Spring 2015 Dissertation Fellowship Award Biographies

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 Spring 2015 Dissertation Fellowships:

Pallab Barai, College of Engineering

Pallab Barai is a doctoral candidate in the Department of Mechanical Engineering. Pallab’s research focuses on lithium ion batteries, which are commonly used in electric vehicles (EVs), hybrid electric vehicles (HPVs), and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs). His research seeks to understand the degradation process of lithium ions found inside lithium ion batteries by developing a computational methodology that can capture the mechano-electrochemical interactions of electrode active particles during the operational conditions of lithium ion batteries. The results from Pallab’s research suggest that enhanced mechanical degradation of lithium ions occurs under conditions where a large amount of current is drawn from the battery. Pallab’s research will help devise methodologies to increase the operational lifetime of lithium ion batteries, which will be important in the future with the increased use of EVs, HEVs, and PHEVs.

Bradley Cesario, College of Liberal Arts

Bradely Cesairo is a doctoral candidate in the Department of History. Bradley’s dissertation explores the history of the British Royal Navy between 1889 and 1914, a time period commonly referred to as the “navalist era”, and aims to create a heretofore nonexistent cultural history of the navalist movement to understand its influence on the British Royal Navy. In his research, Bradley contends that the relationship between serving naval officers and pro-naval journalists underwent a significant change during the navalist era, shifting overtime from a symbiotic relationship where both sides benefited from increased public and political interest in naval issues to a process of radicalization through which pro-naval journalists created an atmosphere of agitation and dissatisfaction with any proposals put forth by the Royal Navy. To explore this relationship, Bradley’s dissertation will detail the history of British navalism from both the official and journalistic perspectives. His work will also examine the official and unofficial lines of communication between the British Admiralty and pro-naval authors and journals, how these lines were formed, and – in many cases- later broke down, and how effectively these journalistic conditions were transmitted to the educated, reading British public.

Paula Cipriano, College of Agriculture

Paula Cipriano is a doctoral candidate in the Department of Horticultural Sciences. Paula’s dissertation focuses on purple sweet potatoes, plants that have a great potential to serve as natural food color additives due to their high concentration of anthocyanins (flavonoids responsible for the bright orange, red, purple, and blue colors in fruits and vegetables). She aims to use her results to provide scientific-based methods that will allow industries to process purple sweet potatoes to produce purified pigments that are stable and of high-quality. Results from Paula’s research efforts will help expand and develop several industries simultaneously. First, it will help vegetable pigment farmers expand their capabilities and maximize farm revenues due to the benefit of 100% crop utilization. Second, it will allow ingredient processors to individually develop novel processing technologies that are within their own capabilities and, in time, allow differentiation from foreign competitors. Last, it will allow the United States food industry to affordably source domestically produced natural pigments that meet consumer demands.

Babak Kondori, College of Engineering

Babak Kondori is a doctoral candidate in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering. His dissertation focuses on improving the present methodology used to develop magnesium alloys, which presently have limited application due to their restricted formability at room temperature and intolerance to necking. Specifically, Babak’s research explores three topics: 1) Experimental characterization of plastic flow anisotrophy and damage accumulation in magnesium alloys, 2) modeling plastic anisotrophy, damage, and fracture in these alloys using micromechanical continuum based models and, 3) parametic study of the effect of microstructural variables such as void spacing and distribution on the fracture. Magnesium is one of the lightest structural materials (ρ = 1.74 g/cm) and has high specific strength, making it an ideal candidate for lightweight structural applications in the aerospace and transportation fields. The results from his research will allow manufacturers to develop magnesium alloys with better formability and ductility, which will allow the aerospace and automotive manufacturers to develop lighter, more fuel-efficient vehicles and with decrease greenhouse gas emissions.

Heather Lee,  College of Geosciences

Heather Lee is a doctoral candidate in the Department of Geography. Using an empirical case study, Heather’s dissertation investigates the mechanisms through which farmers and policy makers in Guanajuato, Mexico respond to water scarcity and the pathways farmers use to access irrigation efficiency technologies to mitigate the effects of water scarcity. Her dissertation aims to answer the following research question: How does the water soft path create new pathways of accessing and using water resources that contribute to larger processes of social and political change in the countryside? Heather’s research will have a global impact as it responds to a call from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change to provide experience-based assessments of climate change, serves as an example for future data collection, and identifies participatory water and agricultural organizations as key sites for building such a database. The results from her dissertation will also have a local impact; data and field experience from Heather’s project will be used to help develop modules for a new undergraduate course, and the findings will be distributed for use by academic and non-academic audiences.

