Top Graduate Student Awards Announced at UA

  • May 11th, 2005
Outstanding graduate students are (L-R) Songsong Cao, Dr. Peter M. Letcher and Mustafizur Rahman.
Outstanding graduate students are (L-R) Songsong Cao, Dr. Peter M. Letcher and Mustafizur Rahman.

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — The University of Alabama Graduate School has announced the recipients of the 2004-2005 Outstanding Graduate Student Awards.

The award categories are: Outstanding Dissertation, Outstanding Thesis, Outstanding Teaching by a Master’s Student, Outstanding Teaching by a Doctoral Student, Outstanding Research by a Master’s Student, and Outstanding Research by a Doctoral Student.

Three separate committees reviewed the nominations from the divisions for the awards. Committees of faculty emeriti selected the thesis and dissertation winners. The Graduate Council’s Committee on Teaching and Research Awards evaluated the nominations for the four awards for excellence in teaching and excellence in research.

The committees have selected the following students as recipients of the 2004-2005 UA Graduate School awards:

· Outstanding Dissertation – Dr. Peter M. Letcher, College of Arts and Sciences

Letcher’s dissertation, titled “Systematic Analysis of Molecular and Ultrastructural Characters Among Two Clades of Zoosporic Fungi,” pioneered research in its application of molecular techniques for gene sequence analysis and correlation with electron microscopic analysis of chytrid fungus zoospore characters. His research provides a context in which to understand the chytrid fungus that has caused a global epidemic on frogs and the extinction of many species of frogs. Five top-tier publications will result from the dissertation.

· Outstanding Thesis — Mustafizur Rahman, Chemical and Biological Engineering

Rahman’s work included the investigation of ways that new ionic liquid chemicals can be applied to improve the properties and lifetime of flexible plastics. He authored a review paper on the plasticizer industry which was published in the journal Progress in Polymer Science. The journal is widely read in the polymer fields and has an extremely high journal impact factor.

· Outstanding Teaching by a Master’s Student – Nathan E. Shepley, College of Arts and Sciences

According to a faculty representative, Shepley “approaches teaching with care of a master builder, erecting the scaffolding upon which his students can build writing competence.” Shepley has demonstrated the ability to help students empower themselves in a world filled with competing ideas.

Outstanding graduate student Jacquelyn S. Shaia.
Outstanding graduate student Jacquelyn S. Shaia.

· Outstanding Teaching by a Doctoral Student – Jacquelyn S. Shaia, College of Communication and Information Sciences

Shaia was described by a leading faculty member of the College of Communication and Information Sciences as “one of the truly exemplary gifted teachers to work in the department over the last 30 years.” From student evaluations, it is quite obvious that she truly understands the strengths, weaknesses and concerns of her students, and cares for them personally and addresses them individually.

· Outstanding Research by a Master’s Student – Christine N. Newkirk, College of Arts and Sciences

Newkirk won the very first student paper competition of the Society for Anthropological Sciences, a new section of the American Anthropological Association devoted to the promotion and development of scientific research methods in anthropology. She had to achieve a basic fluency in Portuguese in only nine months to carry out her research. During her research, she developed a new interview format ranking tasks to elicit the basis for respondents’ perceptions of the value of foods along three dimensions: health, convenience and prestige.

· Outstanding Research by a Doctoral Student – Songsong Cao, College of Arts and Sciences

Cao’s efforts were primarily responsible for a breakthrough paper in understanding the biological function of a protein named torsin, which is associated with a human disease called torsion dystonia — a movement disorder consisting of involuntary twisting muscular contractions or abnormal postures. His article was the cover story in the top-ranked biomedical journal, Human Molecular Genetics, as the first-ever report of the cellular function of the gene product that causes human torsion dystonia.

Contact

Chad Gilbert or Linda Hill, UA Media Relations, 205/348-8325, lhill@ur.ua.edu

The University of Alabama, part of The University of Alabama System, is the state’s flagship university. UA shapes a better world through its teaching, research and service. With a global reputation for excellence, UA provides an inclusive, forward-thinking environment and nearly 200 degree programs on a beautiful, student-centered campus. A leader in cutting-edge research, UA advances discovery, creative inquiry and knowledge through more than 30 research centers. As the state’s largest higher education institution, UA drives economic growth in Alabama and beyond.