2015-2016 Distinguished graduate student award winners

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.

Standing, left to right: Mr. Marty Holmes, Orry Pratt, Xiaoqiu Wang, Zhaokai Meng, Trevor Terrill, Konstantin Tikhonov, Luke Lyons, Yi Duan, Dr. Karen Butler-Purry
Sitting, left to right: Andrew Pickett, Representative of Matthew Josefy, Robert Hinck, Lauren Clay Eastwood, Representative of Trenton Wayne Ford, Nicholas D. Conway, Deanna Kennedy, Jaskirat Batra

Excellence in Research - Master's

Jaskirat Batra | Department of Material Science and Engineering | College of Engineering

Jaskirat Singh Batra earned his Master of Science in Electrical Engineering at Texas A&M University in December 2015. He is currently working towards his Ph.D. in Materials Science and Engineering at Texas A&M University. His research crosses the fields of material science, electrical engineering, and life science to advance development of micro and nano-fluidic devices, soft robotics and locomotives, and wearable medical devices. Jaskirat aspires to use his diverse engineering degree, combined with his research interests, to make contributions in the field of medical device technologies. While an MS student, Jaskirat co-authored five journal publications and presented at many conferences. He has earned numerous academic, research, and leadership awards throughout his career; most notably the 2016 Buck Weirus Spirit. Jaskirat also dedicates his time to Aggies in Science, Technology and Engineering Policy, a student organization he founded that mentors prospective Texas A&M scientists.

Orry Pratt | Peace Corps Master's International | College of Agriculture and Life Sciences

Orry Pratt earned his Bachelor of Science degree in Animal Sciences from The Pennsylvania State University. He is a Master student in the Department of Agricultural Leadership, Education, and Communications at Texas A&M University with the intent of serving as a Peace Corps Volunteer in the Master’s International (PCMI) program. During his first year Pratt completed all required degree coursework, co-authored five peer-reviewed publications, and assisted in hosting a high-school educator workshop focused on incorporating global social justice issues into the curricula. Based on his work experience, Pratt developed his Master’s thesis topic: Adoption factors and perceptions of green manure and cover crop technologies among Paraguayan smallholder farmers, in an effort to improve Paraguayan extension methods to achieve wider adoption rates of the technologies.  

Trevor Terrill | Department of Mechanical Engineering | College of Engineering

Trevor Terrill graduated Summa Cum Laude from Brigham Young University in 2012. During his time at Brigham Young, he worked in the Idaho National Laboratory as a research intern. He received his Master’s degree in Mechanical Engineering in 2015. His research involved a long-term energy study to characterize energy efficiency best practices in buildings of religious worship, exemplars of facilities with lower energy usage and also smaller budgets. Trevor has published two peer-reviewed journal articles. While completing his Master’s degree, Trevor worked at the Texas A&M Industrial Assessment Center (IAC) and has been involved in over 30 energy assessments. His assessments and recommendations for manufacturing facilities have resulted in >$650,000 in verified annual savings from energy efficiency improvements. With Dr. Rasmussen, Trevor won a research grant from the US DOE and received the national IAC Outstanding Student of the Year award. Trevor is currently a Ph.D candidate in the Department of Mechanical Engineering.  

Excellence in Research - Doctoral

Trenton Ford | Department of Geography | College of Geosciences

Trenton “Trent” Ford received his Bachelor’s degree in Geography at Illinois State University, before earning his Master’s and Ph.D. in Geography at Texas A&M University. Trent is a climatologist with research interests in hydro climatology, land-atmosphere interactions, and monitoring and prediction of droughts and extreme heat. He is interested in better understanding land-atmosphere interactions and the influence of the land surface on climate variability and extreme climatic events. Trent contributed to twenty peer-reviewed publications in his five years here Fifteen of them he served as first author, and made regular contributions to the writing of successful grant proposals out of Dr. Quiring’s research group. Trent received a Doctoral Dissertation Research Improvement grant from NSF. After graduating in August 2015, Trent began serving as Assistant Professor in the Department of Geography and Environmental Resources at Southern Illinois University.

Deanna Kennedy | Department of Health and Kinesiology | College of Education and Human Development

Deanna Kennedy recently graduated with a Ph.D. in Kinesiology from Texas A&M University. Her dissertation research addressed theoretical questions related to motor synergies and bimanual coordination as well as more applied questions that have important implications for stroke rehabilitation and aging. Her dissertation work was recognized for a number of awards including: the American Kinesiology Association Graduate Writing Award, the North American Society for Psychology of Sport and Physical Activity Student Research Award and earlier this month with the U.S. Senator Phil Gramm Doctoral Fellowship. As a graduate student, Deanna produced 18 published manuscripts, over 30 national and international presentations, and several successful internal and external grants. Currently, Dr. Kennedy is an Assistant Professor in Kinesiology at Texas A&M University.

