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.

    Using Social Media As an Effective Education, Research, and Global Outreach Tool
    Anne Hilborn
    Fish and Wildlife Conservation, Virginia Tech
    Seattle, Washington

    Anne Hilborn, a doctoral student in the Department of Fish and Wildlife Conservation at Virginia Tech, studies the interactions between predators and prey, “focusing on cheetahs because they hunt by day on open plains, are affected by lions, and impact several species of herbivores that serve as prey.” She discovered the value of using social media during field research in 2014. She realized that chronicling her experiences on Twitter and her blog would give her the opportunity to share her photos, data, and research with the whole world.

    Hilborn and her graduate student colleague, Chris Rowe, learned just how effective Twitter can be in 2015. They began posting a series of tweets using the hashtag #fieldworkfail and received thousands of responses from scientists and scholars, who in turn shared their own #fieldworkfail experiences. The hashtag is still used today.

    Hilborn’s successful use of social media demonstrates one way to address the challenge of communicating research effectively to broad audiences. To learn more about Anne’s work, visit the Virginia Tech website.

    **Photo Credit: Virginia Tech News

    Supporting Inmate Rehabilitation by Studying the Connection between Brain Injury and Criminal Behavior
    Kim Gorgens
    Neuropsychology, University of Denver

    In the last few years, we’ve seen an increasing number of stories about traumatic brain injuries (TBI), particularly around professional sports and concussion rates. We’re hearing more and more about research projects to better understand the risks and long-term effects, but this topic isn’t new to Kim Gorgens, a neuropsychologist and clinical associate professor at the University of Denver. She’s spent her professional career studying the brain’s response to injury, giving a TEDx talk on the subject back in 2010 focused on the effects of concussions in student athletes. Within a few years, Gorgens was focused on a new segment of the population.

    Gorgens and her team of professionals and graduate students at DU’s Graduate School of Professional Psychology are working with 28 justice sites from jails to specialty courts and Division of Youth Corrections (with plans to expand) to better understand inmates living with traumatic brain injury (TBI). According to Gorgens, this is an understudied, vulnerable population, and overrepresented in correctional facilities. TBI has been linked to poor impulse control, aggressive behaviors, deficits in attention span, and higher risks for substance use disorders. The pilot data from one facility show that up to 96% of those inmates have experience at least one TBI.

    “This work is really about identifying problems and keeping them from getting worse,” Gorgens says. “Many of these folks fall through the cracks of society for reasons related to their brain injury.” Dr. Gorgens’ work has been featured in Newsweek magazine, and she hopes to continue to raise awareness for her research. To learn more about Kim’s research, visit the University of Denver website.

    Improving Airfield Safety During Extreme Weather Using Renewable Solar Energy
    Joseph Daniels
    Civil Engineering, University of Arkansas
    Silver Spring, Maryland

    Joseph Daniels, a doctoral candidate in civil engineering at the University of Arkansas, was recently awarded the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Recognizing Aviation and Aerospace Innovation in Science and Engineering (RAISE) award. This annual award recognizes innovative scientific and engineering achievements that will have a significant impact on the future of the aerospace or aviation.

    Daniels is creating an anti-icing pavement system that will improve safety on airfields during winter weather. The system he’s developed, “aims to use renewable solar energy to lower operational costs of heating surfaces to prevent flight delays, cancellations and potential accidents. The idea is to incorporate wiring into concrete, then use solar energy to power the transfer of heat through the wires to warm the pavement.”

    Daniels received his bachelor’s degree in civil engineering from North Carolina A&T State University and plans to complete his doctorate this summer. He was awarded the Department of Transportation’s Dwight David Eisenhower Graduate Fellowship in 2015, 2016, and 2017. Daniels also presented at a TEDx event in 2016. To learn more about Joseph’s research, visit the University of Arkansas website.

