FALL 2015 Dissertation Fellowship Award Biographies

Texas A&M University’s Graduate and Professional School 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 Fall 2015 Dissertation Fellowships:

Candice Idlebird, College of Liberal Arts

Candice Idlebird is a doctoral student in the Department of Sociology at the College of Liberal Arts. Candice’s dissertation focuses on Examining Criminalization Patterns through the Judicial Minds in Power, aiming to answer fundamental questions regarding racial disparities and why they exist. She believes there is a significant gap in literature emphasizing the relationships between the criminal justice system and racial disparities. Candice also attempts to explain the difference involving accounts for the mindset of powerful people when invoking particular sentences and attitudes while dealing with individuals of color within the criminal justice system. In addition to developing the systemic racist construct of the criminal justice system, Candice’s research will contribute to the fields of criminology and sociology- offering a view of powerful social actors’ mindset when interacting with people of color in the criminal justice system. She will explore what people of color encounter with these actors as well as provide a view of who these social actors are and what positions they hold within the criminal justice system. 

Jonggun Kim, College of Agriculture & Life Sciences

Jonggun Kim is a PhD student in the Department of Biological & Agriculture Engineering at the College of Agriculture & Life Sciences. Kim’s dissertation focuses on the Improvement of Subsurface Flow Predictability in Unsaturated Zones at Various Spatial Scales. He attempts to describe that land surface hydrologic processes are important components in land surface modeling to understand and quantify the complex interaction between atmosphere and land surface system. In his research, Kim demonstrates that the North American Land Data Assimilation System (NLDAS) has monitored and predicted hydrological drought conditions using state variables (e.g., soil, moisture dynamics, runoff, evaporation, etc.) estimated from various hydrological models. Given that the system provides the individual model output or simple model average products that might cause bias or inconsistency in the soil moisture prediction which is important for drought monitoring. Thus, the Bayesian Model Averaging (BMA) based on multi-model simulation approached developed in his research can improve the predictability and reliability of soil moisture dynamics, monitoring hydrological drought conditions, and forecasting future hydrologic conditions.

Mizzo Kwon, College of Architecture

Mizzo Kwon is a PhD student in the Department of Landscape Architecture and Urban Planning at the College of Architecture. Mizzo’s research focuses on Examining the Relationship among the Built Environment, Community Currency (CC) Activities, and Quality of Life. Community Currency is one of the grassroots social movements and it has become a medium of exchange with the purpose of connecting unmet needs with otherwise idle resources as a complement to a national currency (e.g., U.S, dollar). Mizzo’s research will attempt to explain how the characteristics of the neighborhood environment influence CC activities and quality of life for CC members. Specifically, his study examines obstacles to and catalysts for CC activities related to neighborhood walkability. Mizzo’s research will answer the underlining question of how walkability facilitates casual face-to-face interaction among neighbors through which individuals increase their physical and social interactions with other community members and enhance community attachment as well as improve individuals’ overall quality of life. These characteristics affect the activities of grassroots social movements like CC. Thus, Mizzo’s study will test the hypothesis that highly walkable neighborhood environments will increase the participation in CC activities as well as quality of life. 

Andrew Lantz, College of Liberal Arts

Andrew Lantz is doctoral student in the Department of Hispanic Studies at the College of Liberal Arts. Andrew’s dissertation focuses on Screening Change in Bolivia: Audiovisual Production of the Proceso de Cambio (Process of Change): the social and economic project of the Bolivian President Evo Morales and Vice President García Linera since assuming power in 2006. The main tenets of the “process of change” include: the undoing of colonial and neoliberal structures of power through a decolonization of the state, the nationalization of the country’s natural resources, and the promotion of post-capitalist communitarian values based on an indigenous Andean Cosmo-vision. In this view, Andrew’s study will employ the context of the “process of change” and its proposed changes as a conceptual frame in order to analyze and critique several developments in Bolivian audiovisual production since the process’s inception. His study situates a wide variety of filmic practice within Bolivia’s current social-political climate including feature-length films (especially those receiving State support), independent short films (those that traverse the festival circuit, many of which emerge from audiovisual collectives that have endorsed what has been termed the “process of change” - a general means of describing the administration’s proposed social and economic projects that aim to reconstruct Bolivian society.