Zhaokai Meng | Department of Biomedical Engineering | College of Engineering

Zhaokai Meng is a Ph.D candidate in the Biomedical Engineering Department at Texas A&M University with a specialization in applied optics and emphasis on its biomedical applications. Since 2011, Zhaokai has worked as a research assistant in the Advanced Spectroscopy Laboratory directed by Prof. Yakovlev. His research focuses on mapping/imaging 3D microscopic viscoelasticity for biological samples using optical spectroscopy. Zhaokai's work offers several noninvasive and reliable diagnostic tools for future life-science research and clinical practices. While at TAMU, Zhaokai has authored more than 15 peer-reviewed journal articles, including 11 first-authorship, in top-tier academic journals. Zhaokai has delivered 21 presentations at different international conferences and has also been invited to author a review article on Brillouin imaging, a cutting edge bio-imaging technique that has been advanced by his own work.

Konstantin Tikhonov | Department of Physics and Astronomy | College of Science

Konstantin Tikhonov received his Masters degree in Applied Physics and Mathematics from the Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology in 2010. He earned his Ph.D. in Physics from Texas A&M University. During Konstantin’s graduate studies, he worked in the area of Condensed Matter Physics, working on superconducting nano-junctions (for developing quantum computers), transport properties of graphene films and spintronics, which can enhance computer speed  by managing heat loss. While conducting this work, Konstantin has had the opportunity to collaborate with experimentalists in Germany, Israel, France and  Russia. Dr. Tikhonov’s research at A&M has led to 10 peer-reviewed publications in top tier journals, including Physical Review B and Nature Physics. Last year he received the Russian President Award for Young Researchers. Upon graduation, Konstantin gained a faculty appointment in the Condensed Matter Theory group at the Landau Institute for Theoretical Physics and the Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology in Russia.

Xiaoqiu Wang | Department of Animal Science | College of Agriculture and Life Sciences

Xiaoqiu “Churchill” Wang recently graduated with a Ph.D. in Physiology of Reproduction. He received his Bachelor of Science degree in Animal Science from China Agricultural University (Beijing, China). Churchill’s research focuses on mechanisms associated with the establishment and maintenance of pregnancy in ruminants and pigs, and has received world-wide recognition. As a graduate student, Churchill received the Tom Slick Senior Graduate Research Fellowship, the 2015 USDA-NIFA-AFRI Merit Award from the US Department of Agriculture(USDA), the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, Agriculture Food and Research Initiative, and the “Tony” Sorensen Jr. Achievement Award in 2016. In 2015, Churchill was the North American Region 1st Place Winner and then Global Champion of the 10th annual Alltech Young Scientist (AYS) Competition, the largest global contest of its kind that rewards scientific genius and experimental application in agri-science. He has published 28 peer-reviewed papers (10 as first-author and 18 as co-author), one book chapter, and 14 research abstracts. Churchill is now a postdoctoral fellow in National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS). His long-term goal is to become a leading animal scientist who will continue to make significant contributions to the field on a global scale.

Excellence in Research - Teaching

Nicholas Conway 

Nicholas D. Conway earned his Bachelor of Arts degree (Magna Cum Laude) from Wabash College in 2000 and his Juris Doctor degree From Indiana University-Maurer School of Law (Cum Laude) in 2003. Prior to enrolling as a doctoral student at Texas A&M University, he practiced law for eight years and served as an Administrative Law Judge for the State of Indiana. He is currently pursing his Ph.D in Political Science at Texas A&M University. Nicholas has made important teaching contributions to his department as Instructor of Record for the Constitutional Rights and Civil Liberties course, in addition to an undergraduate methods course. He also served as a TA representing TAMU at the prestigious ICPSR summer methods school held at the University of Michigan. Outside the classroom, Nicholas has generously shared his legal expertise serving as head coach to university’s Undergraduate Moot Court Team, who were unranked when he began with them and have risen to #5 in the nation.     

Yi Duan | Department of Biochemistry and Biophysics | College of Agriculture and Life Sciences

Yi Duan received his Bachelor's degree in Biosciences from the University of Science and Technology of China (USTC) in 2011. While at USTC, he received the Outstanding Student Scholarship every year, as well as the National Innovation Program Fellowship for his undergraduate research contributions. In 2011, he enrolled at Texas A&M University as a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Biochemistry and Biophysics. Yi has achieved numerous recognitions in his field since joining Texas A&M. He has presented his research at regional and national conferences every year since 2012. Apart from his research, he stays active in his role as a teaching assistant, tutoring and assisting more than 100 students from his department. In 2013, Yi was awarded the Biochemistry Graduate Student Association Award for teaching. In his spare time, Yi enjoys volunteering.

