Spring 2013 Dissertation Fellowship Award Recipients

Texas A&M University’s Office of Graduate and Professional Studies recently awarded 6 dissertation fellowships as part of their Dissertation Fellowship Program.  Developed in fall 2011 by Associate Provost for Graduate and Professional Studies Dr. Karen Butler-Purry, the Dissertation Fellowship Program supports doctoral students in the late stages of degree program completion; namely final research topic analysis and dissertation writing.   Eligible applicants included U.S. citizens, permanent residents and international doctoral students.  Thirty-seven students currently utilize the dissertation fellowship.

The following students (listed with their associated colleges) received Spring 2013 dissertation fellowships:

Damon Bach, College of Liberal Arts

Damon Bach, a United States Navy veteran, focuses his dissertation research on the origins of 1960s hippie counterculture.  Through studying hippie-produced sources such as newspapers, flyers, poems, cartoons and pamphlets, he documents the counterculture from its beginnings in the 1950s to its 1970s demise.  His research provides critical insights into unfolding hippie values/worldviews and post-World War II American social conflict.  Damon analyzes the counterculture’s legacy and determines to what degree the hippies influence contemporary America.  His work represents the first scholar-published book on the counterculture in more than twenty years, and also the first geographically nationwide study of American hippies.  Greater comprehension of the countercultural experience creates a clearer understanding of the myriad social, cultural and political changes exploding during the 1960s era.  Moreover, his study illuminates how most Americans – “the Silent Majority” as Nixon called them – responded to the youthful dissidents, which clarifies just what ordinary Americans valued.  Damon’s sole focus on hippies fills a major void and provides the most thorough treatment of the subject to date.   After graduation he hopes to pursue a career in academia.

Lauren Ritchie, College of Agriculture

Lauren Ritchie’s dissertation research aims to determine how dietary compounds may influence colon inflammation.  She also investigates how environmental insults such as chemicals and radiation exposure initiate intestinal inflammation and injury.  Her work holds particular importance as chronic bowel inflammation increases risk for colorectal cancers, the second most lethal cancers worldwide.   Studies suggest that suffering from chronic intestinal inflammation and GI diseases such as ulcerative colitis places individuals at between a 2-18% increased risk (depending on age) of developing colon cancer.   Lauren hypothesizes that each insult affects inflammation/injury by altering colonic bacterial populations.  The altered populations then impact signaling between the bacteria and colonocytes (epithelial cells of the colon).  Her research further explores whether dietary intervention can mitigate intestinal inflammation.  She hopes to raise awareness of and explain sorghum-based diets’ effectiveness at alleviating the effects of chronic intestinal inflammation.   A portion of her research also examines how environmental insults associated with space flight, such as radiation exposure and weightlessness, influence colon microbial populations and associated intestine health.   Scant research exists in this arena, particularly in understanding how space travel affects GI bacterial populations.   Data generated from Lauren’s radiation and weightlessness projects will also help plan dietary interventions to aid patients exposed to abdominal radiation and/or confined to long-term bed rest.   Lauren hopes to pursue a career in academia after graduation.

Allison McInnes, College of Geosciences

Allison McInnes’ dissertation research focuses on the ocean’s role in the Global Carbon Cycle, and possible related impacts on global climate change.    Humans greatly influence the environment but limited understanding exists on the extent to which the environment responds to and buffers these changes.  The oceans and atmosphere connect in regulating heat, fresh water, atmospheric gases and other substances.  Allison’s research aims to understand the efficiency of this biological pump, via studies that will explain the connectivity of the carbon and nitrogen cycles (in the laboratory and in the field – Gulf of Mexico).  Allison’s research also studies the transport of settling particles (focus on Pacific Ocean and global ocean), and in addition she examines trace sources of nutrients through the food web in Simpson’s Bay, Prince William Sound, Alaska.  The combined effort of her studies will vastly enhance knowledge of the biological pump, arguably the most important component of the Global Carbon Cycle.   Her results will improve current models from which many policy decisions arise.  Science in this field impacts decision-making on all levels of government from national carbon taxes to community judgment regarding sea level rise.  Correct estimates for the ocean’s role in the carbon cycle represent essential elements in accurate climate prediction models.  Allison will pursue an academic career upon graduation.

