GradImpact Submissions

    The CGS GradImpact project tells the larger story of graduate education through featured examples from our member institutions. Our goal is to demonstrate the importance of graduate education not only to degree holders, but also to the communities where we live and work. Do you have a great story to share about the impact of master’s or doctoral education? Visit the CGS website for more information.

    Becoming an Astronaut by Studying Life (Cave Slime) in Extreme Environments
    Zena Cardman
    Geosciences, The Pennsylvania State University

    With more than 18,300 applications this year, the NASA astronaut program is extremely competitive, but Zena Cardman hoped her diverse set of experiences including working in the engine room of a boat and several Antarctic expeditions might give her the edge. She was right. Cardman, a doctoral student in the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences at Penn State University, was recently named a member of NASA’s 2017 class of astronauts. The 12 men and women were recognized during a ceremony at the Johnson Space Center in Houston on June 7.

    Cardman’s research in the geosciences focuses on microbe-rock interactions and what those interactions reveal about life on Earth and perhaps life elsewhere. The possibility of life on other planets drives her research interests, including her current work on the alien-like lifeforms found growing on walls of damp, remote caves. “I’m especially interested in life that lives in oddball environments on Earth, the extremophiles,” said Cardman. “For me, that’s a good analogy for environments that might be habitable on another planet.”

    In August, Cardman must report to NASA’s Johnson Space Center for training that will include flying jets, learning Russian, taking mock spacewalks, and getting to know her teammates. She’ll be in the candidate-training program for two years before she becomes a full astronaut and qualifies for spaceflight missions. To read more about Zena’s work, visit the Penn State website.

    **Photo Credit: NASA

    Using Art to Change People’s Perceptions and Increase Awareness for Sustainability
    Joseph Blake
    MFA, Dance, University of Washington

    After a 15-year career as a professional dancer, Joseph Blake needed to expand his horizon. He began teaching dance to students aged five through 65+ and found their passion inspiring. Blake decided to pursue his MFA in dance from the University of Washington with the intent of teaching at the collegiate level, but he’s using his passion and dedication to dance outside the UW campus.

    Since starting the MFA program in 2015, Blake has focused on dance as a tool to communicate the importance of critical thinking and climate change, using yoga to help heal local incarcerated youth, and to reach people living with Parkinson’s. Blake underscores the importance of dance as a community activity and one that promotes inclusivity for all, not exclusively able-bodied professional dancers.

    Blake is taking his commitment to have an impact on the world one step further with his project Ballo Conservatio alongside friend and colleague Steve Korn. Their partnership as choreographer (Blake) and photographer (Korn) seeks to capture “powerful visual moments of human interaction with renewable and finite resources.” The hope is to use art to raise awareness for the importance of sustainability. “There’s always a story to be told, and it’s so easily done with the body and with the voice,” he says. To read more about Joseph’s work, visit the University of Washington website.

    **Photo Credit: Mitch Allen

    Making Cloud Computing More Efficient, Reliable, and Secure
    Masoud Moshref Javadi
    Computer Engineering, University of Southern California

    You might call him a painter. His work does require a tremendous amount of creativity, and Masoud Moshref Javadi has been known to write on the walls to work out problems. But, his artistic endeavors involve computer networks, data traffic, and operating systems. Moshref Javadi, a PhD recipient in Computer Engineering from the University of Southern California, developed a network management system called DREAM (Dynamic Resource Allocation for Software-defined Measurement), which makes the future of cloud computing more efficient, reliable, and secure.

    In 2015, Moshref Javadi was one of only 15 PhD students across the U.S. awarded the prestigious Google PhD Fellowship, a two-year award created in 2009 to recognize and support outstanding graduate students doing exception work in computer sciences and related disciplines. Moshref Javadi grew up in Iran, and his interest in computers began in high school. He went on to earn a master’s degree in IT engineering from Sharif University of Technology in Tehran, the top engineering university in the country.

    “Writing (computer) programs involves creativity — like having a canvas for painting,” Moshref Javadi said. “You’re trying to create something.” To learn more about Masoud’s work, visit the University of Southern California website.

