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26 graduate students win excellence awards

The Graduate School has named 26 graduate students as recipients of the 2003-04 Graduate Student Excellence Awards in recognition for their service/outreach, teaching and research. The awards were presented at a February 25 ceremony in the Chenango Room by President Lois B. DeFleur; Mary Ann Swain, provost and vice president for academic affairs; Bahgat Sammakia, interim vice president for research; and Nancy E. Stamp, vice provost and dean of the Graduate School. Profiles for each of the recipients follows:


Joyce Hyatt,
doctoral candidate in the Decker School of Nursing, has a longstanding interest in working and volunteering with older people. Her grant- writing efforts have sustained the Chemung Valley Health Network since 1995, and she has also been a major player in the development of a free clinic to provide care to uninsured residents of the Chemung Valley. She serves on several boards including the Central New York Area Health Education Center and the New York State Nurses Association. Her dissertation is exploring what motivating factors are responsible for encouraging exercise in adult populations ages 50-85

Melissa Killeleagh,
doctoral candidate in public administration, spent a year at the National Service with AmeriCorps in San Francisco, where she trained and supported 27 site coordinators in a 14-site after-school tutorial program for underachieving students in the local city school district. She recently worked for the "Village at Ithaca Initiative," which addresses the lack of equity in local schooling. She has also served as the vice president and president of her program's graduate student organization.


Ramón Aguirre,PhD candidate in geology, "is truly the most outstanding teaching assistant that I have known in 16 years of teach-ing at Bing-hamton University," wrote one of his faculty nominators. He shone particularly as a Language Resource Specialist in the Languages Across the Curriculum (LxC) program. In GEOL 121, Pollution: Natural and Unnatural, he brought a "truly international flavor" to the course content. In fact, the students in one of his sections unanimously signed a petition to endorse this award. A faculty member wrote that "Ramón has made his mark in the LxC program as a strong educator, fully capable of developing the course materials, and fully engaging students in the learning process " even in the areas in which they might struggle."

Christine Bianco,
doctoral candidate in art history, has taught three courses as instructor of record, and has been a teaching assistant for 11 other courses. The most influential and popular ones include explorations of "high" and "low" art, as in ARTH 284G, The Popularization of Modern Art in 1950's America. A student of hers admitted that "I never knew how controversial art could be until taking this course. Art has a huge significance in the world. I enjoyed learning about the impact of art." A faculty member wrote in her support that "she takes her teaching responsibilities as seriously as any tenured member of this faculty and proceeds with forethought and careful preparation, providing roadmaps for her students at every turn."

Elizabeth Campbell,
PhD candidate in sociology, is currently in Kenya, where she is conducting research under the auspices of the Fulbright Scholar Program. She wrote that teaching "has been the most enriching aspect of my graduate studies. Students, more than anyone, have challenged me to be the very best I can. Likewise, I hold them to the same standard." One student said that "if you want to change the way you see the world, take a course from Elizabeth Campbell." Another student wrote that "Ms. Campbell provided me with one of the best classroom experiences I have ever had in my years at Binghamton University."

Megan Davidson, PhD candidate in anthropology, has been a teaching assistant for six courses and instructor of record for four. She always puts in the extra creative effort, according to her nominating faculty. For example, she decided to link her course with another course through the Writing Across the Curriculum Project, in spite of the significantly greater time investment that linked courses requires of instructors. She uses real-time feedback to great advantage saying that "I ask for anonymous course evaluations every two to four weeks throughout the semester, discuss these comments with the class, and make great efforts to accommodate their suggestions within reason." And this bravery pays off: one student - representative of many - said "you are a great TA and probably would make a better professor."

Catherine Dent,
doctoral candidate in English, "is an exceptional teacher, thinker, and person" who serves on the departmental task force charged with exploring the ways the English department teaches writing. Dent's teaching philosophy says that "many students have already learned how to take the necessary risks involved in learning. Many others are still insecure about their abilities. I hope that the practice that students receive in my class - reading experimental, contemporary writings perhaps outside their normal range, writing seriously about the problems of their lives by using the tools of fiction and poetry, and actively thinking about reading and writing in both private and public formats - will play a long-term role in their relationship with their world."