Laura Gail White,  College of Liberal Arts

Laura Gail White is a PhD student in the Department of Anthropology at the College of Liberal Arts. Laura’s dissertation focuses on the Painting and Preservation of Ships in Antiquity. She describes that ancient ships and ship construction is fundamental to maritime archaeology. Laura believes that ancient ships can contain clues as to the  origin of vessels and also identify the materials used in their construction, revealing much of the history of the vessel, local industries and the decision making processes of a community of shipwrights and ship owners. Laura’s study has two goals: first, she hopes to underscore the importance of careful recording and analysis of ancillary shipbuilding materials. Second, she hopes to contextualize and codify the use of these materials in terms of the broader study of ancient ship technology, as well as the study of the use and alteration of natural products in antiquity. Laura’s study has a methodological significance, and will be of value to future archaeological scientists.

Steven Davis, College of Liberal Arts

Steven Davis is a doctoral student in the Department of History at the College of Liberal Arts. Seven’s dissertation concentrates on the Tales of Expulsion: remembering population transfer in West Germany and the Czech lands from 1968 to 1989.  During the 1945 – 1947 some three million ethnic Germans were expelled from Czechoslovakia. The story of expulsion and battles over restitution threatened relations between West Germany and its eastern neighbors, and after 1989 this issue took center stage in Europe-wide debates about integration and human rights. Steven attempts to investigate grass-roots cooperation between Czech dissidents and intellectuals in Western Europe and changing narratives of the expulsion before 1989. His work will provide insight and lessons from the Sudeten German-Czech story to offer a better understanding of how we can overcome historical antagonisms and cultural miscommunication and engage in a meaningful dialogue to promote reconciliation and positive relations in a world where inter-ethnic understanding and communication are increasingly vital to peace, stability, and cooperation.

Tek Dangi, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences

Tek Dangi is a PhD candidate in the Department of Recreation and Park Tourism at the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. Tek’s dissertation focuses on a Robust Framework of Sustainable Community-Based Tourism (SCBT): exploring destination justice and equity as a part of governance, a case Study of the city Bryan-College Station in the state of Texas. Tek aims to explain the concept of Sustainable Tourism (ST) and Community-Based Tourism (CBT). He notices that ST emerged in opposition to the negative impacts of mass tourism which is manifested in various forms such as community-based tourism, ecotourism, farm tourism, volunteer tourism, agro-tourism, responsible tourism, and so on. In his study, Tek also draws an observation in which the concept of ST is critiqued by scholars as inoperative, diversely interpreted, ideological, and impractical. Therefore, he proposes a two stage study: (1) A scoping study that includes comprehensive evacuation of literature on ST and CBT, and (2) An empirical study to further explore some vital insights arising from the scoping study. The findings of Tek’s study will help improve operations at the local level wherever required, or to consolidate them and transfer the knowledge to other parts of the world. 

Vijetha Koppa, College of Liberal Arts

Vijetha Koppa is a doctoral student in the Department of Economics at the College of Liberal Arts. Vjietha’s study focuses on the Public Policy and Social Welfare- Application of Causal Inference Methods. He attempts to analyze the effects of various public policies on social wellbeing. Public policies affect various aspects of life for large populations and yet analyzing their effects is difficult due to the lack of an experimental approach in their implementation. As a solution, a variety of causal inference techniques have been developed in the field of economics. Using these techniques, Vijetha’s goal is to identify the true casual effects of important public policies on different aspects of society. He discovers that the vouchers increase the likelihood of arrests for male heads of household. By exploiting the randomness in timing of program enrollment, resulting from a housing voucher lottery, the study estimates the differences in probability of arrests between early and late voucher recipients. This indicates the need for more frequent monitoring by the housing authorities, especially for male recipients. Using a similar approach, Vijetha will be studying the effect of the housing voucher program on domestic violence which is a serious social and public health problem, more so among low income populations.

