Graduate and Professional School Launches Spring Awards Ceremony teaser image

Graduate and Professional School Launches Spring Awards Ceremony

The new ceremony will honor Distinguished Dissertation, Montgomery and Outstanding Mentoring awardees, as well as GRAD Aggies certificate earners. 

COLLEGE STATION - The Texas A&M Graduate and Professional is launching a new spring awards ceremony to combine multiple awards presentations into one event. The spring program includes presentations of Distinguished Dissertation Awards, Montgomery Awards, Outstanding Mentoring Awards and GRAD Aggies Certificates. 

“Presenting our awards at a single event broadens our recognition and celebration of exceptional graduate and professional students and faculty,” said Dr. Fuhui Tong, Interim Associate Provost and Dean of the Graduate and Professional School.
The award ceremony and a post-ceremony reception will take place at Rudder Theatre and Exhibit Hall on Tuesday, April 16, from 2-4 p.m.

Spring 2024 Graduate and Professional School Honorees are, as follows: 

Distinguished Dissertation Awards

Distinguished Dissertation Awards, sponsored by the Carol J. Cantrell Endowment, the George W. Kunze Endowment, and the Mobil Aggies Graduate Endowment, honor current or former students whose dissertations make a significant, impactful contribution to their field of study. 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 commemorative plaque and a $1,000 prize. 

Hannah Justen, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology
Dissertation: The Genetic Basis of Seasonal Migration and Its Role in Reproductive Isolation
Advisor: Dr. Kira Delmore

Hannah Justen is the winner of the Texas A&M Distinguished Dissertation Award in the Biological and Life Sciences category. Hannah joined Texas A&M in 2018, after completing bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Germany. Hannah conducted her dissertation research under the advisement and mentorship of Dr. Kira Delmore. Her dissertation, “The Genetic Basis of Seasonal Migration and Its Role in Reproductive Isolation,” focuses on a natural hybrid zone between songbirds. Her research combines spatial modeling and new tracking technology with state-of-the-art sequencing technology to study the genetic basis of migratory behavior and its potential to contribute to speciation via selection against hybrids based on their environment. Results from Hannah’s dissertation provide important advances to speciation genomics but are also relevant for multiple fields, including seasonal migration, behavioral genetics and conservation. Her findings were published in notable journals in her field, including Global Ecology and Biogeography and Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS). Hannah is graduating in May 2024 with a Ph.D. in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology.

Marianne Rice: Educational Psychology
Dissertation: The Effects of a Structured Literacy Computer Program Implemented at Home on the Early Literacy Skills of Preschool Children
Advisor: Dr. Florina Erbeli

Marianne Rice is the winner of the Texas A&M Distinguished Dissertation Award in the Social Sciences category and will graduate in May 2024. Marianne completed her doctoral studies in educational psychology with an emphasis in special education under the guidance of Dr. Florina Erbeli. Her research focuses on early identification and intervention for students who may be at-risk for reading difficulties. Her dissertation, “The Effects of a Structured Literacy Computer Program Implemented at Home on the Early Literacy Skills of Preschool Children,” found positive impacts on early literacy skills for children who played a literacy app during the summer prior to kindergarten when compared with a control group. Marianne’s research has been published in several of the top journals in her field, including Reading Research Quarterly and the Journal of Educational Psychology. She holds a B.S. in early childhood education from Vanderbilt University and an M.Ed. in language and literacy studies from the University of Texas at Austin. She has accepted a position as assistant professor of literacy at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville.

Jacob Rogers, Mechanical Engineering
Dissertation: Ultra-High Strain Rate Impact Behavior in High Molecular Weight Thermoplastics
Advisors: Dr. Thomas Lacy and Dr. Justin Wilkerson

Jacob Rogers is the winner of the 2024 Texas A&M Distinguished Dissertation Award in the Mathematics, Physical Sciences and Engineering category. Jacob earned a B.S. in aerospace engineering from Mississippi State University in May 2019 and will be graduating this spring from Texas A&M University with a Ph.D. in mechanical engineering. His dissertation, “Ultra-High Strain Rate Impact Behavior in High Molecular Weight Thermoplastics,” focuses on how common, commercial polymers deform, fail and absorb energy when impacted at velocities up to 16,000 mph and at length scales as small as microns. Jacob’s research answers fundamental questions about the complex multi-physics phenomena generated when materials are subjected to ultra-high strain rates and demonstrates the viability of threat-optimized, layered polymer protective structures for defense and space applications. Jacob also played a key role in establishing the Texas A&M University Hypervelocity Impact Laboratory (HVIL), a unique testbed for hypervelocity impact and hypersonic testing and arguably the highest throughput facility of its kind. His work, guided by co-advisors Drs. Thomas Lacy and Justin Wilkerson, was primarily supported by the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship Program and has been published in the International Journal of Impact Engineering and Review of Scientific Instruments.