Somnath Dutta,
PhD candidate in chemistry, has been an active member of the Department of Chemistry's instructional staff since fall 1997. He has been involved in 16 different lab courses, acting as a head teaching assistant and as mentor for new international graduate teaching assistants. His instructional skills were recognized early on: the Chemistry Department awarded him the Lois Mackey Award for Outstanding First-Year Teaching Assistant. Statements and evaluations from students include the following: "I do not know who does the hiring of teaching assistants or who is responsible for their quality, but the TA I had was excellent." Also, "I would notice random students from other sections come in and listen to his review before slipping back into their sections to face the quizzes."

Elizabeth Kelley, doctoral candidate in English, has taught 13 courses as instructor of record at Binghamton. Her faculty nominator wrote that she "has been a campus leader in developing and teaching the oral communication courses for the general education requirement, and has distinguished herself teaching in the linked and area-based courses. She is a true institution builder in this regard." Her students say it best. "Professor Kelley pushed me. She pushed me but she did not let me fall, and I love her for it." Another said "I have found a confidence in my writing. I hated my writing before. I wanted to be a math major to get away from the writing thing. I changed my mind. I am now going to pursue writing." And finally, "students leave her classes having realized that if you write something meaningful and from the heart, it will be great writing. It is evident that her teaching comes from where her writing comes from - her heart."

Joshua Palmatier, PhD candidate in mathematics, "has been a stalwart in the department." One of his distinguishing contributions has been in the role of head TA for Calculus I for four semesters, with more than 640 students each time, with 15 to 20 TAs. A faculty member wrote that "last spring, I needed to shift someone into a large section of Calculus III. Joshua shouldered responsibility beyond what is ordinarily expected of a graduate student. The only complaints were from the people who were in the section he was originally given."

Daniel Renfrew,
PhD candidate in anthropology, has been instructor of record for two courses and TA for seven courses. He says that he takes particular joy in exploring "the deeply shared aspects of humanity that transcend our apparent differences, by 'making the familiar strange and the strange familiar.'" He said "students should understand what unites us cross-culturally, as well as the differences among the peoples of the world ... the ultimate goal is combating the fundamental gap between 'us' and 'them.'" A faculty member who uses Renfrew's exemplary, astute and skillful comments on student papers as a model for other TAs and other sections wrote that "Dan also manages not to overwhelm students with commentaries: he has, in other words, struck an admirable balance - one it often takes faculty years to achieve - between giving students substantive and useful feedback without overwhelming them with pencil markings."

Chantal Rodais, doctoral candidate in comparative literature, has served as instructor of record for the comparative literature course Cinema and Violence three times and for Growing Up Female: Girls and Visual Cultures twice, and several times as teaching assistant. A clearly impressed faculty member wrote that "Chantal Rodais is the best teaching assistant, and among the best teachers period that I have ever observed. She has elected to permit 90 undergraduates into the class. This fact points up not only Rodais's pedagogical talent but her ethic: with 90 pupils, she manages to reach each student and to evaluate each personally only due to astonishing effort." Students have responded: "I am so glad I had the opportunity to take this course;" "Ms. Rodais has been one of the best instructors I have had this far. I would recommend her to all of my peers, and I would take another course with her in a heartbeat;" and "Her confidence in me as a formerly shy student allowed me to express myself in other classes as well."

Karen Rogers, PhD candidate in art history, "is in a league of her own," wrote a faculty member. She is "one of the most remarkable and intelligent people I have had the pleasure to know," wrote another. She may have an unfair advantage, in that she was dean of architecture and design at the University of Los Andes for five years in Bogota, Columbia. Her department, indeed the University, has been fortunate to draw on her experience and expertise." In her courses here, she says she "encourages an informed awareness of the built environment, and of the rich and complex factors that play a part in the making of place." Such courses "have filled a significant gap in our curriculum" wrote a member of the faculty, "helping to revive in the art history major a largely dormant 'pre-architecture' track, meant to prepare students for graduate professional programs in architecture

Kevin Tanner, PhD candidate in history, comes to Binghamton via Rochester and Kentucky, and has excelled here as a "gentle authority in the classroom." Two faculty winners of University and Chancellor's Awards wrote glowing recommendations. For example, "Kevin Tanner is among the best teachers I have known in 30 years of University service." He believes "you should give each student his money's worth." At the same time, "I remind them that they are responsible for their education; thus, when they need help or clarification, they need to ask because they are the only ones who know if they are getting their money's worth from their college education." One student's evaluation said "he is a capital fellow and will someday make a great professor."

