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.

    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.

    Understanding How Viruses Affect Their Hosts
    Lok Raj Joshi and Maureen Fernandes
    Veterinary Microbiology, South Dakota State University
    Nepal & Brazil

    Lok Raj Joshi and Maureen Fernandes are both studying swine viruses while pursuing their doctorates in the Department of Veterinary and Biomedical Sciences at South Dakota State University. Specializing in veterinary microbiology, Joshi and Fernandes are researching two different viruses that affect pigs. As the world’s third-largest producer and the largest exporter of pork products, these swine viruses threaten the U.S. pork industry and the economy more broadly.

    Joshi’s research focuses on Senecavirus A (SVA), which causes lesions on a pig’s snout and feet and can lead to lameness. The recent increase in reported cases of SVA has raised its profile and interest in additional research to better understand the virus. Joshi studies the causes of SVA and aims to better identify its characteristics. Fernandes researches a virus that affects a pig’s reproductive and respiratory systems (porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome virus), “a common swine virus that causes millions of dollars in losses every year to the swine industry.” Fernandes is working to identify potential immunizations that will protect the pigs from the virus.

    Mr. Joshi and Ms. Fernandes were honored for their work at the Conference of Research Workers in Animal Disease last year in Chicago. To learn more about Lok and Maureen’s work visit the South Dakota State University website.

    Photo Credit: SD State News Center

    Inspiring Generations of Students to Solve Real World Problems
    Alyson Nelson
    Educational Technology, Boise State University
    Belton, South Carolina

    Alyson Nelson has been teaching science to high school students for more than a decade and believes setting lofty expectations rather than underestimating them will help her students achieve even loftier goals. After completing her bachelor’s degree from Clemson University, Nelson began working at Mauldin High School in South Carolina and simultaneously pursued her master’s degree in educational technology and a graduate certificate in school technology coordination at Boise State University. Now she teaches biomedical engineering at the Nikola Tesla STEM High School in Redmond, WA.

    Hired in 2013 to develop a signature STEM Lab at the recently opened school, Nelson says people are surprised to hear high school students are taking biomedical engineering courses. Her students are 17-18 years old and developing prosthetics, trying to better understand pandemic infections, and looking for ways to care for and cure patients. “My students are really open to whatever they want to pursue. When the project is relevant to them, they are so much more confident in what they are doing, and they’re so much more passionate about really finding a solution,” said Nelson.

    Ms. Nelson was recently named a Paul Allen Distinguished Educator, which “recognizes and rewards teachers who ‘break the mold’ of traditional schooling to provide students with opportunities to become thinkers, makers, and creators through computer science, engineering, and entrepreneurship.” To learn more about Alyson’s work visit the Boise State University website and her webpage on the Allen Distinguished Educators website.

    Establishing an Equal Playing Field for All People to Succeed
    Garry Johnson
    Entrepreneurship & Design, University of Delaware
    New Castle, Delaware

    Garry Johnson, a recent master’s recipient in entrepreneurship & design from the University of Delaware, has a true entrepreneurial spirit, a passion for community leadership, and the drive to make the world a better place. Johnson’s innovative and creative skills have led to several startups focused on increasing diversity in entrepreneurship and the tech industry.

    Johnson’s latest brainchild, TalentPool, draws on earlier ideas from his startup, ColorCoded, which focused primarily on helping young men and women of color be competitive for jobs in the tech industry. Now Johnson also wants to see more diversity in entrepreneurs, and he intends to achieve that through his educational platform, TalentPool. “Before the summer is over, this platform will be ready,” Johnson said. “I believe people want it and need it. The entrepreneurial ecosystem needs it, too, an equal playing field for all people to succeed.”

    Mr. Johnson recently received first place for TalentPool at the Startup Tech Conference and Pitch Competition at Prairie View A&M University. Johnson’s prize is an interview for the DivInc Accelerator Program. In addition, Johnson started the “I Have a Dream Pitch Competition” at the University of Delaware to empower Wilmington’s young men of color by inspiring confidence and improving skills through entrepreneurship. To learn more about Garry’s work visit the University of Delaware website.