Anuj Chaudhry, College of Engineering

Anuj Chaudhry is a doctoral student in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at the College of Engineering. Anuj’s dissertation focuses on Imaging and Measurement of the Poroelastic Behavior of Materials Using New Ultrasound Electrography Techniques. The hypothesis of his study is that time-dependent mechanical response of the tissue to external compression is correlated with the underlying interstitial fluid pressure (IFP) and that such a response can be reliably estimated using ultrasound poroelasticity imaging techniques. Preliminary results show that a new technique using two ultrasound transducers can reliably measure these poroelastic parameters with very high image quality. As a result, by reliably estimating the poroelastic response of a tissue under compression we could non-invasively estimate the underlying IFP using ultrasound imaging. Anuj belives that a reliable estimation of change is volume and fluid pressure non-invasively using the techniques developed in this research will help both diagnosing and staging this condition more accurately. The contribution of this work may not just be limited to diseases. In sports nutrition there is always an increased interest in studying the re-hydration of muscles for athletes and active individuals. Anuj envisions that the ultrasound techniques developed in his research could differentiate between a hydrated and de-hydrated muscle non-invasively in real time. 

Jose de Jesus Rico Jimenez, College of Engineering

Jose de Jesus Rico Jimenez is PhD candidate in the Department of Biomedical Engineering at the College of Engineering. Jose’s dissertation pinpoints the Computation Tools for Image Processing, Integration, and Visualization of Simultaneous OCT-FLIM Images of Tissue. Jose notices that cancer and heart diseases are the leading cause of death for people of most racial/ethnic groups in the United States. Although very different in nature, both of these diseases present diseased stages of tissue that have changes in both the morphological and biochemical composition. Despite the fact that OCT and FLIM have been used on regular bases, up to today, there are no reliable and efficient computational tools for image processing, multimodal imaging integration, and visualization of OCT-FLIM images that allow characterization and early diagnosis of tissue diseases such as oral cancer and atherosclerosis. For this reason, Jose’s dissertation and research propose the creation, development and implementation of three software tools that will provide researchers and physicians with robust and novel medical imaging tools for the visualization and characterization of 3D and 2D morphological and biochemical composition of tissue for oral cancer and atherosclerosis studies. Similarly, the interrogation of the profiles of the OCT images will lead to characterization maps to quantify structural features that are associated with the plaque formation, for example fibrotic tissue, lipid pool, foam cells, and calcification. The proposed tools will initially be used as a research tool for studying the development of oral cancer and atherosclerotic plaques in animal models. Furthermore, these tools will eventually be used in imaging systems for human studies.

Kevin L Shimkus, College of Education & Human Development

Kevin L Shimkus is a PhD student in the Department of Health & Kinesiology at the College of Education & Human Development. Kevin’s research focuses on Muscle Plasticity and Repeatability to Alterations in Mechanical Loading Conditions. The overall objective of his dissertation is to identify if any aspects of muscle structure or physiology are differentially impacted by successive bouts of microgravity or recovery, which will define and characterize biological repeatability as a component of muscle plasticity. The central hypothesis in Kevin’s study is that skeletal muscle is both plastic (rapidly and substantially adjusting to stimuli) and repeatable (reacts identically and predictably to serial occurrences of a given stimuli), which will result in comparable findings within each unloading and reloading period. This work has immediate impact for NASA, as it draws the first known light on how an astronaut’s skeletal muscle may be impacted throughout their career, and seeks to identify if any muscle outcomes might be a concern for astronauts undergoing additional missions. The findings of Kevin’s research will contribute to the general public and those who create policy in public office, to demonstrate the value of our research and its return on investment to society.

