2018-2019 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.

See all of the photos from the event here!

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Standing, left to right: Dr. Akhilesh Gaharwar (on behalf of James Carrow and Lauren Cross), Connor Dolan, Dr. Kristen Maitland (on behalf of Madeleine Durkee), Mahdi Imani, Yoandy Cabrera Ortega, Dr. Soon Mi Lim (on behalf of Rajat Maji), Lauren Redmore, Varun Gejji, Agustin Millet, Adebayo Ogungbure, Deanna Stover, Gladys Walter, Minxiang Zeng, Shubhadeep Chakraborty
 

Excellence in Research - Doctoral

James K. Carrow – Department of Biomedical Engineering – College of Engineering

 James received his PhD from the Department of Biomedical Engineering in August 2018 under the advisement of Dr. Akhilesh Gaharwar. His graduate research focused genomic analysis of human cells treated with mineral-based nanomaterials to regenerate damaged or diseased tissue. Using naturally occurring nanomaterials and polymers, he developed a platform to bioprint new three-dimensional cartilage implants. James was invested in developing a positive research environment through the collaboration and communication of science and engineering with a variety of groups. During his graduate tenure, he held leadership roles in the local chapter of Society of Biomaterials while participating in community science outreach programs. After receiving his PhD, James accepted a postdoctoral research position in the field of self-assembling supramolecular nanostructures for biomedical applications at Northwestern University under the guidance of Professor Sam Stupp.
 

Lauren M. Cross – Department of Biomedical Engineering – College of Engineering

 Lauren received her PhD from the Department of Biomedical Engineering in December 2018 also under the advisement of Dr. Akhilesh Gaharwar. Her graduate research focused on an alternative strategy for bone and cartilage tissue regeneration, utilizing a unique nanoparticle, nanosilicates, to stimulate and direct cellular differentiation. Lauren’s research could potentially help in future osteoarthritis treatment strategies. She is passionate about making a positive impact in the health field. After graduating with a Bachelor of Science degree in Biomedical Engineering from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in 2014, Lauren received the Doctoral Diversity Fellowship from Texas A&M and began her graduate work. Driven by Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute’s motto, “Why not change the world?,” Lauren became actively engaged in her graduate research and sought opportunities to educate middle school students in the community about science through the Society of Biomaterial’s outreach program. In addition, Lauren’s work has resulted in several publications including three first author works, as well as several presentations at national conferences. Lauren continues to pursue her passion for research and improving health, as she is currently a post-doctoral researcher at Seattle Children’s Research Institute.
 
 

Connor Patrick Dolan – Department of Veterinary Physiology – College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences

 Connor is a PhD candidate in the Department of Veterinary Physiology & Pharmacology under the advisement of Dr. Ken Muneoka. He obtained a Bachelor of Science in Neuroscience at Tulane University in New Orleans, Louisiana. During his dissertation research, Connor worked under the guidance of Dr. Ken Muneoka in the laboratory where he studied endogenous and induced mammalian digit and limb regeneration.  More specifically, for his dissertation Connor investigated the role of peripheral nerves and mechanical loading during mouse digit tip regeneration. He has presented his research at six national and international conferences, has been the first author for two publications, and is the co-author on five other publications. Connor has trained at The Jackson Laboratory in Bar Harbor, Maine and the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, Massachusetts. During his training at Texas A&M, he has received several awards including the V.T.P.P. Outstanding Graduate Student Award, Margaret & Charles Plum Endowed Scholarship Award, and an Advanced Developmental Training Initiative Award. Connor defended his dissertation in December 2018 and will graduate in May 2019. In the future, Connor plans to continue his research, and is currently interviewing for postdoctoral positions in the Washington D.C. area. In his free time, Connor enjoys playing Ultimate Frisbee with the Texas A&M Club Frisbee Team, spending time with his dog, and backcountry camping and hiking at National Parks.
 

Madeleine S. Durkee – Department of Biomedical Engineering – College of Engineering

 Madeleine received her PhD from the Department of Biomedical Engineering in August 2018 under the advisement of Dr. Kristen Maitland. Her dissertation research focused on tissue optics, which is the study of how light interacts with biological materials. Using mathematical models to describe light-tissue interactions, Madeleine has helped to develop and optimize pre-clinical and clinical diagnostic tools. The primary focus of her dissertation is an optical microendoscope and imaging system that detects low levels of disease-causing bacteria in the lung of a living animal. She is also using this computer model to predict the performance of this diagnostic tool in humans in order to help improve the diagnosis of the disease tuberculosis in small children. Madeleine now works as a postdoctoral scholar in Radiology and the Committee on Medical Physics at the University of Chicago. She uses deep learning and other machine learning methods to analyze immune cell populations in lupus and breast cancer. Ultimately, her career goal is to become a tenure-track professor which will allow her to continue high impact academic research.
 