Hyunjoo Yu, English
Dissertation: Infectious Feelings
Advisor: Dr. Ira Dworkin

Hyunjoo Yu, Ph.D., is the winner of the 2024 Texas A&M Distinguished Dissertation Award in the Humanities and Fine Arts category. Dr. Yu graduated in May 2023 with a Ph.D. in English literature and was mentored by Dr. Ira Dworkin. Her dissertation, “Infectious Feelings,” locates the nineteenth-century Yellow Peril discourse in the United States as a cultural shift that popularized the biological thinking of race and its correlation to sentimental morality. Her research bridges historicist approaches to race science and feminist theorization of affect to critique the Western liberal conceptualization of the human. She presented shorter renditions of her research at national conferences like C19, the Association for Ethnic Studies Conference, and Interdisciplinary Nineteenth-Century Studies, and gave talks at on-campus events at Texas A&M. Her works appeared in Nineteenth-Century Contexts and Mississippi Quarterly, and she has a forthcoming article in MELUS: Multi-Ethnic Literature of the United States.


Montgomery Awards

Montgomery Awards are presented to graduate or professional students who, through demonstrated leadership in recognized graduate student groups or service organizations, make major contributions toward creating academic and professional opportunities and enhancing quality of life for their fellow graduate and professional students, while also excelling as scholars. Montgomery Awards are funded by endowed gifts from the Jeff ‘41 and Leonora Montgomery family. Each awardee receives a commemorative plaque and $1,000.

Sambandh Dhal, Computer Engineering

Sambandh Dhal is a Ph.D. candidate in computer engineering under the guidance of Dr. Stavros Kalafatis, with co-advisement by Dr. Ulisses Braga-Neto. He also earned an M.S. in electrical engineering from Texas A&M in 2019. He served as the inaugural Finance Officer of the Electrical and Computer Engineering Graduate Students' Association. Throughout his time at Texas A&M, Sambandh actively contributed to various student organizations, beginning with his directorial role in the Indian Graduate Students' Association. He held the position of Vice President before assuming his current role as advisor to the student body. Additionally, he is Vice President of Community Engagement in the Graduate and Professional Student Government. Academically, Sambandh has garnered numerous accolades, including induction into the prestigious Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers-Eta Kappa Nu (IEEE-HKN) in 2022, as well as earning the Texas Instruments Graduate Mentoring Fellowship and the Excellence in Research-Doctoral award in 2024.

Leah Kocian, Biological and Agricultural Engineering

Leah Kocian is a Ph.D. student studying hydrological contaminant transport in the Department of Biological and Agricultural Engineering under the supervision of Dr. Binayak Mohanty. Her research, focused on urban contaminant transport, analyzes how contaminants move through soil in urban gardens, using physics-informed machine learning and artificial intelligence. Leah earned her undergraduate degree in the same department at Texas A&M. Leah advocates for equitable professional development opportunities for graduate students. As current chair – and former president – of the Texas A&M Graduate Student Consulting Club, she helps lead professional development and networking programming, successfully raising nearly $10,000 to support these initiatives. She also led the creation of Texas A&M's first consulting case competition, drawing experts from prestigious firms such as McKinsey, Bain, Google and Shell to Texas A&M to interact with students. Leah is committed to applying scientific discoveries for societal benefit. She supervises physics and chemistry laboratories and has contributed to significant research publications in the field of environmental engineering aimed at improving urban public health.



Outstanding Mentoring Awards

Outstanding mentoring awards honor individuals who have shared their knowledge, skills or experiences with graduate and professional students at Texas A&M, assisting in their development and activating their success at our university and beyond. Awards are presented in two categories: faculty and graduate student. Faculty awardees receive a framed certificate and $750; student awardees receive a framed certificate and $500. 