    Building Community-Based Organizations for Violence Prevention and Education
    Dorothy Johnson-Speight
    EdD, Fielding Graduate University

    Dorothy Johnson-Speight is currently working towards her EdD at Fielding Graduate University in California, but her path to get here has been harder than she ever imagined. In 2001, Johnson-Speight was thinking about her doctorate. Her son Khaaliq Johnson was entering a master’s program, and the two were making long-term plans to open a practice in their Philadelphia community to support at-risk kids. In December of that year, her life was devastated by the senseless murder of her son during an argument over a parking spot.

    Johnson-Speight was determined to turn her grief into something positive. She began holding meetings at her local church with other mothers to talk about preventing violence in the community, and the response was overwhelming. Johnson-Speight founded the grassroots nonprofit, Mothers in Charge, an organization that “works to prevent violence through education and intervention.” Mothers in Charge has provided grief counseling, youth mentoring, anger-management and conflict-resolution classes, job-training courses, and more.

    Johnson-Speight spoke at The Women of the World Summit in New York, was invited to meet the Pope during his visit to a Philadelphia prison, and was recently named a Soros Justice Fellow. Mothers in Charge has chapters in a dozen cities across the country and continues to grow. But, Johnson-Speight made a promise to her son, and now she’s finishing the work they planned to do together. To learn more about Dorothy’s work, visit the Fielding Graduate University website.

    Understanding How Climate Change May Profoundly Impact an Ecosystem
    Tim Maguire
    Biology, Boston University

    When studying climate change and potential consequences of rising temperatures, research on silicon is often overlooked by ecologists. Silica (the combination of silicon and oxygen) is more often an emphasis in science fields focused in water ecosystems: oceanography, marine biology, etc. Tim Maguire, a PhD candidate in biology at Boston University, decided to investigate the effects climate change is having on silica production in trees, and what he discovered is cause for concern.

    Maguire has focused his work on sugar maple trees and their root systems. Trees act like pumps for silica: they suck it up from groundwater, convert it to a usable form, and then either store it or release it back into the ecosystem. Maguire’s work, funded by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, found that sugar maples seem to pump more silica than originally anticipated. In addition, they appear to be more susceptible to the effects of climate change: rising temperatures lead to less snow accumulation which leads to root exposure and subsequent root damage.

    So, what does this mean? In individual trees, silica plays many roles included providing structure to leaves, strong root systems, and protection from infections like fungi. At the ecosystem level, the potential effects have greater consequences: trees won’t pump enough silica required to maintain the marsh and ocean ecosystems. “A lot of times, when you do these types of studies, you get a statistical result that doesn’t amount to much in the real world,” says Maguire. “This is not the case here.” To learn more about Tim’s work, visit the Boston University website.

    **Photo Credit: Boston University

    Developing a Breakthrough for Early Detection of Pancreatic Cancer
    James Froberg & Fataneh Karandish
    Physics & Pharmaceutical Sciences, North Dakota State University

    Two graduate students at North Dakota State University have invented a test that could the change lives of pancreatic cancer patients. James Froberg (doctoral candidate in physics) and Fataneh Karandish (doctoral candidate in pharmaceutical sciences) created the test using a computer chip that requires a single drop of blood to detect pancreatic cancer, one of the deadliest and most difficult forms of cancer to diagnose. The five-year survival rate is about 7% and a lack of early symptoms makes it very hard to detect.

    Froberg and Karandish developed a microchip that uses nanotechnology to respond to the presence of pancreatic cancer cells in the blood. When electric current runs through the blood sample, the intensity decreases when cancer cells are detected. The two doctoral students recently won a $5,000 award for their finding in NDSU's Innovation Challenge, a student entrepreneurial competition. Forberg and Karandish are also part of the Center for Diagnostic and Therapeutic Strategies in Pancreatic Cancer, a broader team on campus focused on cutting-edge research to develop early detection and protocols for pancreatic cancer.