    Photo Credit: University of Arkansas

    Providing Clean Drinking Water and an Education to Rural Communities in Sub-Saharan Africa
    Prosper Zongo
    Political Science & International Relations, University of South Dakota
    Burkina Faso

    Prosper Zongo, a recent master’s degree recipient in political science and international relations from the University of South Dakota, came to the U.S. from Burkina Faso on a Fulbright scholarship. Zongo established the Prosper Zongo Foundation an accredited non-profit organization on February 24, 2017, with the aim of providing clean drinking water to rural communities and accessible education to every child in Sub-Saharan Africa.

    Providing cleaner water to poor, rural communities has been a dream of Prosper’s since childhood, when he remembers his mother walking several miles each day in order to provide the family with clean drinking water. The lack of access affects the health and well-being of people who live in these rural areas, because the consumption of unclean water increases the probability of waterborne diseases. The scarcity of clean water also impacts the ability of local children to go to school. They often dropout to help their parents search for new potable water sources.

    The Foundation has built two wells in Burkina Faso and has plans to build more. Zongo intends to work for a year or two before returning to school to earn a doctorate in political science with a focus on the African continent. To learn more about Prosper’s research, visit the University of South Dakota website.

    Photo Credit: University of South Dakota

    Developing Advanced, Affordable Prostheses and Improving Quality of Life
    Aadeel Akhtar
    Neuroscience, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign

    Aadeel Akhtar, a recent doctoral recipient in neuroscience from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, learned at a young age living in Pakistan that the availability and affordability of resources could greatly impact the course of someone’s life. He’s spent his adult life building an academic background that would help him make a difference. Akhtar recently co-founded Psyonic, a biointegrated technology company, and intends to develop highly functionable and affordable prosthetic devices for amputees around the world.

    Psyonic’s first product is an advanced bionic hand that, “has more functionality than $30,000 prosthetic hands…is easy to control, provides touch feedback, and is robust to impacts.” Retired Sergeant Garrett Anderson, who lost his right arm in Iraq in 2005, helped Akhtar test and refine prototypes. The Psyonic product is unique because it incorporates sensory feedback and is priced at about a tenth the cost of commercially available devices.

    Dr. Akhtar’s master’s degree in electrical and computer engineering from UIUC provided him a strong technical background to build the protheses. He’s currently a medical student and an NIH National Research Service Award MD/PhD Fellow at Illlinois. To learn more about Aadeel’s past research, visit the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign website.

    Photo Credit: L. Brian Stauffer

    Offering Support and Promoting Wellness for Pre and Post-Partum Women
    Adriana Dyurich
    Counselor Education, Texas A&M University – Corpus Christi

    According to the American Psychological Association, as many as 1 in 7 women experience postpartum depression. Adriana Dyurich, a recent doctoral recipient in counselor education from Texas A&M University – Corpus Christi, developed an innovative mobile application, VeedaMom to help combat this illness. The app was created to screen for and manage symptoms of perinatal depression and promote maternal wellness, and it’s designed to support and accompany women during their pregnancy and the first year after the birth of the baby.

    Dr. Dyurich wrote her dissertation based on research collected from pregnant women who used VeedaMom. “The app features the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale for the screening of depression, psycho-educational videos, and mindfulness exercises, plus a variety of other features designed to facilitate professional care and make the app fun and user friendly.”

    Dr. Dyurich presented her research at TAMUCC’s Doctoral Three Minute Thesis Competition (3MT®) and won first place. She will be competing at the regional competition in Arkansas. To learn more about Adriana’s research, visit the Texas A&M University – Corpus Christi website.

    Educating the Public on a Decline in Marine Life through Art Installations
    JD Whitman
    MFA in Art, University of Iowa
    Philadelphia

    Invertebrates comprise roughly 97 percent of life on Earth and “ensure habitat quality, serve as the foundation for most food chains, and sustain both marine and terrestrial ecosystems.” Their rapid decline poses significant risk to this planet’s future. Jacquelyn Dale (JD) Whitman, an MFA candidate in art at the University of Iowa, combines art with marine ecology to educate the public on a decline in marine biodiversity due to human threats like habitat destruction, overfishing, invasive species, pollution, and climate change.

