Spring 2014 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 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.

The following students (listed with their associated colleges) received the Spring 2014 Dissertation Fellowships:

Yi Luo, College of Architecture

Yi Luo’s research focuses on assessing performance of landscape projects and has attracted worldwide attention. Over the past 30 years, sustainable development has attracted increasing attention. Sustainable projects aim to: 1) protect the environment and use natural resources prudently; 2) maintain economic growth at a stable, high level; and 3) reduce inequity by addressing the needs of everyone. In order to achieve these goals, many sustainable solutions emerged, such as green roof, rain garden and pedestrian-oriented streets. Theoretically, these solutions would yield numerous benefits to the environment. However, a lack of research exists to support this theory. Yi’s research fills this gap by systematically quantifying landscape solutions’ performance and collecting users’ feedback. Her research examines whether the performance of sustainable solutions fulfill designers’ intentions, which reduces uncertainties in the decision process. It also attempts to show designers, agencies and land owners that sustainable landscape solutions benefit the environment, cut costs and improve quality of life. After graduation, Yi hopes to continue her work in landscape performance.

Harini Screenivasappa, College of Engineering

Harini Screenivasappa’s research provides fundamental new knowledge on the molecular mechanism by which vascular smooth muscle cells sense and adapt to external mechanical forces generated by the microenvironment. Using a non-traditional, complementary combination of microscopy techniques, Harini obtained comprehensive structural and functional information from live cells in physiological conditions (i.e. live cell cultures). This integrated microscope system combines Total Internal Reflection Flurorescne (TIRF) and spinning disk confocal microscopy with atomic force microscopy (AFM), enabling real-time recording of spatio-temporal protein dynamics in living cells challenged with different extracellular mechano-chemical cues. Her research addresses a gap in current knowledge regarding cellular mechanosensing and adaption to force. In addition, it provides fundamental new data on a physiological approach providing analysis of real-time contractile and adhesion associated with live VSMC responses to force. After graduation, Harini hopes to use her bio-engineering background to interface multiple microscopy techniques in hopes of providing unique tools to enable novel quantitative measurements. She hopes that these novel quantitative measurements will assess functional interactions between key proteins involved in regulating of mechanical signal transduction processes at real-time.

Katsunori Seki, College of Liberal Arts

Katsunori Seki’s research focuses on studying the tradeoffs dictators face when deciding whether or not to hold elections, and examining the effects these choices have on regime change. Katsunori hopes to answer three questions with his research: when and why do elections occur in non-democracies, what is the role of elections in non-democracies, and do elections affect regime survival? To answer these questions, he will carry out various statistical case studies of elections under the autocratic regimes in Serbia, Croatia, and Montenegro. His research will provide a wide range of implications to scholarly political science research, policymakers in advance democracies, and non-governmental organizations that promote democratization, with the hope of protecting human rights and improving the welfare of the citizens in nondemocratic nations.

Joshua Williams, College of Geosciences

Joshua Williams’ research centers on studying the natural responses of estuarine systems to human induced changes for future coastal planning. His research will focus on the estuaries in South Korea as they have been developed primarily within the last century. Joshua hopes his research will provide information to policy makers on the impacts of the Four Major Rivers Restoration Project, a project installing a series of dams in the drainage basin of four major rivers (Han, Nakdong, Geum, and Yeongsan) in South Korea. In addition, Joshua aims to provide research that applies to future management and construction plans for local estuaries in Texas such as Galveston Bay and other large, economically important estuaries throughout the nation.

Xuan Yu, College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences

Xuan Yu’s research focuses on understanding the reasons behind the controversial actions of estrogen in hopes of developing new pharmacological strategies that would utilize the health benefits of estrogen and limit its dangerous side effects. She hopes this research will promote the development of new compounds that will provide treatment for menopause, cardiovascular disease, as well as a broad range of estrogen-related disease such as dementia, multiple sclerosis, breast cancer and osteoporosis. Additionally, Xuan believes that by unlocking the therapeutic potential of estrogen, possibilities arise that resulting therapeutic approaches developed would translate benefits of estrogen to the health of all people.

Xiaosi Zeng, College of Engineering

Xiaosi Zeng’s dissertation work focuses on devising countermeasures for the lack of uniformity in running times of traffic signals, which leads to numerous bus delays and traffic problems. The advancement of wireless communications technology has enabled real-time transmission of richer dataset from transit vehicle to the roadway infrastructure. Because of this enabler, more advanced logarithms can be developed to incorporate information regarding passenger loads, schedule adherence and so on. In turn, the road infrastructure can become smarter and know the best timing to grant priority to buses. However, as the number of intersections increase, the complexity of the problem grows rapidly. Xiaosi’s dissertation work aims to develop smarter algorithms that tackle this complex problem. Xiaosi hopes that the models and insights developed in this study will serve as a starting point for future research aiming to harness the power of the wireless communications technologies.