    Froberg and Karandish’ innovation has the potential to revolutionize the future of cancer detection and treatment. Its simplicity and cost-effectiveness lend itself to at-home early diagnostic kits and could eventually be modified to detect other types cancer. To learn more about James and Fataneh’s work, visit the North Dakota State University website.

    **Photo Credit: North Dakota State University

    Using Documentary Films to Mobilize Social Change
    Mark Terry
    Humanities, York University

    More than two decades after earning his bachelor’s degree in English, Mark Terry returned to York University to pursue his graduate studies in the Humanities. Mr. Terry spent 25 years as a broadcast journalist and documentary filmmaker, and his current doctoral research focuses on “how documentary film can philosophically be mobilized as an instrument of social change.” One of his previous films documents climate research expeditions to Antarctica and the Arctic and has been used by the United Nations to create new environmental policy. His Youth Climate Report project was presented at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP22) in Morocco in 2016.

    Terry’s work uses Geographic Information Systems (GIS) to showcase the latest climate research being done by climate scientists, researchers, and scholars around the world. A GIS allows us to visualize, analyze, and interpret data to understand relationships, patterns, and trends in more comprehensive ways and is being used by industries across the world. Terry’s innovative project brings together GIS and interactive documentary filmmaking and can be replicated. He works closely with United Nations Environment Program policy makers providing interactive mapping tools to serve delegates and negotiators.

    Mr. Terry has received many accolades for his work, including the Diamond Jubilee Medal to honor his significant contributions and achievements to Canada. To learn more about Mark’s work, visit the York University website.

    **Photo Credit: York University 

    How Ceramic Engineering Led to Cutting-Edge Inventions in Wound Care
    Steve Jung
    Materials Science & Engineering, Missouri S&T

    During his freshman year at Missouri University of Science and Technology, Steve Jung took a class in ceramics engineering with Dr. Delbert Day that would dictate the next ten years of his life. Dr. Day, a well-known glass engineer at Missouri S&T, became Jung’s mentor through bachelor’s and master’s degrees in ceramics engineering and a doctoral degree in materials science and engineering. Jung secured 15 U.S. and foreign patents before receiving his doctorate and landed a prestigious job as chief technology officer at Mo-Sci Corp., a world leader in glass technology.

    In those first ten years, Dr. Jung accumulated a long list of accomplishments, but his latest has incredible potential for the healthcare industry. A new medical product for wound care has been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, and Jung’s doctoral research led to its invention. The Mirragen Advanced Wound Matrix, made of microscopic glass fibers the body can absorb, is a flexible, moldable, and customizable bandage. Clinical trials conducted at Phelps County Regional Medical Center demonstrated its potential to speed up healing time and improve overall wound care. “People who were looking at having amputations didn’t have to lose their limbs. Wounds that wouldn’t heal or would otherwise take months to heal were doing so in relatively short periods of time,” says Jung.

    Jung’s research has also contributed to the invention of another product, Rediheal, that has been used by veterinarians over the last three years to help heal wounds in animals. To learn more about Steve’s work, visit the Missouri S&T website.

    **Photo Credit: Sam O’Keefe/Missouri S&T

    Preserving Art for the Education and Enrichment of Future Generations
    Claire Taggart
    Art Conservation, Winterthur/University of Delaware

    As a master’s student and second-year Fellow in the Winterthur/University of Delaware Program in Art Conservation, Claire Taggart spends her days preserving art. Her work requires not only an appreciation for the value of art, but also skill in the scientific treatment and preservation of cultural artifacts. One of her recent projects involved a fabricated sculpture damaged during a courier trip, followed by immersion in Hurricane Sandy’s flood waters. The sculpture arrived at Winterthur in 23 pieces and after a technical study to figure out how, Ms. Taggart and a colleague put it back together. Automata No. 1, created by contemporary British artist Keith Tyson in 2005, requires additional work, but Taggart’s findings will aid in future restoration projects.

