Distinguished Graduate Student Award Winners, 2012-2013

Each year, the Association of Former Students at Texas A&M University chooses up to 15 graduate students to receive Distinguished Graduate Student Awards in one of three categories: Excellence in Research-Doctoral, Excellence in Research-Master’s, and Excellence in Teaching. Student nominations arrive from faculty advisors or departments, and nomination represents a true honor and accomplishment in itself, due to the strenuous eligibility requirements. A panel of reviewers including faculty and administrators chooses award recipients.

Standing, left to right:  Yongchul Shin, David Toledo, Melissa Magyar, Bradley Goodine, Edward Tarlton, David Wright
Sitting, left to right: Deborah Lowe, Anshu Narang-Siddarth, Leslie Frenzel, Dianne Stroman, Leandra Hernandez, Jinhee Park

AFS Distinguished Graduate Student Awards

Excellence in Research- Master’s

Deborah Lowe

Deborah Lowe was honored for her efforts in clinical psychology. Deborah received her Master’s degree from the Department of Psychology in 2012 and began work on her PhD this year under the leadership of Dr. Steve Balsis. Dr. Balsis describes Deborah as meeting and exceeding the highest standards in their training program. He states that “she excels in all professional domains and represents the rare individual whose talents transcend all professional tasks.”  Deborah’s research interest covers the area of dementia assessment.  She focuses on tightening assessment of cognitive declines in the earliest stages of Alzheimer’s disease, a crucial element for early detection, disease management and hopefully future prevention.  Since arriving at Texas A&M, Deborah has published four works in peer-reviewed journals, including two as first author.  She wrote two others for submission this spring, bringing her total to 10 works.  She also presented twenty-two posters at national and local research conferences.  One professor described Deborah as, “among the most gifted, productive and conscientious doctoral students I have had the pleasure of knowing in my 35 years as faculty member”.

Excellence in Research-Doctoral

Anshu Narang-Siddarth 

Anshu Narang-Siddarth is a Postdoctoral Research Associate in the Department of Aerospace Engineering at Texas A&M University working with Dr. John Valasek. Her research focuses on nonlinear control for non-affine systems; control of multiple time scale systems and nonlinear flight dynamics. Anshu authored the upcoming book “Nonlinear Control of Multiple Time Scale Systems: With Engineering and Science Applications” being published by the Society of Industrial and Applied Mathematics. She is currently an Associate Member of the AIAA Guidance, Navigation and Control Technical Committee and was identified as the excellent reviewer of the Journal of Guidance, Control and Dynamics for the year 2011-2012. As one professor noted, “she [Anshu] demonstrates a willingness to step forward and assume leadership roles and for all these reasons colleagues within Texas A&M University, nationally and internationally enjoy collaborating with her”.

Jinhee Park 

Jinhee Park is currently pursuing a PhD in Chemistry working under Dr. Hong-Cai Zhou.  Dr. Zhou singles out Jinhee as the most creative student he has worked with in his entire career. Jinhee started her research independently in optically switchable metal-organic polyhedral (MOPs), metal-organic frameworks (MOFs), and porous polymer networks for carbon capture and drug delivery.  She has published five papers - including four as first author and one as second author – in high impact journals.  Jinhee’s research focuses on rational design and synthesis of porous metal-organic materials and their associated clean energy-related applications. Jinhee has shown unprecedented originality in her research, and received the prestigious 2013 American Chemical Society Young Investigator Award, one of only eight nationally.  One professor classifies Jinhee as “not only a brilliant researcher but also a talented teacher representing the best of the graduate program at Texas A&M.”

Sandani Samarajeewa

Sandani Samarajeewa completed her Ph. D. in Prof. Karen Wooley’s research group in the Department of Chemistry at Texas A&M University in December 2012, and currently works as a R&D process engineer at Intel Corporation in Hillsboro, OR.  Sandani’s research focused on the development of enzyme-responsive degradable nanoparticles for gene imaging and regulation in lung injury and applications in chemotherapy. Sandani has published 9 peer-reviewed publications, 3 as first author, and has presented her research at over 15 conferences including international, national and invited research seminars.  She is the recipient of the 2012 Richard W. Schmude Graduate Scholarship in Chemistry at Texas A&M University.  Recently, Sandani’s research was highlighted in a spotlight article on the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute--Program of Excellence in Nanotechnology Spring Newsletter.  A professor said of her, “There is no question that Sandani is an extremely gifted individual that is on the threshold of a great scientific career”.

