Thea J. Autry Named Founder’s Medalist for Graduate School
Thea J. Autry, Ph.D.’20 (English) was named the 2020 Founder’s Medalist for the Graduate School. The Founder’s Medal is a 143-year-old tradition that recognizes the top graduating student from each of Vanderbilt’s 10 schools and colleges.
Autry’s research and teaching focus on U.S. literature and visual arts of the nineteenth, twentieth, and twenty-first centuries, with emphasis on theories of visuality, race, gender, sexuality, and cultural geography. She has earned numerous grants and scholarships, including a student-directed seminar grant from the Robert Penn Warren Center for the Humanities. She also designed and taught four highly popular undergraduate courses, volunteered with the Tennessee Prison Books Project, and led college application workshops for students at Nashville’s Martin Luther King, Jr. Academic Magnet School.
Autry says she “shudders to think” that she almost abandoned her Ph.D. studies only a few weeks after arriving at Vanderbilt—but a wise relative encouraged her, “You just got there. Give it a chance.” Within two years, Autry had published her first academic article, and she went on to win a prestigious Yarbrough Dissertation Fellowship and residency at Kenyon College.
One of her most meaningful experiences was her month-long stay in Copenhagen for Harvard’s 2017 Institute for World Literature. “The opportunities to both engage with scholars from around the globe and immerse myself in the incredible local community were life-changing,” she says.