Mahdi Imani – Electrical Engineering – College of Engineering

Mahdi is a PhD candidate in Department of Electrical Engineering under the advisement of Dr. Ulisses Braga-Neto. He received a Bachelor of Science degree in Mechanical Engineering and a Master of Science degree in Electrical Engineering, both from University of Tehran. He defended his dissertation in January and will be graduating May 2019 with a PhD in Electrical and Computer Engineering. His research interests include machine learning, control theory and signal processing. Mahdi is the recipient of the Best PhD Student Award administered by the Electrical and Computer Engineering department and the single finalist nominee for the Outstanding Graduate Student Award in the College of Engineering at Texas A&M University. Lastly, Mahdi is also the recipient of the Best Paper finalist award from the 49th Asilomar Conference on Signals, Systems, and Computers. 
 

Yoandy Cabrera Ortega – Department of Hispanic Studies – College of Liberal Arts

Yoandy is a PhD candidate in the Department of Hispanic Studies under the advisement of Dr. Hilarie Kallendorf. He worked as a graduate teaching assistant where he taught Hispanic Literature, specifically Grammar and Classical Languages in Cuba, Spain and the United States. Yoandy also received a Master’s degree in both Classical and Hispanic Philology in Spain. He has worked as a Graduate Teaching Consultant in the Center for Teaching Excellence at Texas A&M University. In addition to his teaching and research, Yoandy has edited poetry and prose for different publishing houses, pursues literary criticism in several periodicals, and is an Associate Editor and Peer Reviewer for the Spanish and Portuguese Review. His most recent academic articles are related to the contemporary Cuban poetry and the Hispanic classical reception. Lastly, Yoandy won the Glasscock Graduate Research Fellowship 2016-2017 and the Fasken Graduate Student Teaching Award Spring 2018, and is an alumnus of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens. He defended his dissertation in February 2019 and will graduate in May.
 

Rajat Maji – Department of Chemistry – College of Science

Rajat received his PhD from the Department of Chemistry in August 2018 under the supervision of Dr. Steven E. Wheeler. His graduate research focused on understanding electrostatically driven, non-covalent interactions in asymmetric catalysis, which has identified the relatively underappreciated role of non-covalent interactions in asymmetric catalysis governing reactivity and selectivity. Thus far, Rajat is the first author of a series of high impact papers, of which seven have been published and many are pending review and formal acceptance. Rajat’s research efforts have widely been recognized with several awards and distinctions. He won the 2018 ACS Graduate Student award for chemical computing, the DOW TAMU graduate student research award (2018), the Sharon Dabney Award for Excellent Research and Service (2018), and numerous travel awards, as well as other external fellowships and grants. He has attended several international conferences to present his research and independently reviewed many articles for highly regarded peer reviewed journals, including the Journal of the American Chemical Society, Nature Catalysis, Organic Letters, and the Journal of Organic Chemistry. Rajat has shown boundless enthusiasm for teaching and mentoring, which has translated into a stellar record as a teaching assistant. His teaching efforts have been appreciated with several awards and high-profile nominations including the Eastman Teaching Award for Organic Chemistry (2015), University Distinguished teaching Award nomination (2016) as well as being named as one of the 12 most influential teaching assistants across the university for Excellence in Peer Education (2013). Besides research and teaching, Rajat has always remained equally engaged in serving as a student leader in university organizations and actively participating in several outreach activities and workshops. He is currently pursuing post-doctoral training at Max-Planck-Institut für Kohlenforschung in Germany.
 

Lauren Redmore – Department of Recreation, Park, and Tourism Sciences – College of Agriculture and Life Sciences

