Distinguished Graduate Student Award Winners, 2013-2014

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 strenuous eligibility requirements. A panel of reviewers including faculty and administrators chooses award recipients.

Photo of graduate students who received Distinguished Graduate Awards.
Standing, left to right: Dr. Karan Watson, Provost, Laiyin Zhu, Yuan Wang, Ryan Neighbors, Christopher Labosier, Patty Ann Bogue, Andy Lantz, Bradley Ewers, Dr. Christopher Woodman (on behalf of Meredith Luttrell), Dr. Gerard Cote (on behalf of Brian Cummins)
Sitting, left to right: Clare Barratt, Natasha Tidwell, Sarah Woller, Wendi Ballar, Andrea Terry, Tony Akl

Excellence in Research- Doctoral

Tony Akl | Biomedical Engineering | College of Engineering

Tony received a Masters of Engineering in Electrical and Computer Engineering from the Lebanese University in 2008, and defended his Ph.D. in Biomedical Engineering at Texas A&M University in October of 2013. During his time at Texas A&M, Tony maintained a 4.0 GPA while working as a graduate research assistant in the Optical BioSensing Laboratory. His work resulted in two patent applications and he received numerous national and international awards including the 2012 George W. Kunze Endowed Graduate Award for excellence in academics, research and service, the 2013 Outstanding Engineering Graduate Student and also two scholarships from the international Society for Optics and Photonics. Tony’s research focuses on developing optical imaging and sensing systems for disease detection and monitoring. His Ph.D. work at Texas A&M involved the design and testing of an implantable optical sensor for monitoring tissue grafts after organ transplant and detecting complications at an early stage. After graduating in May 2014, Tony aims to continue his research career in biomedical optics with a focus on wearable and implantable devices for health and fitness applications.


Brian Cummins | Biomedical Engineering | College of Engineering

Brian’s doctoral work in the Optical Biosensing Laboratory focused on developing a fluorescent, affinity-based glucose sensor to continuously track the glucose concentrations in interstitial fluid.   This work resulted in many publications and presentations . Also , a provisional patent on this technology is currently being converted into a full utility patent. Brian also received a summer grant from the Whitaker Foundation to join the labs of Professor Duncan Graham and Professor David Birch at the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow, United Kingdom as a visiting researcher.  There, he pursued additional transduction mechanisms for the affinity-based assay and worked with the functionalization of nanoparticles for various applications.  Cummins served as the Graduate Student Chair for the BioMedOpTex conference held at Texas A&M University, and he led the Optics Tour where a group of graduate students traveled to low-resource high schools in East Texas to perform optics demonstrations.  Cummins recently accepted a postdoctoral association position with Dr. Frances Ligler at North Carolina State University to develop a point-of-surgery clinical test for parathyroid hormone concentrations in blood in collaboration with surgeons at the University of North Carolina medical school.

Meredith Luttrell | Health and Kinesiology | College of Education and Human Development

Meredith Luttrell completed her PhD in Exercise Physiology at Texas A&M University under the direction of Dr. Chris Woodman. Working in the Vascular Biology Laboratory, Meredith’s research focused on identifying the physiological mechanisms accounting for age-related decline in vascular function. Additionally, her research focused on identifying the physiological signals and associated exercise training that mediate the negative effects of aging on vascular function. Her research aims to identify key mechanisms associated with exercise training that can be used therapeutically to improve quality of life and reduce the risk of developing cardiovascular diseases in older individuals.  During her time at Texas A&M University, Meredith received a Pre-Doctoral Fellowship from the American Heart Association, and has been an author or co-author on six peer-reviewed publications.  Currently, she works as a post-doctoral research associate at the University of Oregon in the Exercise and Environmental Physiology Lab, under the direction of Dr. John Halliwill. Here, her research focuses on determining the role of the histaminergic system in regulating skeletal muscle blood flow with aging.

Natasha Tidwell | Psychology | College of Liberal Arts

Natasha Tidwell is a Ph.D. student in the Department of Psychology, where she has worked under the direction of Drs. Paul Eastwick and Anita Kim. Natasha served as the primary instructor for several different courses including Introductory Psychology, Social Psychology, Attraction & Close Relationships, Psychology of Women and Human Sexuality. Natasha strives to create an engaging, discussion-based atmosphere in all of her courses regardless of class size, and her students often describe her as “so excited about the class topics that she excites all of her students.” One student noted, “It was easy to see that she cared about the subject and her students, and I knew that if I ever wanted to learn more about a topic that she would happily guide my exploration.” As further evidence of her dedication to teaching, Natasha earned the Graduate Teaching Academy Fellows Certificate and received the 2014 Murray and Celeste Fasken Graduate Student Teaching Award. After graduating in May 2014, Natasha will begin her career as an Assistant Professor at Fort Lewis College in Durango, CO.

