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 2021 Dissertation Fellowship:

Aditi Tomar is a doctoral candidate in the Department of Health and Kinesiology in the College of Education and Human Development. Her dissertation focuses on understanding the relationship between patient-centered communication and acceptability towards the Human Papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine among adults in the Unites States. Tomar’s research is geared towards increasing HPV vaccine rates in U.S., considering that a vast proportion of the population remains undervaccinated. In a recent systematic review, she highlighted the potency of patient-centered communication in improving knowledge regarding the severity of HPV. Tomar’s dissertation will expand on this finding and examines whether improving perceived HPV-related severity via patient-centered communication styles bolsters acceptability towards the HPV vaccine.
Bishwa Sapkota is a doctoral candidate in the Department of Soil and Crop Sciences in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. His research is focused on exploring and developing advanced remote sensing and image analysis techniques for precision weed management in various cropping systems. The aim of his research is to provide new directions to sensor-based weed detection and mapping through rigorous evaluations of different state-of-the-art weed detection methods. His research also customizes these methods and demonstrates their use in various cropping environments. Such customizations and demonstrations are expected to advance the site-specific weed management concept in agriculture, the concept that focuses on the judicious use of resources for better profitability. Through his PhD research, Sapkota hopes to promote sustainable agriculture and solve global food problems.

Colleen O’Reilly is a doctoral candidate in the Department of Health and Kinesiology in the College of Education and Human Development. Her research aims to systematically define the effects of the hormone ghrelin in muscle as well as to explore the interaction of ghrelin and immune cells as it relates to the development of diabetes. O’Reilly’s dissertation will clarify the impact of acylated and/or unacylated ghrelin on skeletal muscle and the role of ghrelin-reactive immunoglobulins in skeletal muscle metabolism and peripheral insulin resistance. Outcomes from her research will provide tremendous insight into potential therapies for the treatment of diabetes, providing benefits to millions of Americans suffering from this disease.   

Ji Won Nam is a doctoral candidate in the Department of Recreation, Park and Tourism Sciences in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. Her research attempts to understand factors that influence participation in organized activities and how such participation in organized activities can increase physical activity (PA) among low-income children. Nam’s research will uncover neighborhood characteristics and interpersonal factors associated with participation in organized activities. She will identify the effect of participation in organized activities on PA among low-income children and examine both the direct and indirect impacts on PA among this cohort. Her research aims to reveal the facilitators, barriers, and other factors of participating in organized activities and the effect on PA among low-income children by exploring the roles of participation in organized activities in promoting low-income children’s structured PA.

Khushboo Rastogi is a doctoral candidate in the Interdisciplinary Program in Genetics in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. She works in the Crop Genome Editing Lab under the supervision of Dr. Endang Septiningsih. Her research is focused on developing high-lysine rice using genome editing since approximately 820 million people globally are affected by protein-energy malnutrition. Nearly half of all deaths under age 5 are attributable to undernutrition which puts children at greater risk of dying from common infections and delays recovery. A successful completion of this study will spur the next generation of breakthroughs in crop improvement for nutritionally healthier foods to address the world malnutrition issue. Additionally, she is working on different abiotic stresses like chilling, submergence, and salinity to identify and validate the novel genes by exploring the genetic diversity present in the diverse rice germplasm which can help to mitigate major abiotic stresses.

Sarah Brinkley is a doctoral candidate in the Department of Horticultural Sciences in the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences. Her dissertation research uses participatory methods to investigate how farming practices impact crop quality. Specifically, Brinkley studies how soil management, fermentation practices, and climate change mitigation affect coffee quality. To answer her research question, Brinkley has conducted on-farm studies with Honduran and Colombian partners using rigorous experimental designs coupled with analytical chemistry and sensory evaluation techniques. Her farm-to-cup research fills the knowledge gap between coffee growers and coffee drinkers. Relevant to smallholders, her anticipated results will uncover evidence-based management strategies to mitigate climate impacts on coffee quality.

Swarn Jha is a doctoral candidate in the Department of Mechanical Engineering in the College of Engineering. He is working on developing renewable and sustainable sources of energy storage. His research goal is to understand the structural and morphological characteristics of lignin-based materials and their effects on electrochemical performance as electrodes. Bio-derived carbon-based supercapacitor electrodes present a remarkably sustainable and economical solution to energy storage. Numerous knowledge gaps exist for bio-derived carbon electrodes in terms of causes of largely unknown surface chemistry, poor volumetric energy density, and uneven pore structure and distribution which adversely affect electrochemical performance, cost, and scalability. His research aims to generate new knowledge in understanding lignin bio-electrochemistry that will aid in significant advances in the future design of bio-derived carbon-based electrochemical devices. The research outcomes will be an immense boost to green technology and to the future of sustainable energy storage.

Victoria Ford is a doctoral candidate in the Department of Geography in the College of Geosciences. Her research explores the geographic influence and impacts of the declining Arctic Sea ice cover on the Arctic freshwater budget. Through weather and climate modeling, Ford’s dissertation research identifies a critical sea ice thickness threshold for which sea ice no longer acts as an effective climate buffer, as well as an ocean-based local precipitation recycling ratio for all Arctic regional seas. Her research aims to thus identify the anthropogenically forced response and the natural variability components within the freshwater system. Her research offers a key update on the Arctic freshwater budget through key physical processes, as the high-latitude freshwater cycle is instrumental to understanding the Arctic’s role in global climate change.

Xinyi Bian is a doctoral candidate in the Department of Educational Human Resource Development in the College of Education and Human Development. Her research aims to explore career theory building and non-linear career trajectories. More specifically, Bian explores women’s career interruption experiences and the strategies utilized to reenter the workplace through qualitative investigations. Currently, individuals are more likely to take non-linear and interrupted careers due to the fast shift of the global environment and career types. Therefore, Bian’s dissertation will offer practical insights for career counselors, social workers, adult educators, and individuals who need to navigate career interruptions. With a specific emphasis on the female population, the study can also shed light on the unique situations and struggles that women face and provide strategies to facilitate women’s reentry to the workplace after taking career interruptions.

Xudong Li is a doctoral candidate in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering in the College of Engineering. His research aims to enhance our understanding of hurricane-induced floods and the corresponding countermeasures to help mitigate damages. His dissertation focuses on simulating floods induced by extreme precipitation over Houston area watersheds. The results will provide insights on flood management measures, including the potential impacts of detention reservoir operations and the improvement of flood forecasting skills during extreme events, like Hurricane Harvey. Moreover, he will investigate the impacts of future climate change on hurricane-induced flood inundation in a coastal watershed by leveraging a state-of-the-art integrated hydrological-hydrodynamic modeling system. Li’s research will inform future decision-making related to flood management in the context of a growing population and increasing hurricane intensity under climate change. 

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