Lauren is a PhD student in the Department of Recreation, Park, and Tourism Sciences with the interdisciplinary Applied Biodiversity Sciences Program under the advisement of Dr. Amanda Stronza. She is a National Science Foundation Integrative Graduate Education and Research Trainee and a Fellow with the Ecoexist Project, a non-governmental organization working to mitigate human-elephant conflict in the Eastern Panhandle of the Okavango Delta, Botswana. Her research explores coping and adaptation of a rural community to elephants in Northern Botswana, where she recently completed a year of fieldwork as a Fulbright Student Researcher. In addition to conducting ethnographic fieldwork in Botswana for her dissertation, Lauren has collaborated on an interdisciplinary research project with a PhD student from the Wildlife and Fisheries Department to examine the spatial and temporal overlap of the use of tree resources by both people and elephants. She is also a member of a National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center graduate student pursuit team studying the role of municipal-level governance on deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon. Prior to coming to Texas A&M, Lauren worked in southern Cameroon for six years, first as a Peace Corps volunteer for three years and then as a social scientist and project manager on community-based conservation projects for the Zoological Society of London. Lauren was a seasonal botanist for one year in southern New Mexico and Missouri, and she holds a Master of Science in Forest Resources with a concentration in social sciences from Oregon State University. There she studied the Woman Owning Woodlands Network, a forestry extension program for women. Lauren is originally from South Orange, New Jersey. Lauren also has a Bachelor of Arts in Biology and Religion from Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania.
 

Minxiang Zeng – Department of Chemical Engineering – College of Engineering

Minxiang received his PhD from the Department of Chemical Engineering in December 2018 under the advisement of Dr. Zhengdong Cheng. He received his Bachelor of Science degree in Chemical Physics from the University of Science & Technology of China in Hefei, China. Minxiang’s research was on studying and manipulating the fundamental behavior of anisotropic nanoparticles that have enabled emerging applications in the field of sustainable water and clean energy. Minxiang has contributed to 21 peer-reviewed papers, presented research at several national conferences, and made consistent contribution to secure grant proposals.  He has received several honors and awards, which includes winning 1st Place at the 2018 Chemical Engineering Graduate Student Association Research Symposium and receiving the 2016 KANEKA Scholarship. In addition, Minxiang has been actively involved in tutoring more than 20 undergraduates on research projects, and his team has been awarded the “Best Presentation” prize at GCURS Research Symposium in 2016. Minxiang is currently a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Notre Dame.
 
 
 

Excellence in Teaching

Shubhadeep Chakraborty – Department of Statistics – College of Science

Shubhadeep is a PhD student in the Department of Statistics under the supervision of Dr. Xianyang Zhang. His research interests include Nonparametric Statistics, Causal Interference and High Dimensional Statistics. His first paper was entitled, “Distance Metrics for Measuring Joint Dependence with Application to Causal Inference,” and was co-authored with Dr. Zhang. This paper has been accepted for publication with the Journal of the American Statistical Association. Shubhadeep’s second paper entitled, “A New Framework for Distance and Kernel-based Metrics in High Dimensions,” was recently submitted to the Journal of the American Statistical Association. Over the last two years, he has received several awards and recognitions, including the Gold Prize at the Southeastern Texas Chapter of the American Statistical Association poster competition in 2017; the Anant M. Kshirsagar Endowed Fellowship from the Department of Statistics in 2017; the R.L. Anderson Student Poster Award at the Southern Regional Council on Statistics 2018 conference in Virginia Beach, VA;  and the Dr. Joseph Newton Graduate Student Service Award from the College of Science in 2018. Shubhadeep has presented his research at several national and international conferences. Additionally, he has taught three undergraduate courses including, Statistical Methods and Principles of Statistics during his time at Texas A&M. In summer 2018, he taught advanced level Metric Spaces, Linear Algebra and Regression during a boot-camp organized for the incoming PhD students. Shubhadeep has also served on the Statistics Graduate Student Association in various capacities over the last few years including, Delegate (2016-2017), the Social Chair and Secretary (2017-2018) and the Vice President (2018-2019).
 

Varun Gejji – Department of Biological and Agricultural Engineering – College of Agriculture and Life Sciences

Varun is a PhD candidate in the Department of Biological and Agricultural Engineering under the advisement of Dr. Sandun Fernando. His research focuses on developing a new lipid and protein extraction technique from microalgae that will reduce the stress on traditional resource-intensive down-stream unit operations. Varun already has a patent application pending, three peer-reviewed articles published, and several other articles under review. Additionally, he has been working on simulation-based anti-viral drug screening. Varun’s work on developing new small molecule drugs for inhibiting tick-borne encephalitis virus has shown promising results and will certainly help reduce the spread deadly viral infections. Varun is extremely passionate about teaching and mentoring undergraduate students. He has served as a teaching assistant in the Biological and Agricultural Engineering department and mentored three REU students. Varun also served as the President of the departmental Graduate Student Association. For his work ethic, character, service, and integrity, Varun has been awarded the Robert E. Stewart Excellence Award by the department and the Liz Gillis Scholarship by the Kellogg Company. After graduation, Varun plans to pursue a career in academia. 
 