Yuan Wang | Atmospheric Sciences | College of Geosciences

Yuan Wang received his PhD from the Department of Atmospheric Sciences in 2013. Over the optimal research platform in Prof. Renyi Zhang’s group, Yuan participated in several different projects aiming to advance scientific understanding about the physical processes involving the interactions between aerosols from anthropogenic pollution, global radiation budget and hydrological cycle. Yuan has published 12 peer-reviewed papers in top-tier journals. His 6 first-author papers appear in high-impact journals, including Nature Communications, Nature Climate Change, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA, etc. Yuan won the NASA Graduate Fellowship for three consecutive years since 2009, an AGU scientific refereeing award and the Chinese-American Oceanic and Atmospheric Association-Springer Excellent Doctorate Theses Award. Yuan Wang currently works at NASA in the Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

Sarah Woller | Neuroscience | College of Liberal Arts

Sarah completed her Ph.D. in neuroscience under the guidance of Dr. Michelle A. Hook at Texas A&M University in 2013. Her dissertation, titled “Characterization of morphine self-administration following spinal cord injury” examined how pain states affect morphine intake and the associated potential for abuse. Sarah’s graduate work resulted, thus far, in 8 peer-reviewed publications, 2 as first-author. She served as presenting author of 38 posters at local, national and international conferences, and received awards for these presentations. Since completing her dissertation, she continues researching the development of chronic pain . Sarah currently works as a Postdoctoral Fellow in the Department of Anesthesiology at the University of California, San Diego under the direction of Dr. Tony L. Yaksh and Dr. Maripat Corr.

Laiyin Zhu | Geography | College of Geosciences

Laiyin Zhu received his B.S. degree in Environmental Science in 2004 from Nanjing Forestry University, China. He earned his M.S. degree in Physical Geography from Beijing Normal University. In 2008, he moved to the U.S. and began his Ph.D in the Department of Geography at Texas A&M University. His doctoral dissertation covers the risk of long-term Tropical Cyclone (Hurricane) precipitation in Texas. He graduated from Texas A&M University in August 2013 and now works as a postdoctoral research fellow at Johns Hopkins University. Laiyin Zhu’s research interests include the risks of extreme weather events, hurricanes, climate change and application of agent-based models in disaster mitigation.

Excellence in Teaching

Clare Barratt | Psychology | College of Liberal Arts

Clare Barratt is working on a doctoral degree in the Department of Psychology specializing in Industrial/Organizational (I/O) Psychology. Over the past three years, Clare taught undergraduate psychology courses in I/O Psychology, Statistics and Introduction to Psychology . In April 2013, she was recognized by the College of Liberal Arts with the Murray & Celeste Fasken Distinguished Graduate Student Teaching Award. Former students remark of Clare, “It is rare for a professor to be so fun, engaging, and excited about the material,” and “Because of you, my mom is scared I’m going to major in psychology instead of something in healthcare/medicine!” Clare is currently working on her dissertation “Do Creative Employees Engage in More Citizenship and Deviant Workplace Behaviors?” examining the relationship between creativity and engagement in both positive and negative extra-role behaviors in the workplace. Her research interests include workplace deviance and withdrawal, occupational health in high-risk occupations and formal and informal relationships in the workplace (e.g., workplace romance, friendship, mentoring). This fall Clare will assume an Assistant Professor of Psychology position at Bowling Green State University in Ohio.

Wendi Bellar | Communication | College of Liberal Arts

Wendi Bellar is a second-year Ph.D. student in the Department of Communication with an emphasis in Media Studies. She taught COMM 203: Public Speaking as well as COMM 230: Communication Technology Skills. In Fall 2014 she will serve as the Assistant Course Director for COMM 203: Public Speaking. Wendi believes in providing an engaged learning environment, which includes implementing energy shifts such as media breaks, group activities, class discussions and reflection exercises. In addition to her teaching responsibilities, Wendi also serves as a research associate with the Network for New Media, Religion, and Digital Culture Studies. Her scholarly research focuses on varied issues related to religion and media, with current extensive work being done on Jewish, Christian and Muslim mobile applications.

Patty Ann Bogue | Communication | College of Liberal Arts

Patty Ann Bogue is a Ph.D candidate studying Organizational Rhetoric in the Department of Communication. She currently serves as the Assistant Course Director for COMM 203: Public Speaking. Her dissertation work seeks to evaluate The Big Event as a philanthropic leadership organization. Through narrative, she aims to uncover how university/community engagement is created and sustained through this traditional student service event. Patty Ann also commits to promotion and implementation of service-learning initiatives in Aggie classrooms. She spends considerable time with the University’s Service-Learning Faculty Fellows program as a Program Assistant. As one letter writer expressed, “I have been continually impressed with Patty Ann’s sincere passion for inspiring others to serve on our campus and in our local community. She is a walking definition of a selfless servant and her warm and welcoming attitude easily spills into the lives of those she touches.” As an education docent at the George Bush Presidential Library, Patty Ann seeks to link her love of politics, civic engagement, and early childhood education by promoting active and engaged citizenship to local school children.