    Whitman’s thesis project presents Ireland’s Blaschka Invertebrate Models—glass replicas of marine invertebrate species from our 19th-century oceans—through an interactive, sculptural installation made from recycled plastic and animated video projections. She intends for her installations to combat ecophobia – “a negative response or automatic desensitization to visual images of environmental disasters” – an issue she’s studied since her time as a student in Ireland. 

    “This installation will positively educate viewers on the global decline in marine biodiversity due to the threat of plastic pollution,” says Whitman, a native of Philadelphia, Pa. “Almost every single food chain and ecosystem depends on invertebrates. If we eliminate the invertebrates, it is doubtful that we as a species will survive. If we remove just one of the human threats—if we work to resolve the plastic pollution crisis—that could help to reverse this potentially catastrophic, global decline.” To learn more about JD’s work, visit the University of Iowa website.

    Photo Credit: JD Whitman is pictured at the National Museum Ireland-Natural History.

    Using Satellite Data Images of the Arctic to Teach the Public about Climate Change
    Zachary Labe,
    Earth System Science, University of California, Irvine
    Harrisburg, PA

    Zachary Labe, a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Earth System Science at the University of California, Irvine, has become a bit of a Twitter celebrity because of his satellite data images on Arctic sea ice. Labe sees the ability to communicate his research to a broad, public audience as imperative to the success of his work. With almost 14,000 followers, Labe has demonstrated that there is a public eager to learn.

    Labe’s primary research happens in Dr. Gudrun Magnusdottir’s Modeling Lab on UCI’s campus. Their focus is to better understand the crucial relationships between the circulation patters in the atmosphere and oceans and the external processes that affect them. These outside forces include things like concentration of greenhouse gases, variability from volcanic eruptions, or anomalies in the surface temperatures of the water. This research is particularly important given the accelerated rate of temperature increase in the Arctic – it’s twice what it is in the rest of the world.

    “The way I see it, why should I do this science if I can’t better explain and share it with the public?” says Labe, who wrote his own algorithms for the data. “Climate change is already affecting everyone, even if they don’t realize it, and this is a perfect opportunity to communicate the science.” To learn more about Zack’s work, visit the University of California, Irvine website.

    Photo Credit: Steve Zylius / UCI

    Studying Animal Behavior to Determine How Personality Is Shaped
    Peter Marting
    Animal Behavior, Arizona State University

    Our personalities – characteristics or qualities that form our character – are, in part, what make us unique individuals. Peter Marting, a doctoral candidate in animal behavior in the School of Life Sciences at Arizona State University, has discovered that ant colonies have unique personalities, too.

    Azteca ant colonies make their homes in Cecropia trees, which provide nutrients to the ants. In exchange, the ants act as security guards – protecting trees from choking vines and leaf-eating insects – but some colonies are better protectors than others. Marting’s research reveals that ant colonies actively displaying more aggressive behaviors protect their trees more from leaf damage than more docile colonies. Why is this important? Marting wants to better understand how the personality of an ant colony can affect its symbiotic relationships and whether there are identifiable factors that determine personality.

    Studying animal personalities is a relatively new field and observing animals in the wild can be extremely difficult given the challenges in observing consistent behavior in the same animal. However, the study system Marting uses allows him to revisit the same trees with the same colonies on a regular basis over the course of months and years. Marting takes his research one step further through a marriage with artistic expression. He has created interactive sculptures representing the ants and plants that blink with data collected from real ant colonies. To learn more about Peter’s work, visit the Arizona State University website.

    Photo Credit: Peter Marting

    Collecting Critical Data to Predict the Response of Earth’s Polar Ice to Climate Change
    Nathan Kurtz
    Atmospheric Physics, University of Maryland, Baltimore County

    Last week, Nathan Kurtz left on a trip for Greenland, not exactly a frequent location for travelers and definitely not for a few months a year. But for Kurtz, Greenland and Antarctica are becoming recurrent destinations. After receiving his doctorate in atmospheric physics from the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, Kurtz spent several years working as a research associate for the Goddard Earth Sciences and Technology Center at UMBC. His research interests have centered on sea ice and its role in the global climate system. Needless to say, becoming the project scientist for NASA’s Operation IceBridge was a dream come true.