    In addition to her graduate fellowship at the University of Delaware, Ms. Taggart has received several prestigious fellowships and internships. Taggart spent the summer of 2015 as a conservation intern with the Smithsonian Institution’s National Air and Space Museum, where she worked to restore a World War II Black Widow Compressor. She spent the summer of 2016 as an intern at the Dallas Museum of Art. And, she was awarded a 2017 Delaware Public Humanities Institute (DELPHI) fellowship to spend ten weeks in the objects conservation lab of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.

    Ms. Taggart expects to graduate with her M.S. in Art Conservation in 2018. To learn more about Claire’s work, visit the University of Delaware website.

    **Photo Credit: University of Delaware

    Developing Innovative Natural Fabrics from the Fibers in Banana Stems
    Joyce Nabisaalu
    Design, Housing and Merchandising at Oklahoma State University

    As a doctoral student in Design, Housing and Merchandising at Oklahoma State University, Joyce Nabisaalu has discovered a unique new material to use in natural fiber fabrics: banana stems. Her discovery comes at an opportune time; the demand for natural fiber fabrics rises, as the production of organic cotton, the primary source for natural fabrics, steadily declines. This necessitates the search for innovative alternatives that meet or exceed cotton fabric standards.

    Nabisaalu’s finding began in her home country of Uganda, where bananas are a primary food source and part of at least one meal each day. The banana pseudo stems are left discarded in the fields. As Nabisaalu says, “using bananas as a channel for economic development is only practical.” The fibers derived from the banana stems are 100% organic, biodegradable, and highly sustainable. This research has the potential to grow Uganda’s economy by giving farmers another source of income. In addition to growing crops, they can learn how to extract fibers to use in fabrics.

    Further research is needed to improve the banana fibers physical properties, including texture, bending properties, yarn fineness, and strength, but Nabisaalu’s discovery could be a new source of economic development for largely agrarian economies all over the world. To learn more about Joyce’s work, visit the Oklahoma State University website.

    **Photo Credit: Oklahoma State University Communications

    Protecting Firefighters from Toxic Exposures through Textile Chemistry
    Chandler Maness
    Textile Chemistry, North Carolina State University

    Becoming a firefighter comes with its share of risks, but Chandler Maness hopes to do something about that. As a master’s student in textile chemistry at North Carolina State University, Maness is working to develop better gear for firefighters. His primary goal is to reduce the amount of particulate materials from fires that manage to seep into the gear. According to Maness, “those particulates contain toxic compounds and carcinogens that are part of the reason that firefighters have such a high rate of cancer. So the scope of the overall project is to kind of develop a turnout and ensemble that prevents these particulates from getting to the skin.”

    Finding the most protective materials and designs is important, but they also need to be functional and allow firefighters the same level of maneuverability. Maness and his colleagues went right to the source, visiting local fire and emergency management stations to talk to firefighters and show them prototypes. They take that feedback back to the lab and create a new prototype.

    “Obviously, my hope and the hope of all my co-workers is that the research we do will contribute to a decrease in those [cancer] rates,” said Maness. To learn more about Chandler’s work, visit the North Carolina State University website.

    **Photo Credit: Marc Hall, NC State University Communications

    Discovering 2 Supermassive, Colliding Black Holes 750 Million Light-Years Away
    Karishma Bansal
    Physics & Astronomy, University of New Mexico

    Karishma Bansal, a doctoral student in the Department of Physics and Astronomy at the University of New Mexico, and her colleagues made international news in June 2017 for their groundbreaking discovery: two supermassive black holes orbiting each other. Scientists have theorized this phenomenon was possible, but Bansal is the first to prove it. Over a 10-year period, UNM’s Dr. Gregory Taylor (Bansal’s mentor) and scientists from other universities took very fine measurements with a series of 10 radio telescopes located across North America. Bansal analyzed some of the data collected and demonstrated the orbital movement.

    To give you some perspective, each supermassive black hole is the size of our entire solar system; they exist 750 million light-years from earth; and they move at about 4 million miles per hour. Supermassive black holes exist in the center of most large galaxies. As two galaxies began to collide, the two black holes began to orbit each other. Eventually (as in millions of years from now), the two black holes will probably merge.