Kristian Saguin, College of Geosciences

Kristian Saguin’s dissertation research provides a case study of periurban food production for the city through aquaculture (fish farming) using the example of Laguna Lake, Philippines and nearby Manila.  The periurban interface in rapidly urbanizing countries like the Philippines houses significant socioecological change, yet the relationships tied to urban-rural resource flows remain poorly understood.  Kristian’s research aims to augment knowledge of both lake and urban processes associated with flows of fish; i.e. he follows the fish as it moves from lake to city.  He provides a detailed discussion of fish trader/producer practices, motivations and aspirations and also social/cultural relations among them.  He highlights the activities, institutions and governance strategies of fish production that possess greatest potential for long-term sustainability.  Through emphasizing urban metabolism, Kristian’s research presents novel explanations for periurban environmental change, exploring uneven relations between social groups.    Furthermore, employing an historical account of Laguna Lake aquaculture development provides empirical details useful for evaluating the promises of aquaculture.  Stressing contradictions of various urban-rural flows points to limitations and opportunities for governing multi-use resources like Laguna Lake.  His work answers questions regarding food supply for the urban poor in developing countries.  Furthermore, his findings contribute to understanding of urban/periurban environmental change, food security and aquaculture in developing nations.  After graduation Kristian plans to become a leading scholar in his native Philippines.

Manoj Prasad, College of Engineering

Manoj Prasad’s research focuses on quantifying humans’ tactile discriminating and perceiving capabilities.   Tactile sense provides a rich medium for communication and works well to display information in situations where audio and visual mediums deteriorate.   People can discriminate, process and learn touch patterns in the same way as they recognize letters/words in speech and vision.   Manoj’s work seeks to learn the boundaries of haptic (touch) comprehension, specifically investigating if meaning gains can arise through a combination of haptic feedback sources merging strength, pattern (rhythm), shape, path and source type (wave versus square).  In other words, can these five sources work together to convey sophisticated linguistic noun and verb phrases.  By permitting silent, eyes- and ears-free communication, practical applications for his research include aiding the visually and/or hearing impaired, assisting military team communication and providing commercial innovations such as warning signals for automobile drivers.  The military goal involves improving communication between soldiers without disrupting their primary task or revealing their position.  His research also provides innovative and impactful theoretical implications since it will show that humans can process grammar-based linguistic input through touch alone.   After graduation, Manoj plans to expand his commitment to mentoring, research and leadership with a career in academia. 

Julian (Jialiang) Wang, College of Architecture

Julian (Jialiang) Wang’s research explores integrating acclimated kinetic envelopes into sustainable building design.  A building envelope (or building enclosure) represents the physical separator between the interior and exterior environments of a building.  It serves as the outer shell to help maintain the indoor environment (together with the mechanical conditioning systems) and facilitate proper climate control.  Sustainable Building Design theory aims to reduce negative impacts on the environment, improve building performance, reduce consumption of non-renewable resources, minimize waste and create healthy, productive environments.  Acclimated Kinetic Envelopes (AKE) can alter their thermal and optical properties according to seasonal/daily climate variations.  AKE examples range from simple automated blinds to boost daylight to variable wall insulation, sliding walls or moveable roofs.  Julian’s research compares the AKE’s performance on energy usage, indoor comfort and human factors to Conventional Energy-efficient Envelopes (CEE) of commercial buildings in China climatic zones.  His study demonstrates that AKE systems can provide superior energy performance and higher occupant satisfaction than CEE.    Julian’s work also shows that kinetic systems can substantially reduce electrical lighting/air-conditioning energy consumption, contributing to greenhouse gas mitigation and a more sustainable world.   AKE technology benefits include renewable energy development, net-zero energy buildings, improved human well-being and enhanced design aesthetics.  Julian plans to pursue a career in academia upon graduation.