    “The Earth's polar ice covers, including the massive ice sheets of Greenland and Antarctica as well as the surrounding ice-covered seas, have recently been observed to be undergoing a state of complex change,” said Kurtz. “Understanding these changes and their influence on climate using the latest in satellite and airborne remote sensing technology forms the core of my research.”

    The IceBridge project and Kurtz’s work as project scientist have received quite a bit of attention recently. Time published an article in January 2018 that describes some of the data collected during a mission, and the attention from the public is welcome. This is a critical project to better understand the connections between the polar regions and the global climate system. To learn more about Nathan’s work, visit the University of Maryland, Baltimore County website.

     

    Photo Credit: Nathan Kurtz

    Music as a Path out of Poverty
    Dafne Guevara
    Musical Arts, University of Nevada, Las Vegas
    El Chorrillo, Panama

    When she was six years old, Dafne Guevara, a doctoral candidate in musical arts at the University of Nevada, Las, Vegas, discovered her musical ability. Her mother had enrolled her in a music program to keep her off the streets of El Chorrillo, Panama, a country with the second worst income distribution in Latin America and where roughly 25% of the population lives in poverty. Guevara overcame many obstacles, including discouraging words from an elementary school teacher.

    Guevara left Panama for North Carolina on a Fulbright scholarship in 2010 to study flute performance and earned her master’s degree. While pursuing her doctorate at UNLV, she decided to do something to benefit her home country and organized the first-ever flute festival at the University of Panama. Guevara began by founding a non-profit organization, Asociación Panameña de Flautistas (APAFLUT), to assist with fundraising. She applied for scholarships and grants, reached out to mentors, and held recitals to raise money to host the festival.

    67 students aged 12-21 from six countries and 17 artists and instructors gathered during the summer of 2017 to see first-hand the power of music. Sponsors helped to pay the tuition and fees for many of the students. “I wanted the whole music community to see that they can do it,” Guevara said. “If you set your mind to something, you can do it.” To learn more about Dafne’s work visit the University of Nevada, Las Vegas website.

    Photo Credit: UNLV Creative Services

    Research to Better Understand How Antidepressants Affect Fetal Development
    Juan Velasquez
    Neuroscience, University of Southern California
    Los Angeles

    Juan Velasquez, a recent doctoral recipient in neuroscience at the University of Southern California, was awarded a prestigious Chateaubriand Fellowship to study how antidepressants affect fetal development during pregnancy. Somewhere between 12-18% of women experience depression at some point during the course of their pregnancy. Scientists, including Dr. Velasquez, are researching selective-serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), a class of antidepressants increasingly prescribed to treat depression in pregnant women, and their effects during fetal development.

    Understand the importance of Dr. Velasquez’s work requires a basic understanding of how SSRIs work. Depression is linked to the way chemicals, specifically serotonin, in your brain operate. Researchers believe that an imbalance of serotonin contributes to things like depression, anxiety, and stress. By taking SSRIs, patients alter their brain chemistry to balance levels of serotonin. One of the questions Dr. Velasquez wants to answer is whether changes in a pregnant woman’s brain chemistry can affect the fetus. How would it affect a fetus? The same way a fetus gets its nourishment among other things: through the placenta.

    Early results from Dr. Velasquez’s research indicate that SSRIs do cross the placenta and affect the fetal brain, and other studies have shown that taking antidepressants during pregnancy can increase the risk of things like autism and ADHD. However, not treating depression during pregnancy is not an answer Dr. Velasquez will accept. He is currently a postdoctoral research fellow at the Keck School of Medicine of USC and continues to study this process to ensure the health of both the fetus and the mother. To learn more about Juan’s work visit the USC Graduate School YouTube Channel.

    A Veteran Brings the Parks to the People through Research and Outreach
    Jessica Phillips
    Recreation, Tourism, and Sports Management, North Carolina State University
    Raleigh, NC

    After spending five years in the Marine Corps, including two deployments in Iraq and working as a mechanic on AV8B II jets, Jessica Phillips was eligible for the G.I. Bill to pay for higher education. She was working as a ranger at Kerr Lake State Recreation Area in North Carolina and at least an hour drive from a major university. Phillips discovered an online program at North Carolina State University and went on to earn her Professional Master’s Degree in parks, recreation, tourism, and sports management.