Nannette Van Dyke, doctoral candidate in nursing, was asked in 2001 to participate in a USAID grant-funded nursing curriculum project in Egypt. She was challenged to find herself alone in Alexandria during 9/11 and yet drawing from her 30 years of teaching experience she was able to handle herself extremely well under harsh conditions. She is the senior graduate assistant in the Kresge Center for Nursing Research, and she also assumes the difficult task of training new graduate assistants. Her teaching statement says that she has had "a great faculty mentor" here and that "if I am able to pass on just a little of the enthusiasm about teaching that she has given me, I will have done a great service to my students."

Marcus Zisselsberger, PhD candidate in comparative literature, has a teaching statement that is reflective about a proper atmosphere for learning: "when I taught my first college course, I often felt that I had to bring a lot of 'knowledge' - information, concepts, systems of thought - to the classroom, and for the first few weeks, I wrote lectures, memorized them and performed them in front of the students rather than engaging them in a dialogue. It was only after students began to ask critical questions and engaged me in a dialogue that I learned that they were much more interested in me as a critical thinker than as a presenter of knowledge. If today my approach to the classroom entails asking my students to take themselves seriously as critical thinkers, that is because it was my students who first demanded from me that I recognize myself as one."


Marta Alfonso, doctoral candidate in anthropology, conducted research last summer involving the identification of neurotoxins in the human food chain among the Chamorro of the Mariana Islands. This work was "superlative," wrote the faculty investigator. For her dissertation, she is continuing her master's work on the reliability of physiological stress indicators and in general, the demography and pathology of past peoples of Northern Chile. She has participated in numerous pre-Hispanic research projects throughout central and northern Chile and Bolivia. She has written more than a dozen publications, including her undergraduate bachelor's thesis and one article as lead author in the American Journal of Physical Anthropology, which is the flagship journal in biological anthropology.

Cosmina Hogea, PhD candidate in mechanical engineering, is a "truly remarkable young scientist/engineer" who comes to Bing-hamton from the School of Mathematics of the University of Bucharest, Romania. She is "by far the most talented and capable graduate student that we have recruited" and "the best researcher in engineering science spanning many years," wrote her faculty. "She showed a keen interest in the practical application of mathematics to real world problems." For her dissertation research, she is investigating large-scale computational modeling of complex boundary problems, initially in the area of materials processing (and then) to study a model of cancerous tumor growth. Her ability to extend the computational modeling techniques effectively in both domains is the mark of a gifted researcher." This work is yielding many important insights into the treatment of a variety of cancerous growths, and she will soon have several publications as lead author.

Lori Koban,
PhD candidate in mathematics, is an instructor for BAE's six-sigma program. At Binghamton, she has exhibited a "remarkable research strength," which is perhaps not surprising. A faculty member wrote about her approach to one part of her dissertation research that "Lori's work shows real talent for getting at the heart of a problem and analyzing it to its essence so it looks simple. Her new approach is both creative and elegant. I had expected this to be a minor practice problem, but Lori turned it into a significant piece of research. She has special flair for seeing into a problem and this will earn her a reputation for exceptional insight and good taste in research." In addition to research abilities, she has strong communication skills: a fellow graduate student wrote that "I was amazed by Lori. I have been to a lot of talks given by graduate students, but I don't remember anyone explaining research results with such ease."