    Photo Credit: University of Delaware

    Promoting Technology Innovation in Africa by Empowering Young Girls to Pursue STEM Education
    Unoma Okorafor
    Electrical and Computer Engineering, Texas A&M University

    In 2008, Unoma Okorafor completed her doctorate in electrical and computer engineering from Texas A&M University. As a Sloan Scholar at Texas A&M, Dr. Okorafor founded Working to Advance STEM Education for African Women (WAAW) Foundation, an international non-profit organization that seeks to “increase the pipeline of African women entering into Science and Technology fields and ensure they are engaged in Technology Innovation and Entrepreneurship to benefit Africa.” WAAW sponsors STEM camps for young girls in 10 African countries and provides coding workshops, outreach, training programs, and scholarships. Her vision is to provide African girls with choices by exposing them early on to the various career opportunities in Science, Technology, Engineering, Math (STEM) and Computer Science (CS) fields.

    In addition to educating the girls and young women, Okorafo found it necessary to spend time educating their communities on why foundations like WAAW are needed. The overall sentiment seemed to be that no one was stopping girls from pursuing a STEM-focused education. Okorafor begs to differ. Domestic violence, poverty, sexual violence, teenage pregnancy, unequal divisions of household labor, and the inability to own property in some African countries are all barriers for women, and Okorafor is determined to change this. “I think our communities need to empower more girls to speak up, and to own their space, even if it’s in the STEM fields where it’s male dominated, because we do have something to contribute.” 

    In addition to a Sloan Foundation Fellowship, Dr. Okorafo received the AAUW Engineering Dissertation Fellowship and the National Science Foundation’s Graduate Fellowship for promoting STEM education. She has also worked at Texas Instruments, Intel, HP, and IBM researchlabs. To learn more about Unoma’s work visit the Texas A&M University website.

    Advocating for Solutions that Promote Public Safety and Rehabilitation
    Ryan Gentzler
    Master of Public Administration, University of Oklahoma-Tulsa

    Ryan Gentzler, a recent Master of Public Administration recipient from the University of Oklahoma-Tulsa, saw many challenges facing his fellow Oklahomans from low and middle-income families. Having worked for Tulsa non-profits, he realized that public policy research and advocacy were ways for him to help his community, and he knew the MPA program at OU-Tulsa would help him develop those skills.

    “Low-paying work, difficult-to-access healthcare, underfunded schools, and a punitive criminal justice system can make the struggle out of poverty insurmountable, landing the state at the bottom of the pack in many measures of well-being,” said Gentzler. “[I’m] hoping to address these challenges at the structural level.” Gentzler now works for the Oklahoma Policy Institute as a policy analyst. His current focus is to raise awareness surrounding Oklahoma’s criminal justice system. The state’s incarceration rate is one of the highest in the country, and Gentzler seeks solutions to reduce these numbers and promote public safety and rehabilitation.

    In the first survey of its kind, Gentzler researched thousands of public records to ascertain how much money in fines and legal fees Oklahomans owed to the court system, and he wanted to know where they lived. Gentzler discovered that as Oklahoma’s state budget got tighter, the court fees increased to meet the shortfalls. In some cases, the fees more than doubled. In addition, Gentzler found that “people in low-income neighborhoods in Tulsa County owed up to ten times as much in court debt as those in wealthier neighborhoods, creating a huge barrier to economic mobility and trapping people in a cycle of incarceration and poverty.” To learn more about Ryan’s work visit the OU-Tulsa websiteand the Oklahoma Policy Institute.

