Fall 2014 Dissertation Fellowship Award Recipients

Texas A&M University’s Office of Graduate and Professional Studies recently awarded 10 dissertation fellowships as part of their Dissertation Fellowship Program. Developed in fall 2011 by the Associate Provost for Graduate and Professional Studies Dr. Karen Butler-Purry, the Dissertation Fellowship supports doctoral students in the late stages of degree program completion; namely final research topics analysis and dissertation writing. Eligible applicants included U.S. citizens, permanent residents and international doctoral students.

The following students (listed with their associated colleges) received the fall 2014 Dissertation Fellowship:

Peter Baker, College of Liberal Arts

Peter Baker is a doctoral candidate in the Department of Hispanic Studies. His research focuses on the increased participation and visibility of indigenous-popular actors in Bolivian public and political life. Peter’s research encompasses a wide reading of current literature, He uses the most relevant critical theory on indigenous studies and continental philosophy to provide a unique perspective on a particularly complex historical conjuncture.  His research will impact three separate, interrelated spheres: 1) Latin American and Latin Americanist cultural and political theory, 2) literature on contemporary indigeneity with particular regard to its political manifestations), and 3) critical theory and philosophical literature on Western political modernity. Peter seeks to contribute to recent philosophical movements in light of French post-structuralism.

Carrie Deans, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences

Carrie Deans is a doctoral candidate in the Department of Entomology. Carrie’s dissertation addresses the connection between nutrition and stress for two economically important agriculture pest species, Helicoverpa zea (cotton bollworm) and Lygus Hesperus (Western tarnished plant bug), in a cotton model system. This research will contribute important information on: 1) how variability in plant macronutrient content may impact current control techniques, 2) the feeding ecology of two economically important pest species, 3) how nutrition may impact the physiological and genetic response to different stressors, and 4) identifying candidate genes involved in different stress responses which may help develop novel control technologies.

Justin Handy, College of Liberal Arts

Justin Handy is a doctoral candidate in the Department of Psychology. His dissertation tests whether real memories from an individual’s personal past can be blocked and later recovered, what cognitive mechanisms are responsible and whether people who do repress are especially prone to such effects. Justin applies a variant of dropout method to examine memory blocking and recovery of non-traumatic emotional autobiographical memories. This work has broader implications for understanding and treating emotional disorders involving memory, such as recovered memories of trauma or sexual abuse and post-traumatic stress disorder.  His research has the potential to help bridge the gap between scientists and mental health practitioners by taking a principled, empirical approach to examining functional forgetting in controlled laboratory settings.

Nathan Hart, College of Science

Nathan Hart is a doctoral candidate in the Department of Physics and Astronomy.  His dissertation focuses on laser radiation to detect trace gases that may prove harmful to human health. Nathan explored how modifying to the intensity and duration of a laser pulse affect the excitation of sodium atoms. His experimental data showed that the specific pulse intensity and duration modifications he applied increased the efficiency of the absorption of the laser by a factor of seven. Nathan’s research allows for further development in the theoretical understanding of how to effectively exploit coherent control techniques and in the experimental implementation of a novel chemical detection scheme.  In addition to his work with lasers, Nathan developed a simple and efficient data post-processing algorithm; this algorithm drastically improved the resolution and accuracy of his spectral data and decreases the likelihood of false positives and negatives when identifying substances.

Audrey Joslin, College of Geosciences

Audrey Joslin is a doctoral candidate in the Department of Geography. Using the influential Payments for Ecosystem Services (PES) program in Quito, Ecuador as a case study for her dissertation, Audrey examines the PES practices and processes that generate value from ecosystem services. Her research has local, national and global impacts. On a local level, Audrey’s research contributes to knowledge of how PES ideas translate into real interactions with human lives that require time, labor and land-use changes. On a national level, her research can help inform both government and non-government agency policy, which prove instrumental in developing PES programs. Finally, Audrey’s examination of Fondo del Agua, a case study program used as a model to develop six daughter programs in Ecuador, will lead to impacts on a global level since the influence of FONAG extends beyond the borders of Ecuador.