Yongchul Shin

Yongchul Shin received his Ph.D. in Biological and Agricultural Engineering in December 2012 working under the guidance of Professor Binayak Mohanty. Yongchul’s research focuses on land-atmosphere interaction and provides critical insights to drought and flood prediction as well as to the sustainability of water and agricultural productivity. Based on his research, he has written six journal manuscripts as primary author and two as a collaborative author in premier water resource journals.  He was previously recognized with the Bill & Rita Stout International Graduate Student Award in recognition of his overall research excellence and international spirit. Yongchul has been described as the “kind of model graduate student every professor wishes for”.

David Toledo 

David Toledo is slated to complete his Ph.D. May 2013 in the Department of Ecosystem Science and Management under the supervision of Dr. Urs P. Kreuter. Also a trainee in the NSF-IGERT Applied Biodiversity Science Program at Texas A&M, David’s research focuses on identifying socio-economic and ecological factors affecting landowner use of different land management practices to restore degraded ecosystems in both Texas and Mexico. David has received several awards for his doctoral research including the Judges Choice Award for the NSF-IGERT poster and video competition and the Texas Section of The Society for Ecological Restoration award for best graduate student research presentation. David is now a Research Rangeland Management Specialist at the USDA-ARS Northern Great Plains Research Laboratory in Mandan, North Dakota where he is responsible for improving ecological indicators of rangeland and pastureland health.  A professor described David as “the very best one can hope for in a doctoral student; he is an engaging and dedicated colleague, works extremely well with his peers, and is always willing to be of service when needed”.

Brent Volk 

Brent Volk received his Ph.D. in Materials Science and Engineering in December 2012 under co-advisors Drs. Duncan Maitland (Biomedical Engineering) and Dimitris Lagoudas (Aerospace Engineering).  The focus of his dissertation, titled “Three-Dimensional Modeling of Shape Memory Polymers Considering Finite Deformations and Heat Transfer,” was to experimentally characterize and computationally predict the response of shape memory polymers (SMPs) for use in biomedical applications. Brent’s research efforts have resulted in five published peer-reviewed journal articles, five conference proceedings papers, and 17 presentations at professional society meetings or topical conferences.  A professor stated, “Brent possesses a unique expertise and record of accomplishment with which he can become one of the leading materials scientists engaging in challenging problems”. A recipient of a National Research Council Postdoctoral Research Associateship (NRC RAP), Brent is currently pursuing research with Dr. Jeffery Baur at the Air Force Research Laboratory at Wright Patterson AFB, OH.

Jiamei Yu 

Jiamei Yu was honored for her work in Materials Science and Engineering.  Working under Dr. Perla Balbuena, Jiamei is currently pursuing a PhD focusing on the computational evaluation of advanced materials such as metal–organic frameworks (MOFs) for energy and environment related applications, including CO2 separation and hydrogen storage. She has accumulated eleven peer-reviewed publications in high impact journals, including three as first author, and also co-authored a book chapter. Materials Science and Engineering Program Coordinator Jan Gerston notes that “Jiamei gained respect for her resourcefulness and self-reliance in unearthing, then analyzing fundamental and advanced principles to solve problems in her research.”  Computational metal-organic framework research represents a state-of-the-art technology holding promise for gas storage and energy-related applications.

Excellence in Teaching

Alison Bockoven 

Alison Bockoven is a Ph.D. candidate in the department of Entomology, studying the foraging behavior of red imported fire ants. The students of the introductory entomology course Alison TA’d for two semesters gave her outstanding evaluations.  One student wrote, “Alison is the best TA I’ve had thus far.  She is very enthusiastic about the material and insects! She is also very approachable whenever someone has any questions.  She doesn’t spoon feed us, which is great, and she doesn’t lead us up a creek without a paddle.  If anything, she’s too good.  Hopefully she won’t be overwhelmed in a space invasion.”  As an officer of the Entomology Graduate Student Organization, Alison is actively involved in her department’s outreach activities, helping to organize educational events for local schools and community groups as well as serving on various panels and committees, such as for the university’s New Graduate Student Orientation.

Leslie Frenzel 

Leslie Frenzel is working on a doctoral degree in the Department of Animal Science specializing in Meat Science and Food Safety under the direction of Drs. Jeff Savell and Kerri Harris.  Leslie has been teaching the meat science labs since the spring of 2011, and has received positive feedback from the students every semester.  She strives to convey her passion for the field and actively works to foster a personal relationship with each of her students.  One student said of Leslie, “she believes in the ability of each individual, and in turn students are very respectful of Leslie and her knowledge base, and hold her in high regard”. In the fall of 2012 Leslie began her tenure as the 2013 Fightin’ Texas Aggie Meat Judging Team Coach Leslie has received two additional awards that highlight her teaching accomplishments: The Zerle L. Carpenter Outstanding Student Awards in Meat Science and the Ronnie L. Edwards Graduate Student Teaching Award.

