2021 Distinguished Dissertation Award Winners

By Rob Dixon, Texas A&M Graduate and Professional School
COLLEGE STATION, April 20, 2021 – Texas A&M University’s Graduate and Professional School has announced the recipients of its Distinguished Dissertation Awards for the 2020-2021 academic year. Distinguished Dissertation Awards honor current or former students whose dissertations make a significant, impactful contribution to their discipline.
Awards are given in four categories: Biological and Life Sciences; Humanities and Fine Arts; Mathematics, Physical Sciences and Engineering; and Social Sciences. Each award comes with a certificate and $1,000 prize.  

Texas A&M University will nominate the dissertations produced by Meichen Wang and Deanna Stover for the 2021 National Distinguished Dissertation Award competition sponsored by the Council of Graduate Schools and ProQuest. This year, dissertations in Biological and Life Sciences and Humanities and Fine Arts are eligible for national honors.
George Cunningham, Senior Associate Dean for the Graduate and Professional School, commended the outstanding work of Texas A&M’s 2021 Distinguished Dissertation Award winners. “Congratulations to this year’s winners, whose dissertations reflect the innovative, rigorous and impressive scholarship in which our doctoral students are engaged,” Cunningham said. “They have made significant scholarly contributions in their fields, and their work will make—and, in some cases, is already making—an impact on our world.”
This year's winners:

Justin L. Andrews

George W. Kunze Endowed Graduate Student Award
Field of Competition: Mathematics, Physical Sciences and Engineering
Graduation: May 2021
Dissertation Title: Corralling Electrons in Metastable Vanadium Oxides
Department: Chemistry
College: Science
Committee Chair: Sarbajit Banerjee
Award: $1,000

In his dissertation, Andrews, a first-generation college student, proposes a solution to an imminent global problem. Our new, information-based economy—fueled in particular by the collection of data—places an increasing and unsustainable demand on energy production. Andrews’s research focuses on the design, discovery and utilization of novel compounds to improve computing efficiency and, thus, reduce energy consumption.
Sarbajit Banerjee, Professor of Science, Chemistry and Materials Science and Engineering (and also Andrews’ dissertation committee chair), praised Andrews’ research for the “profound national and international impact” it will have. “Justin brings unparalleled creativity in his approach to solving the most formidable of problems, and he is ‘off-the-charts’ in terms of his ability to grasp the big picture. His research has fundamentally changed the landscape of energy storage and computing,” Banerjee said.

Meichen Wang

Field of Competition: Biological Sciences and Life Sciences
Graduation: December 2019
Dissertation Title: Development of Broad-Acting Enterosorbents for the Mitigation of Toxin Exposures during Outbreaks and Emergencies
Department: Toxicology
College: Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences
Committee Chair: Timothy D. Phillips
Award: $1,000

Wang's research seeks to address problems of exposure to pollution and hazardous chemicals that often contaminate drinking water and foods in the wake of natural disasters or other emergencies. Wang has developed edible, dietary therapies that can minimize the adverse health effects of ingesting contaminants. Her research could be lifesaving for those particularly vulnerable to exposure to pollutants and hazardous chemicals, including underserved communities, first-responders and frontline workers. 
“Meichen has a very bright future as a scientist,” said Timothy Phillips, Professor of Veterinary Integrative Biosciences and Wang’s mentor.
According to School of Public Health Associate Professor Natalie Johnson, who served on Wang’s dissertation committee, Wang is poised to make a difference in the world. “Meichen’s research is applicable and beneficial to all populations globally” and will have “a unique impact on toxicology and human and animal health,” Johnson said. Through collaborations and partnerships with companies such as Texas EnteroSorbents, U.S. Silica, Halliburton and Great Plains Processing, the multicomponent sorbents Wang has developed already have a project-to-field pathway.

Yixing Chen

Field of Competition: Social Sciences
Graduation: May 2020
Dissertation Title: Linking Marketing to Social and Economic Outcomes: The Case of Cancer Prevention and K-12 Education
Department: Marketing
College: Mays Business School
Committee Chair: Shrihari Sridhar
Award: $1,000

Chen’s dissertation proposes strategies for making marketing investments in healthcare and educational environments that improve outcomes for cancer patients. The first study in his dissertation found that outreach programs for cancer treatments were significantly more effective when personalized according to the patient’s socioeconomic status. A second study examined the benefits and costs of increasing school district internet access spending (SDIAS), providing data to support school districts’ SDIAS marketing campaigns.
Professor of Marketing Shrihari (Hari) Sridhar, Chen’s committee chair, said Chen’s research “provides guidance on effective marketing investments for practitioners, such as school superintendents and physicians, who generally lack such guidance.”

Deanna Stover 

Field of Competition: Humanities and Fine Arts
Graduation: August 2020
Dissertation Title: Deadly Toys: Mini Worlds and Wars, 1815-1914
Department: English
College: Liberal Arts
Committee Chair: Claudia Nelson
Award: $1,000

Stover's dissertation employs a multimedia research approach to studying the gamification of war in fiction, life writing, poetry, maps and the toys of the period. Through her analysis, Stover explores power relations between Victorian adults and children. 
Claudia Nelson, Professor Emeritus of English and Stover’s faculty advisor, lavished high praise on her work. “This innovative and ambitious study intervenes in one of the liveliest and most significant conversations presently taking place in Victorian studies and children’s literature,” Nelson said. “It makes a genuine contribution to knowledge, not only through shrewd analysis, but also by expanding the range of what scholars in the field have examined.”
Media Contact: Rob Dixon, Texas A&M Graduate and Professional School, rdixon@tamu.edu

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