    Photo Credit: Becca Hyvonen, OU-Tulsa

    Developing Novel Vaccines and Treatments against HIV and other Viruses
    Yi Wen
    Biochemistry, Molecular and Cell Biology, Cornell University

    Yi Wen, a doctoral student in biochemistry, molecular and cell biology at Cornell University, received the 2018 Harry and Samuel Mann Outstanding Graduate Student Award for her research that aims to help develop novel vaccines and treatments against HIV and other viruses. A virus can only replicate inside living cells and can infect all life forms. There are millions of different viruses, and viral cells reproduce by using the host cells to create copies. This process can make some viruses especially difficult to kill.

    Wen studies virology, exploring membrane biophysics and lipid chemistry to try and find a way to keep the host cells from releasing the viral copies back into the host’s body. Wen’s research focuses on the lipid “PIP2.” Lipids make up the cell membrane, which is akin to its skin. PIP2 is a pretty minor part of cell membranes, but according to Wen, “it plays a major role in cell function and also in HIV infection.” Wen discovered that PIP2 is extremely sensitive to some metal ions.

    “The metal ions shield PIP2, and only specific proteins are likely to be able to compete against those metal ions to have access to PIP2,” Wen said. “HIV appears to require those PIP2 clusters as assembly and release sites of new viruses. I think this could be HIV’s Achilles’ heel.” To learn more about Yi’s work visit the Cornell University website.

    Photo Credit: Matt Hayes/CALS, Cornell University

    Taking a Multidisciplinary Approach to Understand Neurodevelopmental Disorders
    Arezoo Movaghar
    Biomedical Engineering, University of Wisconsin-Madison

    As a doctoral student in biomedical engineering at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Arezoo Movaghar’s research spans multiple disciplines. Her master’s degree in computer science and artificial intelligence combined with her interest in medicine has led her to a unique research project with UW-Madison faculty in biomedical engineering, social work, biostatistics and medical informatics, and communication sciences and disorders, all affiliated with the Waisman Center. Their goal was to help identify people who carry a particular gene premutation that correlates to a higher risk for neurodegenerative disorders, infertility, and having a child with a disability; they wanted to achieve this in an “easier, more-cost effective way.”

    Rather than reliance on traditional genetic testing to identify a gene premutation, Movaghar used her experience in artificial intelligence. “By using machine learning we were able to develop a method to identify premutation carriers – based on just five minutes of speech – with high accuracy,” Movaghar said. It turns out that carriers of this particular gene premutation (fragile X) have increased speech impairment. By using a computer to analyze speech patterns from a recording, researchers can identify those most likely to carry the premutation. Genetic testing is still necessary for confirmation, but beginning with speech analysis will reduce the number tests.

    The research team plans to develop a mobile app to streamline data collection and remove barriers. “Incorporating mobile devices into the research provides exciting opportunities,” Movaghar said. “We can scale up our research beyond geographical boundaries, track and monitor participants, and optimize the use of clinical resources.” To learn more about Arezoo’s work visit the University of Wisconsin-Madison website.

    Photo Credit: UW-Madison

    Creating a Transatlantic Storytelling Group for Able-Bodied and Disabled Communities
    Hailey Hughes
    English, University of West Georgia
    Parkersburg, West Virginia

    Hailey Hughes, a master’s student in English at the University of West Georgia, has been an advocate for the disabled community for years. During high school, she became involved in an online forum for cerebral palsy and remained active through her undergraduate years at Marshall University. This experience inspired her aspiration to develop a transatlantic storytelling group for able-bodied and disabled communities.

    Hughes’ desire to build this community led her to apply for a Fulbright scholarship in 2017 while she was finishing her bachelor’s degree. She made it to the semifinals but didn’t give up on her dream. While in her first semester of graduate school at UWG, Hughes prepared to reapply. Her persistence paid off, and Hughes received a Fulbright U.S. Student Program award to study creative writing in Ireland beginning Fall 2018. The Fulbright mission is to “increase mutual understanding between the people of the United States and the people of other countries.” Hughes is one of roughly 1,900 U.S. citizens to receive this honor for the 2018-2019 academic year.