Outstanding Graduate and Professional Student Mentoring for Faculty

Sarbajit Banerjee, Chemistry

Dr. Sarbajit Banerjee is the Davidson Chair Professor of Chemistry, Professor of Materials Science and Engineering, and Chancellor EDGES Fellow at Texas A&M University. He serves as the Associate Dean for Strategic Research Initiatives in the College of Arts and Sciences and is the Executive Director of reMIND, a Department of Energy’s (DOE) Energy Frontier Research Center. He is a graduate of St. Stephen’s College and the State University of New York at Stony Brook. He was a post-doctoral research scientist at Columbia University prior to starting his  independent career at the University at Buffalo in 2007. In 2014, Banerjee moved to Texas A&M University as a Professor of Chemistry. He was named a Cottrell Scholar in 2010 and was awarded the 2021 Stanley C. Israel Southwest Regional Award for Advancing Diversity in the Chemical Sciences from the American Chemical Society. He is a 2022 recipient of the Association of Former Students Distinguished Achievement Award in Graduate Mentoring. He has mentored 33 Ph.D. and 5 M.S. students to completion. His former students are tenured/tenure-track faculty in leading universities and serve in leadership positions in national laboratories and industry.

David E. Claridge

Dr. David Claridge, Professor of Mechanical Engineering and Director of the Energy Systems Laboratory, joined Texas A&M University in 1986. He holds a Ph.D. in physics from Stanford University and is a licensed Professional Engineer. He has chaired the graduate committee of 79 completed master’s degrees and 26 Ph.D. degrees and chairs the graduate committee of eight current students. He is a recipient of the E.K. Campbell Award of Merit from ASHRAE for outstanding service and achievement in teaching as well as a graduate teaching award from the Department of Mechanical Engineering. Internationally known for his work on energy efficiency, Claridge pioneered development of the process of existing building commissioning, which is today generally recognized as the most cost-effective way to reduce energy use in buildings. He is the co-inventor of a disruptive new refrigerant-free dehumidification technology that promises to substantially increase air conditioning efficiency, while providing better comfort.

Sarah Hamer, Epidemiology

Dr. Sarah Hamer is a Professor of Epidemiology in Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences. Her research lab is focused on the ecology of diseases that emerge at the human-animal interface with a focus in the U.S. and Latin America.  Her B.S. and M.S. degrees are from University of Illinois, and her Ph.D. and DVM degrees are from Michigan State University. She mentors students from varied fields including public health, veterinary medicine, entomology and ecology, and attributes the success of her team in part to their diverse backgrounds and perspectives. She immerses her students in research projects both in the field as well as in the laboratory. Highlights for Dr. Hamer have included hooding 8 Ph.D. students. Her work in vector-borne disease spans soft and hard ticks, triatomines and fleas.


Outstanding Graduate and Professional Student Mentors

Heather Baldi, Soil and Crop Sciences

Heather Baldi has been a committed mentor of fellow graduate and undergraduate students in the Department of Soil & Crop Sciences since she started her master’s degree in 2016 and continued to pursue her doctoral degree in 2019. She has helped students formulate research projects, learn about professional development, broaden their academic pursuits and career opportunities, and has been a sounding board for students to share issues that could affect their mental health and well-being. She has also planned events through which graduate students could support and serve as mentees to one another. As a teaching assistant, Heather dedicated herself to ensuring students understood the material she was teaching by providing real-life examples to make agronomy more meaningful. Heather has found student engagement and student success to be imperative in her role as a mentor. She believes that successful mentoring starts with effective communication and active listening. Heather is still a graduate student in soil & crop sciences, but she also works for the ecology & evolutionary biology interdisciplinary program, where she focuses on aligning student expectations with the program’s curriculum and structure. Heather’s dedication is founded on genuine interest in each of her students.

Md. Saifur Rahman, Biomedical Engineering

Md. Saifur Rahman is a third-year Ph.D. student in the Department of Biomedical Engineering (BMEN), advised by Dr. Limei Tian. His academic journey spans continents. After completing his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in applied chemistry and chemical technology at Rajshahi University in Bangladesh, he was awarded a prestigious South Korean Government Scholarship for pursuing his second M.S. in materials science and engineering at the Gwangju Institute of Science and Technology. His research focuses on human-machine interfaces, including wearable and implantable soft bioelectronics and biosensors. He is the recipient of numerous academic accolades, such as travel grants and BMEN scholarships. 

Beyond his academic record, Saifur is passionate about mentorship. He aims to consistently support and contribute to the personal and professional growth of those around him. As a mentor, he emphasizes active listening, empathetic understanding and constructive feedback so his mentees can reach their full potential, enhance their skills and accomplish their goals. He prioritizes creating a supportive and nurturing environment where trainees feel valued, inspired and empowered to succeed. He promotes inclusiveness, believing that guidance and encouragement should be available to all. He is dedicated to positively impacting the lives of his mentees and helping them become the best versions of themselves.

