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.

    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
    Grass Valley, California

    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
    Kampala, Uganda

    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
    Bayana, India

    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
    Buffalo, New York

    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

    Providing Clean, Renewable, & Sustainable Electricity to Sub-Saharan Africa
    Mehrdad Arjmand and Aaron Olson
    Engineering Mechanics, University of Wisconsin-Madison

    Two University of Wisconsin-Madison graduate students, Mehrdad Arjmand and Aaron Olson, founded NovoMoto after winning $90,000 in the 2016 Clean Energy Trust Challenge. Arjmand, a recent doctoral recipient in engineering mechanics, and Olson, a doctoral candidate in engineering mechanics, intend to use their graduate education to help people around the world. For now, their focus is on the Democratic Republic of Congo, a country where 95% of residents live without access to reliable grid electricity. NovoMoto is a Sustainable Social Enterprise that intends to “provide clean, renewable, and sustainable electricity to the DRC and other sub-Saharan African countries in the future.”

    Through home and business solar energy systems, microgrids, and solar-powered charging stations, Arjmand and Olson believe they will be able to empower communities. As a result, more economic opportunities will be available to the region. A small energy kiosk prototype will allow NovoMoto to work with local partners and control the kiosk remotely. The plan is to set up a kiosk consisting of a few solar panels and a battery bank. Customers take a fully charged battery home, use it to charge lights and cell phones and other equipment, and return it for another when it’s fully discharged.

    In addition to providing better and more reliable access, the NovoMoto model is more affordable. “Depending on the area of the country, people now pay $15 to $22 a month for kerosene and mobile phone charging,” says Olson. “We beat it by providing electricity for $9 a month; that’s a savings of 40 to 60 percent.” To learn more about Aaron and Mehrdad’s work, visit the University of Wisconsin-Madison website.

    **Photo Credit: James Runde, Wisconsin Energy Institute

    Highlighting the Importance of Art in Repressive Societies
    Anna Rogulina
    Art History, Rutgers University

    Anna Rogulina, a doctoral candidate in Art History at Rutgers University, moved to the U.S. from Russia when she was ten. As an undergraduate at Vassar College, she developed an interest in art history and Russian studies. After graduation and time working as an assistant curator, Rogulina realized a graduate degree would help her achieve her long-term professional goals.

    Recently, Rogulina curated an acclaimed art exhibition, A Vibrant Field: Nature and Landscape in Soviet Nonconformist Art, 1970s-1980s, drawing from the renowned Norton and Nancy Dodge Collection of Nonconformist Art from the Soviet Union, currently housed at Rutgers’ Zimmerli Art Museum. Rogulina aimed to, “shed new light on the work of artists who risked their livelihoods and, in some cases, their lives in challenging the limits set on artistic expression by the Soviet Union.”

    Rogulina’s project highlights the importance of art in repressive societies. “These artists and their communities relied on this work for their survival—and their sanity,” Rogulina says. “It really made me reflect on the social experience created through the arts and how it sustains these networks and communities.” To learn more about Anna’s work, visit the Rutgers University website.

    **Photo Credit: Peter Jacobs

    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

    CGS is the leading source of information, data analysis, and trends in graduate education. Our benchmarking data help member institutions to assess performance in key areas, make informed decisions, and develop plans that are suited to their goals.
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