Bradley Ewers | Chemistry | College of Science

Bradley Ewers came to Texas A&M University in 2009 as a member of the Batteas Research Group in the Department of Chemistry, where he is currently a Ph.D. candidate.  He earned his B.A. in Chemistry and Mathematics at Boston University in 2007, followed by a brief stint at DPT pharmaceuticals as an analytical chemist .His Ph.D. work developed techniques utilizing atomistic simulations to understand how nanoscopic curvature and film quality impacts the chemistry, mechanics and ability of surface coatings to mitigate friction and wear at sliding interfaces.  He also developed and implemented experiments in the Physical Chemistry Laboratory for undergraduates, utilizing Scanning Tunneling Microscopy to image surfaces at the atomic scale and to interrogate single molecules. These experiments were published in the Journal of Chemical Education.  His latest endeavors include the integration of the Leap Motion control device to the Atomic Force Microscope, allowing individuals with no experience working at the nanoscale to fabricate nanostructures on surfaces with just the motion of their hands.  He expects to graduate in 2014 and pursue a career in academia both teaching and conducting research.

Christopher Labosier | Geography | College of Geosciences

Chris is a doctoral candidate in the Department of Geography under the leadership of Dr. Steven Quiring. He served the Department as a graduate teaching assistant, head teaching assistant and lecturer for Planet Earth courses. Most recently, Chris co-taught a freshmen seminar in the College of Geosciences on how weather and climate influence sports and athletic performance. Chris also served in a number of positions in the Graduate Teaching Academy and actively participates in the Center for the Integration of Research, Teaching and Learning. Prior to Texas A&M, Chris taught geography courses at his alma-mater, Samford University, and worked as a graduate teaching assistant at the University of Alabama. Chris plans to graduate in August 2014 and he accepted a tenure-track faculty position in the Department of Biological and Environmental Sciences at Longwood University in Virginia. Chris wishes to express his sincere gratitude to the Department of Geography, College of Geoscience and Texas A&M University. “Texas A&M has provided me countless opportunities to not only teach, but to develop and improve my teaching skills. I credit many people at Texas A&M for my current and future success.”

Andy Lantz | Hispanic Studies | College of Liberal Arts

Andy Lantz is pursuing a PhD and Graduate Film Certificate in the Department of Hispanic Studies. Prior to Texas A&M, Mr. Lantz received his B.A. (Spanish, with minors in Secondary Education, Psychology, and Math) from Luther College in Decorah, Iowa. Teaching opportunities took him from northeastern Iowa back to his hometown of Neenah, Wisconsin, where he taught elementary and middle school Spanish next to QuerĂ©taro, Mexico  where he taught middle school math at the JFK American School and most recently to College Station, where he taught many sections of introductory Spanish and served as a Teaching Assistant with the Film Studies Program.  Mr. Lantz presented at several academic conferences and has forthcoming publications in the Journal of Latin American Cultural Studies and the online Routledge Encyclopedia of Modernism.  His dissertation research centers on issues of contemporary filmic representations of indigeneity in Bolivia.  Mr. Lantz recognizes education as an essentially communal endeavor.  In this regard, he is indebted to many exemplary teachers (above all his grandfather, parents and sisters), his fellow graduate students at A&M and his students, who never fail to challenge and entertain him.

Ryan Neighbors | English | College of Liberal Arts

Ryan Neighbors is a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of English and his academic interests include creative writing, Native Southern Literature and film studies. His creative-critical hybrid dissertation "Resisting Native Removal from Southern Literature" explores the intersections between Native American studies and the fields of Southern studies and narratology, focusing on novels describing Cherokee removal from their ancestral homelands in the southeast. Ryan's research publications include a handful of essays and an edited collection, and his creative work appeared in over fifteen journals. He also won several awards for his writing and teaching, including the English Department's Stanley Creswell Teaching Award and a fiction award from the Oklahoma Writer's Federation. While at Texas A&M, Ryan taught a variety of courses, such as Composition and Rhetoric, Introduction to Literature, Elements of Creative Writing, Technical Writing and Young Adult Literature. One student said of him, "he was very passionate about the subject and truly cared if we learned." During the past year, Ryan also served as the fellow for BookUp Texas, where he co-leads a book club with the Boys & Girls Club of Brazos Valley to help foster a love of reading among area middle-school-age students.

Andrea Terry | Communications | College of Liberal Arts

Andrea Terry is a second year PhD student in the Department of Communication. Andrea’s research in Public Address combines her dual interest in political and religious rhetoric. She earned her Master’s degree in Communication from CSU Sacramento and her Bachelor’s degree in communication from Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo. Andrea felt passionate about teaching since she first set foot in Dr. Mark Stoner’s instructional communication classroom during her Master’s program. She taught a wide array of classes, including public speaking, policy debate practicum, argumentation and debate, business and professional speaking, and group communication. At Texas A&M she continued her interest in debate and critical thinking by developing “Difficult Dialogue” sessions where undergraduates meaningfully encounter controversial topics through informal debate. She firmly believes in John Dana Cotton’s philosophy that “Who dares to teach must never cease to learn.”