Maiya Turner, Multicultural Education

Maiya Turner’s love for Texas A&M University gives her the passion to mentor others. During her tenure as the Black Graduate Student Association (BGSA) president, Maiya saw a need to bridge the gap between undergraduates and graduate students. As a result, she established the Undergraduate Mentoring Program. Maiya has been actively engaged in the Teaching, Learning and Culture (TLAC) Graduate Student Organization as a student mentor, where she has worked on manuscripts and international conference presentations with her mentees. Lastly, with the help of her dissertation chair, Maiya created Bold Leaders in Urban Education (BLUE), the 2023 Adair New Organization of the Year, to support the professional and personal growth of graduate students interested in the advancement of urban education research, pedagogy and practice. Maiya’s leadership led to her being awarded a Buck Weirus Spirit Award in 2023. Recently, Maiya experienced a health scare that led her to work from home as she received medical treatment. Despite being miles away, Maiya’s mentorship still yields tangible results on campus. For Maiya, mentorship is about creating a legacy because she has seen the impact of so many people pouring their time and energy into her development. As she continues on this journey, she is committed to helping lift her fellow Aggies toward excellence, service and success.



GRAD Aggies Certificates

Basic GRAD Aggies Certificate

Shelby A. Gunnells Moeka Ono
Lisa M. Gutierrez Stephanie L. Orozco
Unmay Habiba Sophia Panelli Marchio
Erin M. Harris Satya Sree Divya Perelli
Abbey E. Hotard Mary E. Perkins
Sarah J. Ingram Thien T. Phan
Md Zahidul Islam Samantha R. Philip
Justinn Jake Jones Carlos A. Ramirez
Elizabeth A. Joseph Williams Cecil M. Renfro
Maureen Kelly Kelly J. Riverbark
Samantha Kotze Rohit Kumar
Surya Krishnan Hunter L. Roy
Rebecca M. Legere Ganga K. Sah
Windy M. Lowder Savannah P. Sanders
Anna M. Marin Amanda R. Schmiediche
Francine E. Mascarenhas Kirby M. Sherman
Benjamin L. McKeig Jessica Steiner
Rachel A. McNeal Masako Suzuki
Saylor M. Mealing Dorsa Talebi
Sarai M. Milliron Michael Teve
Makeda I. Mills Vasu N. Verma
Kellijett S. Murphrey Chandler A. Wakefield
Jessica A. O'Brien Nathan R. Williams
Faith Ebiere Eguolo Odele Wanyu Xu
Junepyo Oh Carolina Zertuche Mery


Intermediate Grad Aggies certificate

Mohammad A. Al-Mahmood Makeda I. Mills
Katherine V. Aldama Saminehalsadat Moosavi
Hannah E. Bowling Kellijett S. Murphrey
Duncan Christensen Jessica A. O'Brien
Jeffrey J. Cragin Rohit Kumar
Thomas G. Deguire Jessica Steiner
Samantha R. Franklin Aileen Terrazas
Erin M. Harris Olivia L. Thomas
Maureen Kelly Ilksen Topcu
Surya Krishnan Ana M. Velasquez Escobar
Alexandra E. Lagrand Rebecca Ward
Benjamin L. McKeig Nathan R. Williams
Holly A. Miller Carolina Zertuche Mery


Advanced Grad Aggies certificate

Katherine V. Aldama Erin M. Harris
Lauren E. Beebe Lindsey L. Jones
Hannah E. Bowling Rebecca Lee
Natalie Coleman Makeda I. Mills
Aminah T. Crawford Saminehalsadat Moosavi
Kristian O. Edosomwan Dallas R. Soffa
Claire E. Zak  


Career Center IDP Advanced Grad Aggies certificate

Julianne Birdsall Andie C. Miller
Patrick J. Boland Atif Mohammed Ashraf
Tamunoemi Opakirite Braide Alfiya Shaikh Mohd Rafiq
Gladden N. Chukwu Odai M. Nassar
Jimmy H. Dani Tahmidur Rahman
Sahar Delfan Dipankar Sen
Ruben A. Delgado Siddharth Sriram Sikha
Sarah A. Densmore Ashley A. Tran
Jordan T. Donop Kevin P. Varghese
Kathleen R. Floyd Sarah Vegerano
Abbey E. Hotard Michael P. Vickers
Somtochukwu D. Lambert Chen Xu I. Wang
Laura P. Luna Arvizu Cheryl L. Wilson
Morrelle Madom De Tamo Kimberly P. Wright
Audelia M. Mechti Iveth Zamorano
Steven Melzow  

Congratulations to this year's winner and certificate earners!

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