    Phillips’s love of the outdoors started during childhood. After leaving the Marines, she knew she needed to find a job that would provide variety and wouldn’t require sitting at a desk all day. “In the Marine Corps, I was out on a flight deck and an open squadron, and I learned that I was somebody who didn’t want to work in an office,” she said. “I would have slowly died.” Phillips believed her skill sets would be a good match for a park ranger, and she has taken her work as a ranger to the next level. While at Kerr Lake she developed a regular “Ask a Ranger” column for the local newspaper and programming for the local radio station.

    In 2014, Phillips moved to Umstead State Park, where she has developed an “Ask a Ranger” blog on the website, started podcasts by recording interviews with her colleagues, and created photo exhibits to celebrate the state parks’ centennial. Ultimately, Phillips wants everyone to appreciate all the parks have to offer. “I thought that by bringing the parks to (the people), we might then bring them to the parks.” To learn more about Jessica’s work visit the North Carolina State University website.

    Photo Credit: Becky Kirkland, NC State University

    Finding Innovative Ways to Empower Women through Resource Development
    Zubaida Bai
    MBA, Colorado State University
    Chennai, India

    As a first-generation student from Chennai, India, Zubaida Bai was determined to make a difference. After earning her bachelor’s and master’s degree in mechanical engineering from Dalarna University in Sweden, Bai spent four years working back home in India to provide communities with the necessary resources. Bai was specifically interested in finding ways to help the women in her community. She entered the Global Social & Sustainable Enterprise MBA program at Colorado State University in search of innovative ways to empower women through business.

    One issue in particular struck a chord with Bai: the number of women who die in childbirth. Having had her own complications with infection after delivering a baby, Bai understood the urgency of the problem. One of the main causes of complications is “a lack of access to basic clean tools at the time of childbirth,” said Bai. She and her husband founded the company ayzh (pronounced eyes) to create innovative products, including a birth kit (called JANMA) to provide the necessary tools for clean, safe childbirth in the poorest communities.

    Since creating JANMA, Ms. Bai has developed additional resources to assist women: a neonatal kit, a postpartum kit, and a program to provide women with the menstrual supplies they need.  Bai has received global recognition for her work. In 2009, she was named a TED Fellow and delivered a TED talk in December 2016 that has been viewed nearly 900,000 times. In 2016, Bai was named an SDG Pioneer during the United Nation’s Global Compact Summit. To learn more about Zubaida’s work visit the Colorado State University website.

    Photo Credit: Ryan Lash/TED

    Science Isn’t Just Something that Happens in Labs
    Arianna Soldati
    Geological Sciences, University of Missouri
    Milano, Italy

    As a recent doctoral recipient in geological sciences from the University of Missouri, Arianna Soldati has a passion for science, volcanology to be specific. She says, “My fascination with volcanoes dates back to early childhood…and I have been pursuing my passion across four continents.” As one of roughly 1,500 volcanologists in the world, she gets a lot of questions about her work when meeting new people. Soldati realized that learning how to talk about it with a wide audience was really important, which fueled her interest in science communication and outreach.

    During the Fall of 2017, Soldati founded the program Science on Wheels (SoW), a graduate student-run science outreach program targeting adults in Missouri’s rural communities. Their mission is, “to provide people living in rural areas with the opportunity to interact with scientists right in their towns, promoting a positive perception of science.” SoW focuses on adults, because once out of school, many never engage with science again. Soldati hopes that the more people understand science and scientists, the more they will trust them. “Science isn’t just something that happens in labs,” Soldati said. “It’s something that’s used in everyday life.”

    Dr. Soldati graduated this Spring semester and is looking forward to beginning a postdoc in Germany at Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich. She will be researching the effects of phenocrysts (a specific kind of crystal) on lava flow with funding from the Humboldt Foundation. To learn more about Arianna’s work visit the University of Missouri website, or her blog, Volcanic Arianna.

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