Bradley Goodine 

Bradley Goodine is a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Political Science. His research interests include contemporary political theory and ethics, constitutional law and interpretative theory, contemporary American political thought, and religion and politics. His dissertation “Religion as a Legal and Political Category in Liberal Democracies: On Religious Exemptions and First Freedoms” examines debates over how best to protect religious freedom, particularly arguments treating religious beliefs as a special class of ethical beliefs deserving special protections. Over the past three years, Bradley has taught multiple sections of both Constitutional Rights & Liberties and Modern Political Thought. One student said of Bradley, “Never before has a teacher sparked interest for a scholastic subject inside of me with as much gusto as he did”. He lives by the Horace Mann adage that one cannot fully teach without first inspiring. He is one of two coaches of A&M’s award winning moot court team, which competes in mock Supreme Court oral arguments.

Leandra H. Hernandez

Leandra H. Hernandez is a 3rd year Ph.D. student in the Department of Communication. She is the recipient of a Women’s & Gender Studies Graduate Certificate. Leandra’s strong passion for teaching is evident by her 2011-2012 Department of Communication Tiffany Hunnicutt Outstanding Graduate Teaching Award. She served as the Assistant Course Director for COMM 203: Public Speaking in Fall 2011 and has taught both small-lecture and large-lecture courses, including Public Speaking, Group Communication, Communication for Technical Professions, Interviewing Principles & Practices, and Interpersonal Communication. One student said of Leandra, “she always cared about every single student’s success, always went the extra mile to make her help available, and most importantly made the classroom fun instead of dreadful.” She is currently working on her dissertation, which is an exploration of second- and third-generation Hispanic/Latina pregnancy experiences, with a focus on how Hispanic/Latina women engage in shared decision-making about prenatal testing and amniocentesis with their healthcare providers and families, and the roles of culture, gender and power in shaping their experiences.

Melissa Magyar

Melissa Magyar is a PhD student in Clinical Psychology, where she has served as a lab instructor for Elementary Statistics for Psychology (two semesters) and lecturer for Personality (three semesters) and Abnormal Psychology (three semesters). One student commented, “Ms. Magyar is very passionate about her field and has inspired that passion within me, I feel incredibly blessed to have encountered an individual that is so dedicated to enriching the lives of others.” Melissa’s research interests focus on the examination of callous-unemotional traits and understanding risk factors leading to the development of high-risk behaviors in youth, with a special interest in the role of exposure to community violence and childhood maltreatment. In June, Melissa will begin her clinical internship at Westchester Jewish Community Services in New York, where she will provide trauma-focused interventions for juvenile victims and conduct community-based violence prevention work, amongst other training experiences. Melissa’s future career goals involve the integration of research, teaching and clinical work with underserved youth in an academic setting.

Dianne Stroman

Dianne Stroman is a PhD student in the Department of Ecosystem Science and Management. Dianne has served as a TA for her department’s senior capstone course for three years and recently earned the highest graduate teaching award conferred by her department in recognition of her efforts.  She has also served as instructor of record for the past two years teaching an on-line, writing intensive policy course. A student describes Dianne as “dedicated, diligent, sincere and incredibly supportive”. Dianne prides herself on devoting time outside of the classroom to help her students develop. As one professor commented, “Dianne goes well above and beyond the call of duty of a teacher. She is generous to a fault with her time to help students master the subject matter and complete their writing assignments. She is also a willing mentor to students who approach her for advice.”

Edward Lamont Tarlton

Edward Lamont Tarlton received his masters in Land Development, and is a proud member of the fighting Texas Aggie Class of 2008. Presently, Edward is a doctoral student in the College of Architecture’s Urban and Regional Science Program. His research focuses on place and opportunity, with an emphasis on quality of life issues concerning housing, education, health and economics, especially for low-income and disadvantaged populations. Edward teaches courses in landscape architecture and urban planning, where his classes frame the qualitative direction of current students in design, communication, theory and practice. His professional experience allows him to bridge the academic-professional practice gap, maximizing his ability to inspire students, inform scholars and significantly impact the communities he serves. One student states, “I truly believe that few individuals have impacted as many lives through their teaching and mentoring like Mr. Tarlton has in such a short time.” Edward is committed to students, academics and Texas A&M.

David Wright

David Wright was honored for his work in philosophy. In David’s first year in the philosophy department at Texas A&M, he served as a teaching assistant to two great instructors: Dr. Stephen Daniel and Dr. Roger Sansom. Both showed a dual commitment to high expectations for student performance and a willingness to be flexible and creative in their teaching methods. In all his courses he strives to model the excitement that comes with thinking about philosophical problems as well as an appreciation for the care and diligence that should accompany the study of philosophy given the perennial importance and difficulty of the questions philosophers study.  A student said of David, “he had a lasting effect on us by enriching our lives with his commitment to our learning.”