    Someday, billions of years from now, our galaxy will collide with the Andromeda galaxy. Bansal’s research will help scientists better understand this process. To learn more about Karishma’s work, visit the University of New Mexico website.

    **Photo Credit: C. Shell

    Research to Better Understand and Prevent Suicide in Military Veterans
    Lauren Forrest
    Psychology, Miami University of Ohio

    Lauren Forrest, a doctoral student in psychology at Miami University of Ohio, is on a mission to help U.S. military veterans through her research to identify risk factors related to suicide and self-injury. According to the Veterans Administration, “Veterans accounted for 18% of all deaths from suicide among U.S. adults in 2014.” Although a lot of research is being done to better understand why this happens, Forrest argues that a new approach to risk factors is needed.

    You know the five major senses (taste, sight, touch, smell, and hearing); but you probably haven’t heard of interoception, a part of the sensory system that manages sensations inside your body. Knowing when you’re hungry, if your breathing is heavier, or your heart rate is fast are all functions processed by your brain through interoception. Forrest hypothesizes that people who don’t adequately process these sensations could be more likely to self-harm, particularly for individuals with a high tolerance for pain and fear.

    Forrest recently received a grant to complete her study from the Military Suicide Research Consortium, a testament to the potential impact to the military community, but her research could have much broader implications. “Suicide and non-suicidal self-injury are really huge public health problems with very significant consequences,” says Forrest. To learn more about Lauren’s work, visit the Miami University of Ohio website.

    **Photo Credit: Lauren Forrest

    Improving Access to Food Pantries for Food Insecure Populations
    Matthew Schwartz
    Social Work, University at Buffalo

    Matthew Schwartz, a master’s student in the University at Buffalo School of Social Work, realized many of his clients were having difficulty accessing food pantries. As a case manager for the Jewish Family Service of Buffalo and Erie County, Schwartz noticed the requirements to utilize food pantries were often things food insecure people might not have. Some food pantries require a state-issued form of identification, official documentation of financial need, and some will only help people who live in designated zip codes. In addition, available transportation and limited hours can greatly limit people’s ability to get the food they need.

    Schwartz decided to step in and find a way to make food more accessible. Along with the local Jewish community, the United Church of Christ, and other case managers, Schwartz founded Food Gnomes, a mobile food pantry serving the Greater Buffalo Area. In addition to being stocked with food, each car is a mobile information center with details on housing and shelters, domestic violence programs, job and career training, educational opportunities, and more. Each driver is a local case manager able to provide assistance and referral to local services.

    “We really believe in having an impact by answering the needs as the community states them, not what we think they are,” Schwartz says. “We only have one question: Are you hungry? If the answer is yes, then we feed you.” To learn more about Matthew’s work, visit the University at Buffalo website.

    **Photo Credit: Nancy J. Parisi, University at Buffalo Communications

    Exponentially Improving Student Learning in Low-Income Districts
    Jessica Bohlen
    Education, University of West Georgia

    Inquiry-based learning is an active learning model that begins with a facilitator (teacher) asking questions, posing problems, or creating scenarios. This teaching model has become increasingly common in college classrooms, but Jessica Bohlen wanted to try the method with younger students. A recent M.A. recipient from the University of West Georgia and high school English teacher, Bohlen began a trial run partnership with two UWG professors and a local elementary school teacher. What they discovered could be transformational for the K-12 community.

    At the end of the nine-week study, Bohlen saw a huge improvement in her classroom – 492 percent to be exact. Not only did her students perform better on test assignments, but their classroom behavior and confidence levels greatly improved. Bohlen’s results are particularly inspiring, because some of her students have learning disabilities.

    Since the study was completed, Bohlen has had other teachers come into her classroom to see the results for themselves. Several have started to use inquiry-based learning approaches in their own classrooms. To learn more about Jessica’s work, visit the University of West Georgia website.

    **Photo Credit: Amy K. Lavender

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