dominant historical narratives - by allowing the perspectives of the marginalized to be heard - brought life and elasticity to the study of history. The second is my current advisor, Raymond Mentzer, whose passion for social history in the early modern era opened doors for my own dissertation topic. His balance of rigorous scholarship and exceptional teaching have been an inspiration to me.
What is your favorite Iowa City/Coralville Restaurant?: 
Devotay
Are there any challenges you have faced as a graduate student at Iowa?: 
Perhaps the greatest challenge has simply been the balancing of life. Graduate school is far more than simply classes and a dissertation: there are conference papers to be written and presented, articles to be published, student colleagues to be mentored, fellowships to be applied for, job searches to be conducted, and so forth – and this is only academic-related activities! To remain healthy and balanced, I have had to work hard to make time for family, friends, religious community, exercise, and hobbies.
Previous Degrees Earned
Previous Degree [1]: 
B. A.
Degree [1] Area of Study: 
Religious Studies
Degree [1] Institution Name: 
Pepperdine University
Previous Degree [2]: 
M. A.
Degree [2] Area of Study: 
Religious History [emphasis on African American history and American history]
Degree [2] Institution Name: 
Pepperdine University
Department: 
Religious Studies
What degree are you currently seeking?: 
Ph. D.
Area of Specialty: 
Religious History [early modern European history, Protestant Reformations, French Reformed (Huguenot) Churches, religion and material culture, confessionalization, religious and social construction of families, theories of sacred space, domestic space and gender, familial piety]
Brief thesis project description: 
My diss. is currently titled “Creating Perfect Families: The French Reformed Church and Family Formation (1559-1685)” and focuses on these churches’ religious and social initiative to mold families into an ideal unit. It primarily relies on church discipline records to decipher the leaders’ attempts, the congregants’ responses, and the outcome.
Who is your Thesis Advisor?: 
Raymond A. Mentzer
Why did you decide to go to graduate school?: 
I originally pursued a Masters for the intellectual stimulation, and in the course of which I had opportunities to teach classes. These moments helped me to recognize my deep passion for the dynamic give-and-take of teaching, an experience in which I am communicating ideas, learning from students, and reflecting on past people and events. A Ph.D. in the academic discipline of Religious Studies excited me because it probes into some of the most central aspects of what people believe it means to be human and existentially aware – great material for researching and teaching!
Why did you choose The University of Iowa for your graduate studies?: 
The University of Iowa established the first Department of Religious Studies at an American public university, and it has remained a leader in the field. In line with Iowa’s rich history, my advisor is one of the leading experts in the social history of the French Reformation. Additionally, Iowa has a diverse faculty which has allowed me to take classes on numerous religious traditions and topics, and to TA in many courses (e.g., The Judeo-Christian Tradition, Native American Religious Traditions, Introduction to Islam). Finally, Iowa City is a wonderful city with great cultural events, four seasons, and public transit.
What are your long term goals beyond your graduate degree at Iowa?: 
I will be looking for a faculty position at a college or university. Having studied at a small liberal arts school and a large R1 institution, I have come to appreciate and thrive in both settings. My passion for teaching and research drives me to find a place where I can do both – and where both are appreciated. After turning my dissertation into a book, I hope to continue researching in the area of the history of family religiosity, domestic space, and the material culture of religious practice.
How has your experience at Iowa allowed you to achieve your goals?: 
Iowa allows one to cultivate the rigorous discipline of producing fresh, innovative, and important research for several reasons: first, it has attracted excellent scholars/professors, and second, departments collaborate well together (allowing a student like myself to draw from faculty from the Department of Religious Studies, Department of History, and French Department for my dissertation committee). I have access to an immense first-rate library, and the assistance of supportive and knowledgeable library liasons (such as Rachel Garza Carreón). Furthermore, the university has many avenues for financial resources, making funding for trips to archives or conference presentations a reality.
Significant Honors and Achievements
Significant Honors [1]: 
1.) Marcus Bach Dissertation Fellowship and the Rex E. Montgomery Dissertation Fellowship (College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, The University of Iowa, 2011/2012)
Significant Honors [2]: 
2.) T. Anne Cleary International Dissertation Research Fellowship (Graduate College, The University of Iowa, 2010)
Significant Honors [3]: 
3.) Outstanding Teaching Assistant Award (Council on Teaching, The University of Iowa, 2010)
Significant Honors [4]: 
4.) Graduate Research Paper Award (Upper Midwest American Academy of Religion, 2009 and 2010)
Significant Honors [5]: 
5.) Louis P. Penningroth Scholarship Award for Teaching and Mentoring Excellence (Department of Religious Studies, The University of Iowa, 2008)
What year did you win an award at the Jakobsen Conference?: 
2011
What do you enjoy most about the Conference?: 
The Jakobsen is such a well-orchestrated, professional, and heuristic event. I love that our university has a conference which is specifically focused on helping graduate students get experience in presenting research – and the feedback mechanism whereby students can receive comments about their presentation is fantastic! I was so proud to be surrounded by a talented group of graduate students which were engaged in such diverse and interesting topics. Bravo!
Additional Information: 
Thank you to all who helped organize and make this conference a reality - what a huge feat! It serves a very valuable service to our academic community, and I hope that it continues! The only critical feedback I have is that the individual which was coordinating volunteers to judge undergraduate papers did not confirm with the volunteers that they would be serving and when they would be serving until the day before. Even though I had volunteered to help several months prior, when I got the email the day before my schedule had been filled.

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