Fall 2016 Dissertation Fellowship Award Biographies

Texas A&M University’s Office of Graduate and Professional Studies recently awarded 12 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 received the Fall 2016 Dissertation Fellowships:

Ian Abby is a doctoral student in the Department of History in the College of Liberal Arts. Ian’s dissertation focuses on Woodes Rogers, a Bristol privateer, and his 1708-1711 privateering expedition which circumnavigated the globe and captured a Spanish Manila galleon. Ian’s study  explores several facets of the expedition, including how a single expedition, initially comprising two ships and three hundred officers and crew, illustrates important facets of the contemporary world, particularly in the mercantile, legal, and social fields. In his research, Ian completes the picture of Rodger’s voyage, diving into unexplored details of the voyage and placing this voyage into the larger historical framework. This includes detail into the financial backers, the graft and corruption of the British governance and details of the voyage itself. This research covers new ground on an important historical figure, examining in greater detail a voyage to which other historians paid minimal attention.

Nicole Angeli is a doctoral student in the Department of Wildlife and Fisheries Science in the College of Agriculture and Life Science. Nicole’s dissertation examines the 18 species of ground lizard in the U.S. Virgin Islands. By studying the lizards in their changing habitat, she hopes to better explain species persistence. Species persistence is the idea that some species that are better able to adapt to their environments then persist while species that have limited capabilities to adjust to environmental changes then decline. By studying the St. Croix ground lizard using population models and remotely sensed landscape-scale data, Nicole examines how the lizard responds to mongoose predation in hopes of providing clues into the persistence of species and maintenance of biological communities. Hopefully, this research will provide other researchers’ ways to help other species survive when faced with a rapidly changing environment.

Timothy Campbell is a doctoral student in the Department of Anthropology in the College of Liberal Arts. Timothy’s dissertation focuses on the use of postcranial remains from small mammals, such as rodents, to infer past environments. By understanding the environments occupied by early members of human lineage, researchers can provide an adaptive context for major evolutionary events. His study will use several different methods to measure small mammal remains to test if modern rodent postcranial remains can be used to identify what taxa are present, thus determining if the same data can assist other researchers using rodent fossils. This study will improve our ability to reconstruct past environments associated with early hominin remains through analyses of a currently underutilized source of data, rodent postcranial remains, and will help clarify the environmental context at two South African sites important to our understanding of human evolution.

Karen Davis is a doctoral student in the Department of Philosophy and Humanities in the College of Liberal Arts. Karen’s dissertation examines the prison theater program Shakespeare Behind Bars (SBB) and how it encourages moral self-examination. She argues that aesthetic play, like that which takes place in interpreting and enacting a play, orients viewers to their ethical responsibilities and cultivates their capacity to make contextualized moral judgments. Her research unfolds along two axes: one investigating the philosophical history of aesthetic play as it relates to moral formation, and one exploring the phenomenological expressions of that notion of play in acting and theater in general and Shakespeare Behind Bars in particular.

Kevin Deitz is a doctoral student in the Department of Entomology in the College of Agriculture and Life Science. Kevin’s dissertation explores the Anopheles mosquito, one of the most important vectors of human malaria parasites in sub-Saharan Africa. This mosquito demonstrates a range of genetic divergence and is an important model system for the field of evolutionary and speciation genetics. Kevin aims to identify the genes responsible for reproductive isolation, how time since species divergence correlates with the accumulation of that gene and how gene expression impacts reproductive isolation. The research will rely on genetic mapping of two species of the mosquito; by comparing their genome to previously mapped genomes in other species, the research hopes to identify if the same genes might be responsible for the sterility. The research will help track the spread of adaptive genetic variants between mosquito species, such as those involved in insecticide resistance or malaria transmission. 

Forouzan Farnia is a doctoral student in the Department of Education Administration and Human Resources in the College of Education and Human Development. Forouzan’s dissertation addresses the career decision-making process in young adults in relation to their emotional intelligence. This transition is a difficult process and individuals often find themselves overwhelmed; they struggle to plan their professional future in the face of practically endless possibilities. Colleges and universities try to assist this process but some young adults undergo career indecisiveness and remain stymied. This study will examine the role of emotional intelligence in predicting career indecisiveness among a sample of male and female college students over and beyond the effect of personality traits and affectivity. 