Eba Munguia, College of Liberal Arts

Eba Munguia is doctoral candidate in the Department of Hispanic Studies at the College of Liberal Arts. Eba’s dissertation concentrates on the Forms of Address on Social Media and Popular Music: Honduran on Facebook Punta Lyrics. Her research focuses on Honduran Spanish, a dialect where all three forms of the second person pronoun (vos, , and usted) are found. The study explores two contexts that have never been explained before computer mediated communication (CMC) and popular music. These contexts share the fact that they combine features of both speech and written language. Eba attempts to answer two different research questions in her study:  (1) what is the frequency of the use of second singular pronouns and verbs in Honduran Spanish in (oral/written) mixed media? (2) What social and stylistic factors determine those choices? Eba’s research will contribute to the better understanding of Honduran Spanish in general and of its forms of address in particular. It also adds to our understanding of the influence of different media on forms of address in any language. In addition to having practical applications that can be used in second language acquisition, this study will help in understanding the effect of different media on forms address selection.

Andrew Webb, College of Engineering 

Andrew Webb is a PhD student in the Department of Computer Science and Engineering at the College of Engineering. His dissertation focuses on Embodying Visual Semantic Diagraming to Stimulate Design Ideation. Andrew’s tend is to develop a new digital environment to support design ideation that enables designers to work naturally with hands to collect, organize, and express ideas. Ideation is central to design tasks in which the goal is to find novel solutions around a set of requirements. Andrew seeks to transform design processes by integrating the creation, collection, and organization of ideas into a single environment. His goal is to promote ideation and innovation. Designers spend significant time collecting and organizing materials to develop new ideas. Findings from this research will be disseminated through journal articles and conference proceedings. The study will derive implications for design of environments for working with information. These design implications will advance new knowledge as other researchers in various domains, such as Human Computer Interaction, Design, and Information Visualization, develop new environments based upon our implications. 

Ryan Christopher Neighbors, College Liberal Arts

Ryan Christopher Neighbors is doctoral student in the Department of English at the College Liberal Arts. Ryan’s dissertation focuses on The Trail Home: Resisting Native Removal from Southern Literature. Ryan’s creative/critical-hybrid dissertation combines traditional literary criticism with creative writing to examine how the physical removal and genocide of Native Americans in the South extend to their metaphorical removal from American Southern studies, pedagogy, and Southern writing itself. The project, then, becomes an act of resisting that removal. He seeks to incorporate Native perspectives into these areas and to challenge Native representations within Southern culture. Despite the importance of Native peoples and their ideas today, they are often represented negatively in our stories-as the villains of so many westerns or as fossils from an ambiguous past- when they are present at all. Ryan’s study will explore issues related to Native Americans, such as the Baby Veronica case and the Keystone Pipeline, which continue to impact Americans on a variety of levels. Rayan believes that we need more stories that contain sympathetic, well-rounded Native characters and more scholarship that shows the appeal, usefulness, and significance of Native thought.

Sou Yeon Nam, College of Geosciences

Sou Yeon Nam is a PhD candidate in the Department of Geography at the College of Geosciences. His dissertation concentrates on Scaled Natures: Territorializing Natural Landscapes on Jeju Island in South Korea. Sou aims to explain that ecotourism’s contribution to local communities is of dubious value, despite generating more than 10 percent of its GDP. He argues that: (1) ecotourism projects can threaten rural citizens' means of making a living when urban middle class tastes are prioritized over rural citizens’ livelihoods; (2) government expenditures on regional development through ecotourism projects tend to expand an urban-rural economic gap rather than reduce it; (3) the state made decisions in collaboration with local NGOs, thereby decreasing the democratic process under the cover of nature tourism. Sou’s study will contribute to the scale theory literature by demonstrating the process in which states reinforce territorialization through active deployment of scale while decentralizing. The study will also contributes to political ecology studies that draw on the simultaneous production of nature and scale, by showing how ecotourism: 1) depoliticizes state support of middle class capital accumulation through ecotourism; and 2) deepens historical uneven development among regions in South Korea. Finally, Sou’s work will fill a gap in political ecology studies by examining the political ecological impacts in places where the use value of landscapes shifts rapidly from livelihoods to aesthetics due to in-country economic growth.