Nicholas Mizer, College of Liberal Arts

Nicholas Mizer is a doctoral student in the Department of Anthropology. His dissertation explores the nature of tabletop role-playing games (TRPGs) as a rule-bound game, a medium of performance and an approach to collaborative imagination. Nicholas’ dissertation has three objectives: 1) explore how the rule-bound and collaborative aspects of TRPGs shape the narrative and imaginative processes, 2) understand how players’ understanding of story, rules and imagination has changed over time, and 3) identify ways that the broader culture has both influenced and been influenced by TRPGs. Games increasingly permeate contemporary society, leading to a phenomenon known as “gamification,” in which game principles are applied to fields as diverse as pedagogy, personal fitness and combat training. The results from Nicholas’ dissertation will have immediate application in all areas of gamification by providing a better understanding of the relationships between rules, imagination, and story.

Meaghan Pimsler, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences

Meaghan Pimsler is a doctoral candidate in the Department of Anthropology. Her dissertation focuses on identifying the genetic mechanisms that affect sex determination, development and behavior of Chrysomya rufifacies (the hairy maggot blow fly), an invasive insect that is frequently (~80% of outdoor cases) encountered in the course of death investigations in Texas. C. rufifacies is related to a fly that causes dramatic health consequences to humans and animals in South America; additionally, they belong to the same order as mosquitoes and other disease spreading insects. Identifying and understanding genetic mechanisms that affect the sex determination and development of C. rufifacies could lead to developing tools that will prove useful for the transgenic control of other pest species.

Alicia Shepard, College of Geosciences

Alicia Shepard is a doctoral candidate in the Department of Oceanography. Alicia’s dissertation aims to observe and quantify natural microbial responses to nutrient enrichment at Galveston Bay in Texas, the seventh largest estuary in the United States. Estuarine ecosystems such as the one studied in Alicia’s dissertation provide human services such as transport and storage mechanisms for sediments, protection from impacts of severe storms, mitigation of water quality and a habitat for coastal and marine organisms that support worldwide fisheries. Nutrient- driven changes in the microbial dynamics of Galveston Bay can lead to major repercussions for the economy of Texas since fishing comprises one- third of Texas’ commercial income.  The results from her dissertation will provide a baseline of temporal and spatial fluctuations in microbial populations, which will support developing management action plans for the protection of Galveston Bay. Additionally, they hold potential as a representative case study for other estuaries throughout Texas and the United States.

Heather Smith, College of Liberal Arts

Heather Smith is a doctoral candidate in the Department of Anthropology. Her dissertation focuses on examining artifacts discovered in the Alaska Arctic dating back to the end of the Ice Age, or Pleistocene.  By studying these artifacts, Heather will develop an understanding of early human adaption to arctic ecosystems, continent-wide human population movement and demographic change during the climatically dynamic Pleistocene-Holocene transition. Her specific research objectives include 1) determining how fluted technology was used to meet adaptive challenges created by alternations in arctic environments, 2) discovering how the organization of fluted-point technology can demonstrate Paleoindian subsistence and settlement behavior, and 3) learning how and why this technology transmitted into the Arctic. Heather’s study represents the first comprehensive technological and morphological analysis of fluted-point technology conducted on a continental scale and provides a means to document past-human adaptive and social responses to climate change and ecological reconstruction.

Rachel Wells, College of Geosciences

Rachel Wells is a doctoral candidate in the Department of Geology and Geophysics. Rachel’s dissertation focuses on the processes that influence fault zone structures and behaviors. Fault zones play an important role in our society due to their participation in earthquakes and their suspected role in preventing hydrocarbons from reaching the surface, a factor that may prove significant in researchers’ pursuit of energy resources. The results from Rachel’s dissertation will impact geologists’ understanding of earthquake processes by presenting evidence for fluid migration- an influential element in the behavior of fault zones-and may suggest an explanation for recurring earthquakes.