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Diak

The Southern Illinois University Edwardsville Graduate School has honored George Diak with its 2021 Outstanding Thesis Award.

A Granite City native, Diak earned a master’s in history in December 2020. Having developed great interest in both history and German in high school, Diak was able to explore both at length while pursuing an advanced degree in the College of Arts and Sciences.

His thesis entitled, “Gorleben Soll Leben! German Anti-Nuclear Power and Waste Protest through Images and Artworks in the Wendland 1977-Present,” focused on the town of Gorleben and its fight with the German government to prevent nuclear waste being stored in its community.

His thesis advisor, Jennifer Miller, PhD, professor in the Department of History, acknowledged Diak’s extreme resourcefulness as he “faced the daunting task of researching and writing during the COVID-19 lockdown.”

In describing his thesis, Miller noted, “George has crafted an assiduously researched, readable narrative with captivating sources on a salient topic — nuclear waste and the communities meant to live with it.”

“After expanding their nuclear program in the 1970s, in 1977 the West German government selected a sleepy village on the border with East Germany as the location to store the country’s radioactive waste,” she explained. “A town with no political power or former connections to political activism or protest movements unexpectedly became a 40-year battle ground that successfully fought the state. On Sept. 28, 2020, while Diak was finishing his thesis, the German government officially abandoned Gorleben as a potential storage site for nuclear waste. George’s thesis has larger, global significance as well. His research comes at a time when governments are still debating what to do with nuclear energy and its lasting impacts, especially on the heels of the 2011 Fukushima nuclear plant disaster.”

“I was absolutely stunned that I was chosen for this award,” Diak remarked. “I worked incredibly hard on my thesis, and the year and a half I spent obtaining my master’s degree was quite possibly one of the hardest times of my life, especially doing so during the pandemic. I would particularly like to thank my thesis chair, Dr. Miller, for pushing me and believing in me throughout the whole process. Without all of her support and guidance, there is no way I could have obtained this award, let along finish my thesis.”

Diak aspires to pursue a doctoral degree and become a faculty member. He will be recognized for his award at the fall 2021 Graduate School Awards Reception, and will receive a $500 cash prize.