Matthew A Yokell, College of Liberal Arts

Matthew A Yokell is PhD candidate in the Department of History at the College of Liberal Arts. His dissertation focuses on Creating a German Hong Kong: Tsingtau and the German Colonial Experience in China. Mathew’s goal is to study Germany’s presence in East Asia in order to provide a detailed examination of its role in the first wave of globalization. His study critically analyzes the colony of Tsingtau in order to elucidate German ideas about empire during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The 3500 Germans in Tsingtau and their supporters created a nexus of associations to build a commercial center to rival British Hong Kong, shaping attitudes at home and abroad about Germany’s imperial mission. Inspired by new historical trends, Matthew examine mid-level state and military officials, businessmen, and religious leaders, the “middle management of empire,” that helped develop Tsingtau. Rather than studying the traditional role of diplomacy as an instrument of statesmen, Matthew is engaging in a new kind of diplomatic history that emphasizes interactions “on the ground” between Europeans and non-Europeans. This study provides the perfect vehicle for melding a study of Germany’s rise as a world power with a long-standing passion for Asian culture that, while tempered by the “Yellow Peril,” was a key factor in seizing Chinese territory. Finally, Matthew’s study will contribute to learning about German-Chinese interactions and transcultural exchanges and as a result will enhance our knowledge of both states and their views on global power then and now.

Ivan de Jesus Diaz Rodriguez, College of Engineering

Ivan de Jesus Diaz Rodriguez is a doctoral candidate in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at the College of Engineering. His dissertation concentrates on Modern Design of Classical Controllers. Ivan explains that classical control emphasizes the design of simple low-order controllers, often based on frequency response. He adds that in modern control theory, it is customary to design high order controllers based on models, even for simple plants. In his research, Ivan outlines a modern approach to the design of classical controllers, by introducing the complete stabilizing set in the space of the design parameters. These classical controllers include Proportional-Integral (PI), Proportional-Integral-Derivative (PID), and first order controllers. Ivan’s research in control systems will have a direct positive application to the industry in his community. This noble theory could make it possible for companies to automate their processes. Finally, Ivan’s study will trigger an improved efficiency and productivity in the manufacturing processes and finally will promote the economic growth in the region and the state. 

Baixin Wang, College of Engineering

Baixin Wang is PhD student in the Department of Civil Engineering at the College of Engineering. His dissertation focuses on Biodiesel Production from Lignocellulose Biomass: Lipid-Accumulating Bacterial Cultivation and Bacteriophage-Based Lipid Extraction. Baixing explains that biodiesel is a promising alternative to petroleum-derived diesel fuel because biodiesel is renewable, nontoxic liquid fuel that generates much less greenhouse gas emissions.  Biodiesel can be made from biolipids, such as triacylglycerols (TAGs) with methanol through a transesterification reaction.  Vegetable oils, animal oils/fats, and microbial lipids are available feed-stocks for TAGs. Baixing warns that he high cost of feedstock, accounting for 70-75% of the total production cost, has been the biggest obstacle for biodiesel development. Therefore, he feels it is necessary to exploit cheaper and more sustainable means for TAG production and lipid extraction. Baixing’s study will contribute in using lignocellulosic biomass as raw material for producing biodiesel, as well as applying bacterial phage for lipid extraction with zero energy input.  Both will promisingly reduce the cost of the production of biodiesel.  Baixing believes that if the cost of the biodiesel become lower than fossil fuel in the future, there will be no reason for our society to decline this renewable, clean and non-toxic fuel. 