    “I believe in the mission and love creative writing,” she concluded. “The idea that underpins this all is that it’s not about cultivating a voice. It’s about amplifying a voice that’s already there. The larger implication is that this can allow people with disabilities to develop self-advocacy and life skills.” To learn more about Hailey’s work visit the University of West Georgia website.

    Photo Credit: UWG News

    Examining the Relationships between Travel and Colonial Writing & Knowledge Production
    Noah Patterson Hanohano Dolim
    History, University of California, Irvine
    Oahu, Hawaii

    Growing up in Oahu, Noah Patterson Hanohano Dolim developed an interest in Hawaiian history at a young age. Dolim, of Native Hawaiian and African American descent, is now doing research on Native Hawaiian travel in the 19th century while he earns his doctorate in history at the University of California, Irvine. He’s interested in the contrast of themes between native authors and colonial authors and how those descriptions affect the way Hawaii has been exoticized.

    Dolim is a recent recipient of the Ford Foundation Predoctoral Fellowship, which provides support for students committed to a career in teaching and research at the college or university level. The program is administered by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine and seeks to increase the diversity of the nation’s college and university faculties. Dolim plans to use his funding to conduct research at UCI and back in Hawaii.

    “As a student and a professor, eventually, I want to be a conduit of diversity through teaching, educational outreach and community works,” Dolim says. “Living and researching from the other side of the Pacific has provided me with opportunities and new ways of thinking that I never could have imagined. I can’t wait to share my passion for Hawaiian history throughout my academic career, at home on the islands and beyond.” To learn more about Noah’s work visit the University of California, Irvine website.

    Photo Credit: Steve Zylius / UCI

    Identifying What Attracts Physicians to Underserved Communities
    Teresa Zhou
    Economics, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

    Finding ways to encourage medical professionals to choose to practice in underserved communities is a critical issue in the U.S. As a result, there has been an increasing focus on policies aimed to attract and retain physicians in rural and underserved areas. Teresa Zhou, a recent PhD in economics at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, spent her doctoral work focused on which policies are the most effective.

    One of her most important findings is that, “an increase in the reimbursement rate, or a simulated 5 percent increase in average wages for all rural physicians, increases the average stay in the same rural county by 1.34 years.” She also found that rural areas with increases in registered nurses are more likely to experience significant increases is the amount of time physicians live in the area. Dr. Zhou received a UNC-Chapel Hill Graduate School Impact Award in recognition of her outstanding research.

    "Teresa's work quantifies the impacts of important economic determinants — including compensation, medical care market characteristics and local amenities — that define concerns about our state's physician maldistribution," said her adviser Donna Gilleskie. To learn more about Teresa’s work visit the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill website.

    Photo Credit: UNC-Chapel Hill

    Revolutionizing Treatments for Cancer and Infectious Diseases through Gene Editing
    Theo Roth
    Biomedical Sciences, University of California, San Francisco
    Birmingham, AL

    As a member of the selective Medical Scientist Training Program at the University of California, San Francisco, Theo Roth seeks out challenging problems. Roth is currently working on his doctorate in Biomedical Sciences as part of a dual MD/PhD program and researching new treatments for various cancers and other diseases. Roth’s recent research breakthroughs resulted in a first-authored paper in the July 19 issue of Nature and coverage in The New York Times.

    Roth’s research focuses on the burgeoning field of genome editing. Research and experimentation with genome (or gene) editing is a relatively new phenomenon, and one that holds tremendous promise. Previous research focused on using viruses as carriers for the new genetic material, but that has a number of drawbacks, including difficulty pinpointing the exact spot for insertion. Roth and his co-authors, under the supervision of Alexander Marson, discovered a new way using electrical fields that speeds up the process and allows for more targeted delivery.

