Texas A&M University’s Graduate and Professional School recently awarded ten 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 received the Fall 2020 Dissertation Fellowships:
Deyanira Garcia Zea is a doctoral candidate in the Department of Educational Administration and Human Resource Development in the College of Education and Human Development. Her dissertation explores the barriers and facilitators to the career development and adaptability of Venezuelan refugee professionals in South Florida, United States. In recent years, Venezuelan nationals have submitted more asylum applications in the United States than citizens of any other country. Deyanira argues is in the best interest of the United States for refugee and asylum seeker professionals to begin to contribute to the U.S. economy in the shortest time possible and in the field in which they are trained. Her research has the potential to provide a greater understanding of the resettlement process and to enable immigration policies to respond more effectively to refugee professionals’ assimilation needs.
Zihan Geng is a doctoral candidate in the Department of Teaching, Learning & Culture in the College of Education & Human Development. Her research investigates how the manipulation of task design features and the interaction mode (i.e., face-to-face or synchronous computer-mediated communication) influence English learning opportunities in a content-based learning environment. Specifically, Zihan’s dissertation examines how different levels of cognitive load in math word problems impact English language learning during the problem-solving process. The findings from this research will serve to inform future directions of research and instructional practices with regard to task-based syllabus design, teaching material development, and the application of computer technology for English learners.
Janelle Goeke is a doctoral candidate in the Ecology and Evolutionary Biology Program as part of the Interdisciplinary Degree Program. Her research aims to increase understanding of the bottom-up effects of mangrove encroachment into Gulf Coast salt marshes. Specifically, she investigates the impact on coastal food webs by observing the interactions of salt marsh basal consumers with mangrove trees. This research will help coastal managers make informed decisions regarding the use of mangrove trees in coastal restoration projects. It will also enable coastal fisheries to better respond to mangrove encroachment by defining the effects on the prey of important fishery species, such as blue crabs and red drum. Her research will help support the preservation, restoration, and sustainability of coastal ecosystems.
Grace Heneks is a doctoral candidate in the Department of English in the College of Liberal Arts. Her research considers how contemporary satirical works by Black artists levy a substantive critique of white supremacy by exposing the illogic of “post-race” rhetoric popularized during the Obama era. As a genre that lampoons societal ills through humor, irony, and invective—often with the intent to inspire improvement—satire can be a productive means of inciting change. Her dissertation raises two important research questions. First, how does contemporary Black satire both address and dismantle whiteness as the sociopolitical norm in the U.S.? Second, how do these artists envision societies not premised on white supremacy, ones that potentially take us post racism? Grace argues this research is vital in light of ongoing radical white supremacist violence, and because satire is often at the center of heated racial and political debate.
Eliel Hinojosa, Jr. is a doctoral candidate in the Department of Teaching, Learning and Culture in the College of Education and Human Development. His research explores leadership and teacher development in a southeast Texas school district through the facilitation of Texas Lesson Study. He explores the development of a school culture in which professionals continually engage in the process of teaching from learning and learning from teaching. Eliel’s dissertation explains the impact of district leadership on opportunities for teacher professional development. Additionally, his research dives deeply into the lives of a small group of teachers to understand their lived experiences and changing narratives, highlighting their perspectives as they explore new spaces in the professional knowledge landscape. Eliel’s dissertation research informs local, regional and state practice of lesson study. His research provides critical insight into leadership’s role in facilitating intensive professional development and an integration of lesson study into a school’s organizational routine.
YouJoung Kim is a doctoral candidate in the Department of Landscape Architecture and Urban Planning in the College of Architecture. His research aims to explore the dynamics between microclimate, pedestrian behavior, and urban street design to create thermally comfortable urban space. The goal of this research is to promote walkability and street vitality. His dissertation will focus on the impact of physiological thermal comfort on leisure walking activity given its significant role in the quality of urban public spaces. The thermal effect on walking behavior patterns and the pattern of street space utilization is investigated. Given that the process of thermal adaptation shapes this relationship, the ultimate goal is to reveal the heat threshold of walking activity depending on the physical features of street design such as street geometry, tree canopies, and built materials. The study results will provide urban and landscape practitioners with empirical implications for climate-sensitive street design based on a better understanding of pedestrian behavior.
Yixin Li is a doctoral candidate in the Department of Chemistry. Yixin’s dissertation aims to understand the transmission of pathogens via aerosols. He seeks to elucidate the mechanism of secondary organic aerosol formation from carbonyl- and hydroxylcontaining organic compounds and explores the health impact of exposure to atmospheric fine aerosol or particulate matter. He proposes to establish a novel airborne virus detection system for multicomponent size-selected virus aerosols’ characterization and quantification. Yixin’s research can provide particle size-differentiated information of virus aerosols including the lifetime, doses, and components of virus, which will help to accurately evaluate the epidemiology of various pathogens and help develop novel techniques for virus inactivation. This system, once established, can be used for real-time monitoring of the airborne virus concentration in the hospitals, schools, etc. More broadly, this research can provide guidance in developing targeted approaches to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and other viruses. 
Lingyi Qiu is a doctoral candidate in the Department of Architecture in the College of Architecture. Lingyi’s dissertation explores the impacts of housing and neighborhood environments on elementary school children’s home-based independent mobility, which is important to their physical, mental, and social development. The impacts of personal and social factors on children’s independent mobility (CIM) are also examined. Lingyi’s study will provide much-needed insight into how multi-level factors affect CIM. Findings from this study will also provide specific strategies to families and children for choosing appropriate housing that facilitates children’s independent travel and play activities. They can also guide planners, architects, and housing professionals for future housing and neighborhood design to promote CIM and help build child-friendly environments. Meanwhile, empirical evidence can directly guide the City of Austin’s local intervention efforts and policymaking related to promoting residents’ mobility.
Kijin Seong is a doctoral candidate in the Department of Landscape Architecture and Urban Planning in the College of Architecture. Her dissertation seeks to explore the longitudinal impact of floodplain buyouts on neighborhood change. Kijin will develop and validate floodplain buyout characteristics affecting neighborhood change over time in racial diversity, property value, and housing density, and further identify a significant disparity between lower- and higher-income neighborhoods. By reviewing the local buyout practices accomplished over the long-term, this study provides empirical evidence toward designing floodplain buyout programs and contributes to the future policies of post-disaster relocations in local communities. Her research aims to provide an expanded and comprehensive view of floodplain buyouts in the neighborhood context and an insight into hazard mitigation and community resilience.
Samantha Zuhlke is a doctoral candidate in the Department of Political Science in the College of Liberal Arts. Her research explores the political origins of the U.S. nonprofit sector as a consequence of perceived government failure. She investigates how partisan politics underlie those perceptions. Samantha’s dissertation challenges our current understanding of the function, development, and purpose of the U.S. nonprofit sector, positioning nonprofits as important actors within the U.S. political economy. Her research aims to improve equity and engagement within the nonprofit sector and better inform how government and the nonprofit sector can work together to solve social problems.

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