Congratulations to the 2022 Distinguished Dissertation Award Winners teaser image

Texas A&M Graduate and Professional School Announces 2022 Distinguished Dissertation Winners

Doctoral students honored for making a significant contribution to their field of study

Texas A&M University’s Graduate and Professional School has announced the recipients of its Distinguished Dissertation Awards for the 2021-2022 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 commemorative plaque and $1,000 prize.

Recipients of doctoral degrees between summer 2020 and spring 2022 were eligible for this year’s awards, which were sponsored by the Carol J. Cantrell Endowment, the George W. Kunze Endowment, and the Mobil Aggies Graduate Endowment.

Mathematics, Physical Sciences and Engineering

Yuting Luo, a Ph.D. student in Chemisty, is the winner in the Mathematics, Physical Sciences, and Engineering category for her dissertation, “Elucidating Mechanisms of Cation Insertion in Vanadium Oxide Cathodes: Insertion Mechanisms, Intercalation-Induced Phase Transformations, Mesoscale Phenomena, and Electrochemistry-Mechanics Coupling.” Her research explores strategies for increasing the capacity of Lithium-ion batteries, or what she terms “beyond Li-ion” batteries, by questioning some of the theoretical assumptions about electrochemistry and then showing the practical applications of alternative ways of thinking. Her work has been published in influential journals, including Nature Materials and Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“What Yuting has accomplished in her dissertation,” writes her faculty advisor Dr. Sarbajit Banerjee,
“is to decipher fundamental understanding of how intercalation chemistry is modified by strain, curvature, and geometry.” Faculty nominator Dr. Partha P. Mukerjee commented that her research “has had a massive impact on the future of batteries, and more generally on energy storage.”

Luo will graduate in May 2022.

Biological and Life Sciences

Yifei Liao, Ph.D., a May 2021 graduate in Biomedical Science, is the winner in the Biological and Life Sciences category. Dr. Liao’s dissertation, “Functional Interaction between Marek’s Disease Virus US3 Meq with Chicken CREB and Histone Deacetylases,” focuses on a herpes virus in chickens that causes a cancer-like disease. Dr. Liao’s research advances the biological understanding of how the virus causes the disease and, especially, its characteristic tumors. He has published his findings in several of the top journals in his field, including the Journal of General Virology and Veterinary Microbiology, among others.

Faculty nominator Dr. Ramesh Vemulapalli, said that Liao’s research “has resulted in highly impactful discoveries that have significantly advanced our understanding of how this virus causes disease.” And Liao’s faculty advisor Dr. Blanca Lupiani noted, “During my more than 25 years in research, I have known few students who have worked harder or have been more productive than Yifei. I consider him among the top 1% of graduate students I have encountered,” Lupiani said.  

Social Sciences

Umer Hussain, Ph.D., a May 2021 graduate in Kinesiology, is the winner in the Social Sciences category. Dr. Hussain’s dissertation, “Unconventional Means to Enhance Muslim Women’s Inclusion in Sports,” investigates – in three separate studies – the means through which Muslim women’s access to sports, as both participants and consumers, can be enhanced. The first two studies show that Muslim women have more access to and better experiences in sports outside the traditional Western paradigm, including eSports and those specific to the Indian subcontinent: Kho-Kho and Kabaddi. His third set of studies focuses on Muslim women as sport consumers, showing the various factors that influence their purchase decisions. Each of the three studies has been published in high-impact journals.

Hussain’s faculty advisor, Dr. George Cunningham, noted that “[his] dissertation research has made a substantial impact in the academic field as well as to the populations of focus.” Faculty nominator Dr. Hyun Woo Lee remarked, “Dr. Hussain’s research is at the forefront of wider debates concerning why Muslim women’s sport participation and consumption experiences are oppressed and how sport managers can enhance the climate and culture of sports in the current society. His projects are both thought-provoking and intellectually stimulating.”

Humanities and Fine Arts

Frances May Thielman, Ph.D, a May 2021 graduate in English, is the winner in the Humanities and Fine Arts category. Dr. Thielman’s dissertation, “The Logic of Trash in Victorian Literature,” researches the ways Victorian-era authors developed stories about trash that conveyed a larger narrative about humans and their discards. Dr. Thielman uses various approaches in her scholarship, including textual analysis and historical research. Her findings showed that, for Victorians, thinking about waste and discarding it mirrored how they thought about human mortality and the afterlife. Based on her findings, Dr. Thielman observed that (1) people’s lives and values are reflected in what they discard, and (2) people sometimes treat others poorly (or like trash) when they are struggling and trying to reconcile themselves with their own mortality.

Faculty nominator Claudia Nelson praised Thielman as “a gifted writer, an excellent stylist, and easily the most creative thinker I have ever encountered in our program.” Her faculty advisor, Mary Ann O’Farrell noted, “Her dissertation is a remarkably thoughtful, beautifully written, and groundbreaking piece of scholarship and criticism, bound to make a mark in literary studies.”

National Distinguished Dissertation Finalists
Texas A&M University will nominate the dissertations produced by Yuting Luo and Umer Hussain for the 2022 Distinguished Dissertation Award national competition sponsored by the Council of Graduate Schools (CGS) and ProQuest. Annually, CGS selects outstanding dissertations in two categories. This year, CGS will award dissertations in the Social Sciences and the Mathematics, Physical Sciences and Engineering categories.

Karen Butler-Purry, Associate Provost and Dean of the Graduate and Professional School, commended this year’s winners for their outstanding scholarship. “Congratulations to our four winners; we are extremely proud of them,” Butler-Purry said. “Their dissertations reflect the high level of research in which Texas A&M’s graduate students are engaged and which is clearly making an impact on their disciplines and our world.”

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