Agustin Millet – Department of Chemistry – College of Science

Agustin is a PhD candidate in the Department of Chemistry under the advisement of Dr. Kim Dunbar. His graduate research explores the role of dirhodium complexes as anticancer drugs for photodynamic therapeutic applications and sensitizers for dye-sensitized solar cell. Agustin’s main focus is on the development of more efficient light absorbers using a dirhodium core as a scaffold. He specializes in organic chemistry and has taught organic chemistry as a laboratory teaching assistant for nine years. Augustin is also very passionate about teaching and has taught several courses at Texas A&M University and the University of Buenos Aires where he obtained his Bachelor of Science in Chemistry. Additionally, he has successfully mentored undergraduate students, one of which shares authorship with in a publication in the Journal of the American Chemical Society. Agustin also enjoys participating in the annual Chemistry Open House event, where he is able to share his passion and love for chemistry with the general public. 
 
 

Adebayo Anthony Ogungbure – Department of Philosophy – College of Liberal Arts

Adebayo Ogungbure is a PhD student in the Department of Philosophy under the advisement of Dr. Tommy Curry. His graduate research interests include Africana Philosophy, specifically 20th century Black political thought, Critical Race Theory, Social Epistemology, and Black male studies. Currently, Adebayo is working on a Master of Science degree in Higher Education Administration and plans to graduate in May 2019. After he completes his degree, Adebayo aspires to be an inspirational teacher that deploys pedagogical methodologies to bring about transformational learning to students inside and outside of the classroom. He is currently enrolled in the College Teaching Certificate course administered in the College of Education and Human Development at Texas A&M University. A few of Adebayo’s accomplishments include being selected as a 2017 Associate Fellowship awardee of the Academy for Future Faculty by the Center for Teaching Excellence and The Office of Graduate and Professional Students; having aspects of his teaching-as-research project accepted for publication in the Teaching Philosophy journal; and publishing peer-reviewed articles in reputable journals like the Journal of Pan-African Studies, International Journal of Humanities, Journal on African Philosophy and American Philosophical Quarterly. Lastly, Adebayo is a husband to his lovely wife and father of two beautiful daughters.
 

Deanna Stover – Department of English – College of Liberal Arts

Deanna Stover is a PhD student in the Department of English under the advisement of Dr. Claudia Nelson. Her graduate research focuses on Victorian Literature, Children’s Literature, and Digital Humanities. Her dissertation is entitled, "Deadly Toys: Mini Worlds and Wars, 1815-1914," and explores literary representations of toy wars in the long nineteenth century. Deanna’s research has appeared in Children's Literature Association Quarterly, Women's Writing, and Scholarly Editing. She has taught Rhetoric and Composition, Technical Writing, Writing about Literature, Children’s Literature, and Victorian Literature at Texas A&M University. Additionally, Deanna taught Composition and ESL courses in Texas and Arizona prisons. Deanna regularly incorporates digital methods into her classroom and has been formerly recognized for her teaching by both the Staley Creswell Teaching Award and the Fasken Graduate Student Teaching Award.
 

Gladys M. Walter – Department of Agricultural Leadership, Education, and Communications – College of Agriculture and Life Sciences

Gladys Walter is a PhD student in the Department of Agricultural Leadership, Education, and Communications under the advisement of Dr. Billy McKim. Since spring 2017, she has served as a Graduate Instructor of Record for several upper division courses in her department, including: Applied Ethics in Leadership, Personal Leadership Development, and Leadership of Volunteers in Nonprofits. Gladys has also served as a teaching assistant for courses such as Introduction to Leadership, Survey of Leadership Theory, and Senior Seminar. As a researcher, Gladys specializes in quantitative and qualitative research methods and design and organizational leadership. Her dissertation explores preeminence aspirations at research-one land-grant institutions. More specifically, she seeks to examine how universities can aspire towards preeminence while operating within the confines of the institutional land-grant mission. When Gladys is not teaching or conducting research, she is involved in several service activities. She has served on two faculty search committees and one external department review committee. Gladys is currently the national secretary for the University of Florida’s Association of Black Alumni, her department’s delegate to the Graduate and Professional Student Council, a graduate panel member on the University Disciplinary Appeals Committee and a graduate member on the Texas A&M Vision 2030 committee. Gladys was born and raised on the French/Dutch Caribbean island of St. Maarten. Prior to joining Texas A&M University, she attended the University of Florida where she earned a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science in 2012 and a Master of Science in Family, Youth, and Community Sciences in 2016. She intends to defend her dissertation in August 2019 and pursue a research career in the private sector upon graduation.