Wei Lu, College of Engineering

Wei Lu is a doctoral candidate in the Department of Civil Engineering. Wei’s dissertation focuses on ridesharing services (arrangements where travelers share a private vehicle and the associated travel costs with others who have similar, compatible itineraries) and consists of two parts. The first part formally defines the large-scale ridesharing optimization problem, characterizes its complexity, and discusses its relation to classic relevant problems such as the traveling salesman problem and vehicle routing problem. It aims to formulate mathematical programming models to simultaneously make decisions on driver/rider role assignment, customer partition, and route planning, with the goal of minimizing system-wide total vehicle miles. The second part aims to optimize ridesharing for more individuals by using the Cooperative Game Theory to address the issues associated with ridesharing as coalition stability problems. The results from Wei’s research will have short-term societal implications by decreasing travel costs of participants and long-term societal implications by increasing the competiveness of ridesharing services. This, in turn, will reduce urban congestion and air pollution.

Dara Orbach, Marine Biology – TAMU Galveston

Dara Orbach is a doctoral candidate in the Department of Marine Biology at Texas A&M University – Galveston. Dara’s dissertation seeks to address the lack of research on female genitalia of marine mammals, specifically on dolphins, whales, and porpoises, and contests the obsolete assumption that female genitalia lack variation or are not important. Her research directly tests mechanisms by which females control paternity after copulating, which have not been examined in most mammals because of a scarcity of feasible techniques, and provides an innovative approach (through assessment of tissue composition in the vagina) that is widely applicable to other taxonomic groups. By collecting data on the standard mating patterns of cetaceans in the wild, Dara will be able to help aquaria enhance their “natural” breeding programs in captivity. Additionally, her findings on the diversity of vaginal complexity across species, understanding of vaginal structure functions, and measurements of species-specific vaginal morphology can be used to promote increased success in artificial insemination techniques.

Suzanna Ramos, College of Education

Suzanna Ramos is a doctoral candidate in the Department of Educational Psychology. Suzanna’s dissertation investigates how teachers help their students achieve academic success using a visualization strategy called “mindsketching” and how they use mindsketching to improve the academic literacy of students with low socioeconomic status. Specifically, her research addresses three problems: 1) the dearth of information on how teachers utilize visualization techniques to build academic literacy, 2) the need for a study that focuses on sketching images to enhance learning instead of using elaborate drawing techniques, and 3) how to use sketching to build academic literacy of students in content areas beyond the language arts such as math, science, and social studies. With the increasing poverty at the community, national, and international levels, understanding how to incorporate mindsketching strategies in education will help increase educational opportunities for impoverished children.

Willa Trask, College of Liberal Arts 

Willa Trask is a doctoral candidate in the Department of Anthropology. Using biogeochemical analyses, Willa’s dissertation examines the early contact period movements in Tipu, a southern Maya frontier community, to address this gap of knowledge in Maya history. The excellent skeletal preservation and large, temporally constrained sample size make Tipu one of the most important skeletal assemblages in the Maya area. Despite 40 years of detailed anthropological and historical research of Tipu, the presence of northern Yucat√°n refugees documented in the historical literature has not yet been confirmed. As the first isotopic study on the Tipu burial population and the largest known application of strontium isotopes on a single burial population, Willa’s dissertation will help answer the lingering questions regarding the birthplace of those buried at Tipu. This information will not only add to present knowledge of the Tipu population, but will help build a more informed picture of indigenous Maya social identity during the Colonial Period of Belize. Data on locations of significant migration from the Yucatan will provide novel information that will aid future researchers develop a more complete understanding of the role frontiers and borderlands play in the numerous violent clashes between the indigenous peoples and central governments in Mesoamerica.

Michah Wright, College of Liberal Arts

Micah Wright is a doctoral student in the Department of History. Micah’s dissertation will explain how Puerto Ricans contributed to U.S. efforts to establish security and democracy in the Caribbean during the first decades of the twentieth century. He will also examine three themes central to Puerto Rican history: 1) the role U.S. military service played in Puerto Rican social and political struggles, 2) assess how it redefined the relationship between the colony and the metropole, and 3) explore its contribution to the ongoing negotiation of Puerto Rican cultural nationalism. Micah’s research will make a significant contribution to several bodies of historical literature since it will be the first comprehensive examination of the ways in which Latin Americans responded to the Wilsonian rhetoric of self-determination and Pan-Americanism. Additionally, his research has the potential to resonate beyond academia because it grapples with pressing issues facing the national and global community. It will provide an analysis of America’s relationship with Puerto Rico, which can be used to inform modern debates concerning the growing Latino population in the United States and their relationship to the political body.

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