Michael T Daniel, College of Engineering

Michael T Daniel is a PhD candidate in the Electrical and Computer Engineering at the College of Engineering. His dissertation concentrates on Power Electronic Solutions for Interfacing Offshore Wind Turbine Generators to Medium Voltage DC Collection Grids. Michael’s work presents two novel power electronic interfaces suitable for integrating state-of-the-art offshore wind turbine generators (WTGs) with medium voltage DC (MVDC) collection grids. The first interface is based on three end-to-end power electronic modules, one per WTG phase. The second interface is based on the same end-to-end module structure with a three-phase input rectifier at the module front-end and one module per MVDC pole. Both interfaces utilize a high Frequency transformer (HFT) to provide galvanic isolation while reducing interface mass and volume. With this technology, Michael believes countries that have already embraced offshore wind can move forward with development of their best wind resources, and countries like the US can begin to think about offshore wind as a viable energy resource with fewer political and environmental barriers.

Jaewoong Won, College of Architecture

Jaewoong Won is a doctoral student in the Department of Landscape Architecture at the College of Architecture. His dissertation concentrates on Spillover Effects of Foreclosure: A Study on the Influence of Built Environmental Factors. Jaewoong describes that urban studies have examined the positive externality of walkable neighborhoods, understanding how the impacts of negative externalities, such as foreclosures, are mitigated within the context of walkable neighborhoods is unknown. Thus, to fill this gap, his research investigates how walkability-related environments interact with the spillover effects of foreclosures. Based on this new perspective, three interrelated topics are proposed. (1) Critical assessment of methods available for evaluating spillover effects of foreclosures. (2) How walkability-related built environments featuring accessible and compact urban designs are associated with the foreclosure dynamics from 2008 through 2013. (3) Using interaction terms between foreclosure stocks from 2008 through 2013. Jaewoong believes that walkable urban environments cause the implementation of social sustainability of our communities through encouraging a sense of belonging, prompting physical activity among residents, and generating economic value in neighborhoods. This study will help urban planners and local governments to be equipped with valuable insights on the movement toward livable and healthy neighborhoods.

Wendi Renee Bellar, College of Liberal Arts

Wendi Renee Bellar is a PhD student in the Department of Communication at the College of Liberal Arts. Wendi’s dissertation focuses on Understanding the Relationship Between Religious Mobile Application Design and Use: A Qualitative Study of Christian and Muslim Apps, Developers and Users. The purpose of Wendi’s study is to understand the relationship between religious mobile application design and use through multiple qualitative methods. Specifically, this study explores how mobile app affordance (i.e. possible actions) are used by developers to design apps, as well as how users understand and engage app affordances. Wendi’s research findings will contribute to media studies, mobile communication, and digital religion in distinct ways. First, it contributes to the media studies and mobile communication literature by exploring the understudied m0bile app designers and app users, and illuminating the complex relationship between the two. Secondly, it impacts digital religion by explaining the ways technology influences religious users, while at the same time how those users negotiate with a reshaped technology. Finally, the study also contributes data gathered by a new methodological tool that allows for direct access to users’ mobile interfaces and thoughts at the time of use.

Zhenlei Yang, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences

Zhenlei Yang is a doctoral student in the Department of Biological and Agriculture Engineering at the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. His dissertation concentrates on Multiscale Modeling of Coupled Water and Heat Transport in the Vadose Zone. Zhenlei’s study attempts to address this challenging task via development and validation of a novel multiscale modeling framework for the multi-physics system describing soil moisture and heat interactions in a shallow soil profile, capable of predicting up-scaled soil hydrologic fluxes under different hydro-climatic conditions. The developed multiscale and multi-physics coupled water and heat transport model is of practical interest as accurate assessments of spatial (point, field, fetch, region) and temporal (minute, hour, day, month, year) variations of soil moisture, temperature and infiltration/evaporation fluxes, which are critical for many environmental, agricultural, hydrologic, weather and climate prediction applications, and global climate change, as well as global energy, water, and carbon cycles in a broader sense. A decisive scientific contribution of Zhenlei’s research is a predictive multiscale model development for an accurate assimilation of a key boundary layer applicable to land and atmosphere interaction modeling efforts.

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