Dakota McCoy ’13 wears many hats at Yale. She is a varsity athlete, a freshman counselor, a published researcher and a section leader for Whim ‘n Rhythm, and it might seem she does not have room for another feather in her cap.
But the Branford resident, originally from Wexford, Pa., is the recipient of this year’s Francis Gordon Brown Prize, which is one of the University’s highest honors and is awarded to a senior at the start of each academic year.
Branford Dean Hilary Fink, who nominated McCoy last semester, announced the award in an email to Branford students last Tuesday evening. Fink described the award as given to “the member of the Class of 2013 who most closely approaches the standards of intellectual ability, high personhood, capacity for leadership and service to the University set by Francis Gordon Brown, a distinguished alumnus in the Class of 1901.”
McCoy, who goes by Cody, said she was humbled to have won.
“I feel really honored, and I definitely recognize that I wouldn’t have won this without the support of a lot of people,” she said.
The prize is just one of McCoy’s many achievements at Yale. An ecology & evolutionary biology major with a 3.94 GPA, she won the Goldwater Scholarship for independent research as a sophomore. She has written papers on paleontology, climate change and animal cognition, and traveled to Puerto Rico in 2011 for animal cognition research about monkeys. Additionally, she serves as president of the Yale Ecology & Evolutionary Biology Undergraduate Organization.
Her academic advisor, Leo Buss, called her an “intensely curious … once in a decade student.” He pointed to her “amazingly eclectic” selection of courses, ranging from hieroglyphics to biology, and noted that she never takes easy classes. He added that she has sought out and formed relationships with some of Yale’s most challenging professors.
McCoy’s relationship with Buss began in her freshman fall when she took his seminar “Collections at the Peabody Museum.” Buss described the caliber of work she did in that class as the foundation for published research, work on a level he had seen only “once before in 10 years” of offering the seminar.
While McCoy takes her work seriously, she said she has received joking criticism from friends and family members.
“My dad always jokes that I’m spending my Yale career playing with animals,” McCoy said.
McCoy’s intellectual and academic career began long before she arrived at Yale. In the sixth grade, she tested into and excelled at AP Calculus. Her father, a physicist, “treated [math] as a really fun activity,” she explained. McCoy’s two older sisters also served as teachers.
“I would do their homework with them and read their books for fun,” she said.
Before arriving at Yale, McCoy studied such topics as discrete mathematics and non-Euclidean geometry at colleges and universities near her hometown.
Yale Track & Field coach David Shoehalter began recruiting McCoy to Yale in the summer before her senior year. Shoehalter said she showed great athletic potential but stood out as “one of the best academic kids that we’ve ever recruited.”
Surprisingly, because of her exceptional academic record, McCoy’s recruitment was not entirely seamless.
“She was deemed by the NCAA to be ineligible because she didn’t have a high school math class on her transcript,” Shoehalter said.
The confusion was righted, and she went on to win varsity letters in her freshman and sophomore years and was the only non-senior selected to the Academic All-Ivy team in spring 2011.
Shoehalter said that while academics and extracurriculars often overshadow her athletic achievements, she has “improved steadily” as a hurdler and is committed to the team. He added that he spoke with Fink and supported McCoy during the selection process, though he did not nominate her himself.
Outside her academic and athletic life at Yale, McCoy has been an active leader and participant in extracurricular activities. In addition to being a FOOT leader and a Junior Class Council representative, she currently serves as one of the Branford freshman counselors and sings for Whim ‘n Rhythm.
“She’s got so many interests, it’s hard for her to focus on one thing,” Shoehalter said, calling her a “superstar.”
McCoy’s friends and suitemates echoed Shoehalter’s statement. Sunny Jones ’13, who lives with McCoy this year, called her “a ball of energy.” Jones added that because McCoy has “touched every sphere of Yale,” she is a great freshman counselor.
Freshman and sophomore- year roommate Miriam Lauter ’13 called McCoy the “nicest, warmest, kindest person ever.” Lauter exposed one flaw of McCoy’s, however: Her room tends to be messy.
In winning the Gordon Brown Prize, McCoy joins well known company, including George H. W. Bush ’48 and, most recently, Patrick Witt ’12.
McCoy said she found it funny to win an award originally given for manhood.
“It’s odd, considering I’m a woman,” she said.
The prize, which has existed since 1913, was first awarded to a female, Mindy Rosenbaum ’85, in 1984.