Lauren Clay Eastwood | Department of Animal Science | College of Agriculture and Life Sciences

Lauren Eastwood received both her Bachelor’s degree (2011) and Master’s degree (2014) in Animal Science from Texas A&M University. She is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in the Department of Animal Science, specifically in Meat Science, with a focus in fresh meat quality, food safety, and sustainability. Lauren is a graduate teaching assistant and has taught several classes during her graduate career. Lauren coaches the Meat Science Quiz Bowl Team at Texas A&M University, which she trains to compete nationally. Lauren has a passion for teaching and for ensuring her students’ success. In 2014, she received two graduate student awards: The Ronnie L. Edwards Graduate Student Teaching Award, in recognition of her important contributions as a graduate student to the undergraduate student experience; and the Z. L. Carpenter Outstanding Graduate Student Award in Meat Science, presented annually to a graduate student who demonstrates outstanding leadership skills and has contributed significantly to the teaching, research, and extension activities of the Meat Science Section.

Robert Hinck | Department of Communication | College of Liberal Arts 

Robert Hinck is a Ph.D. candidate at Texas A&M in the Department of Communication, specializing in Rhetoric and Public Affairs. Robert’s research interest lies in how political actors make sense of their strategic environments. His research explores the role of the media, narratives, and argumentation strategies in international relations. Within this context, he explores the impact of communication messages and technology in sustaining and/or preventing political cooperation. Robert has made major teaching contributions in his department, especially in teaching Communication where the courses were centered on public speaking. He has the amazing ability to move students from “being terrified” to actually enjoying speaking in public venues. His teaching emphasizes critical thinking, public speaking, argumentation, and overcoming conflict through effective presentation and communication. Robert also takes an active role in mentoring other graduate instructors in his department.

Matthew Josefy | Department of Management | Mays Business School 

Matthew Josefy received his Bachelor of Business Administration in Accounting and Master of Science in Financial Management from Texas A&M University. Matthew is currently a Ph.D. candidate in the Mays Business School in the Management Department. Matthew has been published and is forthcoming in the Academy of Management Annals, Journal of Business Ethics and Journal of Leadership and Organizational Studies. His dissertation is titled “To Conform or Not to Conform: Board Responses to the Financial Crisis”, and his research was recently recognized with the U.S. Senator Phil Gramm Fellowship. He has taught over 1,000 undergraduate, M.B.A., M.S. students, and students in the Executive program, and his teaching has earned him the Service Excellence Award. Matthew is a Class of 2004 Agent for the Texas A&M Association of Former Students, the graduate representative for the University Athletics Council, and serves on the board of directors of the Memorial Student Center. Upon graduation, Matthew will join the Management and Entrepreneurship faculty at the Kelley School of Business at Indiana University.

Luke Lyons | Department of Teaching, Learning and Culture | College of Education and Human Development 

Luke Lyons is a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Teaching, Learning and Culture specializing in Science Education. He received his Bachelor of Science in Biology from Texas A&M University in 2008 and Master of Education from Sam Houston State University in 2009. Luke taught biology at Navasota High School for four years prior to returning to Texas A&M University. His decision to pursue a doctoral degree originated with a desire to help create better science teachers for the classrooms of the future. Over the past six semesters, Luke has achieved his goal by impacting more than 300 preservice teachers and promoting the best methods for teaching science. He introduces student-centered teaching methods including inquiry and project-based learning through the use of play dough electrical circuits, LEGO Mindstorms robots, and dinosaur digs. His teaching methods have been recognized with presentations at the Association of Science Teacher Education and School Science and Mathematics Association conferences.  Luke’s dissertation research is an extension of his teaching and focuses on incorporating dinosaurs into current science curricula. For Luke, teaching is not just an assignment, but truly a passion. 

Andrew Pickett | Department of Health and Kinesiology | College of Education and Human Development

Andrew “Drew“ Pickett is a Ph.D. candidate in Sport Management in the Department of Health and Kinesiology at Texas A&M University. His research interests broadly surround the development and maintenance of inclusive organizational behaviors in physical activity and sport. More simply, he seeks to find ways to engage individuals who may otherwise be left out to participate in healthful activity. He has been an outstanding instructor of record for five different sport management courses both in the classroom and in online courses and a TA for two others. Upon graduation, Drew will join the faculty at the University of South Dakota in the Department of Kinesiology and Sport Sciences as an Assistant Professor.