Akihito Fukudome is a doctoral student in the Department of Molecular and Environmental Plant Sciences in the College of Interdisciplinary Studies. The goal of Akihito’s dissertation is to understand how phosphorylation of plant RNA polymerase II, a central molecule of gene expression in all eukaryotic cells, controls global and target-specific gene expression. Under certain forms of stress, such as changes to salinity, there is a transformation of the unstable, short non-coding RNA into stable functional messenger RNA (mRNA). Central to this process are RNA polymerase II (pol II) and its regulatory enzyme, carboxyl-terminal domain (CTD) phosphatase. This research will establish that Pol II-CTD phosphatase-like 4 (CPL4) is an essential part of II-CTD phosphatase that removes phosphorylation marks from pol II-CTD in Arabidopsis thaliana, a close relative of economically important Brassica vegetables such as cabbages, broccoli, and turnips. This finding can change scientists’ view of transcriptional regulation and impact the entire plant science community. 

Jose Sandoval is a doctoral student in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering in the College of Engineering. Jose’s dissertation looks at power electronic converters that transform power from AC to DC. This conversion is often crucial in applications such as electric vehicle charging, adjustable speed drive systems, and renewable energy systems. For high power systems single phase AC-DC conversion is not appropriate and three-phase AC-DC conversion systems must be employed. Designing a three phase AC-DC rectifier with high power density, high efficiency, and high input current quality is a major challenge and is the driving force behind this research. His research employs high frequency galvanic isolation to improve the process. This research, including experimental results that validate the performance of the proposed systems, is beneficial to recharging batteries of electric vehicles.

Laura Short is a doctoral student in the Department of Anthropology in the College of Liberal Arts. Laura’s dissertation develops a methodology using Raman spectroscopy to determine what foods were baked in pre-Columbian earth ovens in central Texas. Earth ovens cook food using heated stones in below-ground pits to break down complex carbohydrates, proteins and lipids. Chemical residues have been found on fire cracked rock, and if those residues can be identified with accuracy and precision, we may be able to identify processing of inulin-rich foods when macro-botanicals are not available.  Raman spectroscopy characterizes the molecular structure of organic and inorganic substances by measuring chemical bonds’ changes in energy level when hit with light.  This research may potentially reveal what other micro-residue techniques cannot, especially as indicators of inulin rich foods, which do not leave identifiable microfossils.  

Kenneth Wallen is a doctoral student in the Department of Recreation, Park and Tourism Sciences in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. Kenneth’s dissertation focuses on investigating factors contributing to conservation behaviors in the context of Aquatic Invasive Species (AIS) management in Texas. These species damage native environments and state and national Parks programs invest large sums in educating boaters how to prevent their spread. The Texas program is called “Clean, Drain, Dry”.  This study will survey licensed Texas boaters to assess boaters’ awareness and knowledge of aquatic invasive species and their level of engagement in clean, drain, and dry behaviors, will examine how exposure to social norm messaging influences boaters’ intention to engage in “Clean, Drain, Dry”, and will determine how normative “Clean, Drain, Dry” behaviors are among Texas freshwater boaters.

Derek Woller is a doctoral student in the Department of Entomology in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. Derek’s dissertation examines 24 species of flightless grasshoppers that live in the unique scrub ecosystem of the southeastern United States, primarily in Florida. These grasshoppers demonstrate evolutionary change through both geographic isolation (allopatry) and genitalia evolution (sexual selection) in their wildly-divergent male genitalia. This research will use several methods, including shape analysis, micro-CT scanning and 3D model reconstruction of grasshopper genitalia to compare the evolution of these different species of grasshopper. These methods, plus genetic comparisons, will shed new light on both the natural history of a distinctive and vulnerable ecosystem as well as a poorly-understood and intriguing group of creatures, make strides towards better comprehending the speciation process, bring forth a greater understanding of the evolution of male genitalia in insects, and explore new frontiers in biology and technology.

Chengde Wu is a doctoral student in the Department of Architecture in the College of Architecture. Chengdu’s dissertation seeks to simplify the process for integrating fire simulation into building design process. Building designers use Building Information Modeling (BIM) which is powerful enough to handle virtually any shape of building. On the other hand, CFAST, a commonly used fire simulation application, constrains the shape of the spaces and the number of spaces that can be simulated. Due to these limitations of CFAST, buildings designed in BIM cannot be directly simulated in CFAST. In his research, Chengde formulated a series of algorithms to overcome the limitations of CFAST resolving the incompatibility issue. By applying these algorithms, the buildings designed in BIM can be easily simulated in CFAST with a few mouse clicks. The integrated fire simulation system of this research enables architects to run fire simulation and get instant feedback while designing, potentially reducing the number of casualties in a building fire.