    This research was arduous but rewarding. Roth made his discovery by running thousands of tests. "It took time and effort to get that pipeline up and running, but once it was, we could rapidly iterate through conditions, and focus in on the protocol alterations that were yielding greater numbers of live, correctly edited cells," Roth said. To learn more about Theo’s work visit the University of California, San Francisco website.

    Photo Credit: Noah Berger/UCSF

    Understanding the Relationship Between LGBTQ Individuals and Health Care Providers
    Lindsay Toman
    Sociology, Wayne State University
    St. Clair Shores, MI

    After an undergraduate course in gender studies, Lindsay Toman’s role as an LGBTQ advocate was cemented. Now a doctoral student in sociology at Wayne State University, Toman wants to better understand the relationship between health care providers and the LGBTQ community. She began hosting focus groups with participants from Corktown Health Center to assess how comfortable health care providers were with serving their LGBTQ patients.

    “A lot of medical students who identify as LGBTQ started coming to my focus groups, which was indicative of a need in the space. The students seemed torn between the two identities. There are certain professional expectations on how doctors go about their day, which may not necessarily cater to LGBTQ individuals.” Toman used her research to create LGBTQ and You, a training manual to help health care providers understand the unique needs of their LGBTQ patients.

    Toman recently received the Eugene V. Perrin Memorial Scholarship in Health and Science and Peace. She presented her research at the Society for the Study of Social Problems (SSSP) Annual Meeting in August 2018. To learn more about Lindsay’s work visit the Wayne State University website.

    Photo Credit: Christine Nyawag/Wayne State

    Studying the Forces that Move Mountains
    Ellen Lamont
    Geology, Oregon State University
    Cresson, PA

    As a doctoral student in geology at Oregon State University, Ellen Lamont studies mountains. As a 2018 Fulbright scholarship recipient Lamont will be studying, conducting research, and teaching with the Himalayas as her backdrop. In Lamont’s words, “If I’m going to study mountains, I figured I might as well start with the crème de la crème of mountains, where it’s complicated and crazy and impressive and majestic!”

    Lamont will collaborate with the Wadia Institute of Himalayan Geology for her research, sampling and mapping fault exposures in the foothills. Her work will specifically focus on how mountains are formed, and which geological force is most important: climate or tectonics. Lamont and her advisor, Dr. Andrew Meigs, believe the process will be better understood by studying the foreland of mountain ranges. “We think we can look at the foreland in a new way,” Lamont explained. “What we want to know is, when did the foreland grow, and how was growth divided among individual faults? When did the faults develop, in what order, and how do they vary spatially?”

    By analyzing the timeline, Lamont hopes to find some answers. “If we see that the foreland has been developing more recently than the hinterland, we’ll know that tectonics is likely the dominant force. If it’s the other way around, climate is likely dominant,” Lamont said. To learn more about Ellen’s work visit the Oregon State University website.

    Photo Credit: Oregon State

    Contributing to a Better Understanding of the Place of North America in the Pacific
    Madison Heslop
    History, University of Washington
    Zionsville, IN

    Madison Heslop, a doctoral student in history at the University of Washington, is on her way to Vancouver, British Columbia, for the academic year to research its history. As a 2018-2019 Fulbright Fellow, Heslop is interested in the connected histories of Vancouver and Seattle during the late 1800s and early 1900s. Located just 118 miles apart but in different countries, Vancouver and Seattle have some shared history.

    For nine months, Heslop will be at the University of British Columbia working towards her dissertation project, which explores how the relationship between these two places developed. Specifically, she will examine these, “places where the various Pacifics of transpacific Asian migrants, Canadian and US officials, and a range of Indigenous peoples from the North American continent and Oceania bump up against one another.”

    “I am thrilled by the opportunity a Fulbright Grant has offered me to develop an intimate familiarity with the lands and waters of Vancouver, both historical and contemporary, and to contribute to local communities there," Heslop said. To learn more about Madison’s work visit the University of Washington website or her personal website.

    Photo Credit: University of Washington

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