Two Texas A&M Graduate Students Win Council of Southern Graduate Schools’ Master’s Thesis Awards for 2021

Courtney Kunselman from Materials Science and Engineering and Niti Tataria from Landscape and Urban Planning are honored for outstanding contributions to their fields.

Courtney-Kunselman-(1).jpeg               Niti-Tataria-(1).jpg
                       Courtney Kunselman                                                                Niti Tataria

By Micaela Burrow, Texas A&M University Graduate and Professional School 


COLLEGE STATION, March 29, 2021 – Two Texas A&M University graduate students, Courtney Kunselman ’20, from San Angelo, TX, and Niti Tataria ‘20, from Mumbai, India, were named the Conference of Southern Graduate Schools’ (CSGS) 2021 Outstanding Master’s Thesis Award winners. Nominations for the awards were reviewed by faculty members in the field from CSGS member institutions and evaluated on the basis of clarity of style and presentation, scholarship, research methodology and contributions to the field or discipline.

Kunselman, a graduate from the Texas A&M College of Engineering and the United States Air Force Academy, earned the award in the category “Mathematics, Physical Sciences and Engineering.” In her thesis, “Semi-Supervised Learning Approaches to Class Assignment in Ambiguous Microstructures,” she devised a new way to train machines to recognize small-scale structural features of various materials. Her findings will significantly reduce uncertainty when classifying new materials.
“I am extremely humbled for my thesis to be recognized with this award,” Kunselman said. “Good research is a product of good teamwork at all levels, and throughout my time at A&M, I was supported by an amazing group of researchers who held me to a rigorous standard, pushed me outside of my narrow comfort zone and helped get my work out to be seen and used by the greater scientific community. Their dedication to my success was boundless, and I cannot thank them enough for it.”

“Ms. Kunselman’s work is a highly original and outstanding contribution to the still nascent field of microstructure informatics,” said Raymond Arróyave, a professor in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering and Kunselman’s committee chair. “Given her outstanding background and potential, I assigned her this project with the hope that she would get to do something interesting, but not expecting any major advancement. She, however, surpassed by far my expectations, developing quite an original and important piece of work,” Arróyave said.

Kunselman’s study has been published in Acta Materialia, one of the premiere journals in materials science, and a second paper is currently under review.
“As far as I know, my research was the first in the field of materials science that developed a classification scheme for these particular datasets. The model will make suggestions and guide the search process, rather than just speeding up a tedious analysis task. This is what the new push for data-driven research is all about,” said Kunselman.
Niti Tataria earned her award in the “Non-traditional Thesis/Project” category. Tataria utilized an evidence-based methodology to design a healing landscape for the Houston Methodist Hospital, located in the heart of the Texas Medical Center.
“The CSGS Master’s Thesis Award for a non-traditional project gives an opportunity to showcase the significance of an under-used/under-studied landscape element like a healing rooftop garden to a wider audience,” said Tataria. “It also encourages students like me to work on a hybrid design and research-based final design project.”
Dr. Chanam Lee, a professor and chair of Tataria’s committee, and Prof. Bruce Dvorak, an associate professor and member of Tataria’s committee in the Department of Landscape Architecture and Urban Planning, nominated her for the CSGS award based on her project’s unconventional approach to evidence-based landscape design. “Niti showed how creative and critical thinking skills can bring a synergistic effect to developing an optimal design solution that maximizes health and healing benefits to users—especially those who are vulnerable—such as patients, caregivers, and healthcare providers,” Dr. Lee said.
Tataria’s project, “Healing in the City,” is her contribution to the Center for Health and Nature, a collaboration between Houston Methodist Hospital, the Texas A&M University System, and Texan by Nature, that promotes evidence-based nature programs to support and inform health care. One of the primary objectives of the Center for Health and Nature is to develop a Health and Nature Healing Garden at Houston Methodist.
“Healing in the City showcases how an amalgamation of innovative ideas and evidence-based design strategies can maximize health and healing benefits to the users, especially those who are vulnerable, such as patients, caregivers, and healthcare providers,” said Tataria.
To illustrate the benefits of incorporating nature into clinical settings, Tataria shared a story from Dr. Marc Boom, President and CEO of Houston Methodist, who was unable to grant the last wish of a terminally ill pediatric patient to die outside, as there was no acceptable outdoor space near the hospital.
“I feel extremely honored that I could contribute to a rooftop healing garden design that would fulfill someone's last wish to be outdoors or feel closer to nature,” Tataria said. Other benefits of natural spaces at hospitals, according to Tataria, include faster recovery and wellbeing for patients, as well as stress relief and higher job satisfaction for caregivers.  
According to Dr. Lee, the Center for Health and Nature partners, along with OJB Landscape Architecture, made significant contributions to Tataria’s learning over the course of her program.
Tataria said, “I would like to thank all my collaborators who played a significant role in the successful delivery of this project. In the future, I hope this project can incorporate smart technologies to facilitate various living lab experiments to show exactly how this garden facilitates healing among diverse users.”
"Healing in the City” is available on Issuu. The rooftop garden is currently in the preliminary design phase. OJB Landscape Architecture has utilized concepts from Tataria’s project and the projects of other Center for Health and Nature participants for design exploration purposes, according to Dr. Lee.
Kunselman and Tataria each received $1,000 and a commemorative plaque from CSGS. An award ceremony took place at the CSGS/Council of Historically Black Graduate Schools’ joint, abridged virtual conference earlier this spring.
Media Contact: Rob Dixon, Texas A&M University Graduate and Professional School, 979.845.3631,

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