Samuel Yunxiang Liang, doctoral candidate in art history, held a position as lecturer in the architecture department at Guangzhou University in Southern China before coming to Binghamton University. He has published a huge number of articles in Chinese architectural journals, plus translations and five conference presentations. A faculty member wrote in support of his nomination that he is "among the most inquiring, imaginative, and intelligent students with whom I have had the pleasure to work." His dissertation explores ephemeral architecture in communities of young bachelors who left provincial inland villages in the late nineteenth century to seek their fortunes in the foreign-occupied coastal metropolis of Shanghai. Liang said "it is a dissertation about the uprooting entailed in modern life, and of how a provisional home was constructed in this inhospitable environment." A senior faculty member noted that "in a quarter of a century of university teaching, I cannot recall any other graduate student who has matched Sam's remarkable catholicity (broad, general scope and comprehensiveness) of interest or his scholarly industry in pursuing not one, but many, research topics."

John Rayburn, PhD candidate in geology, studies late-glacial freshwater routing through the Champlain Basin of New York and Vermont about 10,000 years ago and seeks to model the deformation of the earth resulting from the changes in surface loads as glacial Lake Vermont evolved and shrunk in post-glacial times. His faculty wrote that this area "may be the Rosetta stone for carefully documenting the relative ages and exact chronology of flood events," but these "can only be determined through an extremely daunting quantitative analysis that only a handful of scientists around the world have mastered." Fortunately, "John lives and breathes geology" and he has numerous publications and more in preparation. For several years, he has served as chair of the department's noon seminars, and every year, he is the first to present a lecture.

Paul Reckner,
doctoral candidate in anthropology, has been "an excellent ambassador" for the Colorado Coal Field War Archaeological Project, sponsored by the Colorado Historical Society, according to one of that project's principal investigators. He is author or co-author of six articles and has presented 13 papers or posters at professional meetings. He has published extensively in the two most important journals in this field, Historical Archaeology and The International Journal of Historical Archaeology. His activities as a labor organizer (for example, for two years he served as the Binghamton chapter campus steward of the Graduate Student Employees Union) have become a deeply personal and integral part of his research, which "reaffirms the rights of working people."

Kristin Sanner, PhD candidate in English, won the Pennsylvania Association of Graduate Schools "Outstanding Master's Thesis" award in a statewide, cross-disciplinary competition before coming to Binghamton. "She's the real thing: a serious scholar exploring matters of substance," wrote a faculty member here. She is "one of the strongest doctoral students we have seen in recent years," wrote another. Her research explores "the intersection between maternal and masculine tendencies that occurred as a result of the Civil War, the pervasive attempts at redefining roles for men and women that existed during a century marked by industrial progress and national conflict." One chapter of the dissertation has been accepted for publication in the Henry James Review, which is "the journal in James studies," and Sanner is one of very few graduate students to publish there. In service to her fellow students, she also instituted the "Conference and Publishing Group" - a group of graduate students devoted to encouraging scholarly activity through workshops on topics such as "Writing a Conference Proposal" and "Submitting Work to Journals."

Yanning Song, PhD candidate in chemistry, "has been an extraordinarily productive graduate student," wrote his nominator. He has published eight peer-reviewed papers, several in the leading chemistry journals such as Inorganic Chemistry, Journal of Materials Chemistry, and Electrochemistry Communications; three conference proceedings' and has been involved in eleven presentations since entering in fall 2000. These outstanding achievements earned him the Department of Chemistry's Clifford E. Myers Summer Research Grant for the summer of 2003. His research involves the formation, reactivity, thermodynamics and kinetics of transition metal phosphates such as lithium. These topics have attracted much recent attention in the press as a future rechargeable battery system. A fellow student wrote that Song has "a real flair in reporting his results and in analyzing their significance." He already has received an employment offer from the University of Florida, and he is being considered at Cornell University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology for summer positions.

Dat Tran,
PhD candidate in chemistry, is "totally committed to science." He received his bachelor of science degree in chemistry from Binghamton in 1998, and began his graduate studies in August 2000, having previously worked at Dow Corning. So far, he has five published papers, one conference proceeding and four poster presentations, including a full paper in Inorganic Chemistry, as lead author. During the last two months, he has discovered over 20 new metal-organic materials, and published these results as lead author in a full article in the Journal of the American Chemical Society. A faculty researcher wrote that "Dat has been central to my research program here at Binghamton" and "these initial, critical results strengthened my research proposals and undoubtedly helped me obtain funding from the NSF Career Program."

Kristin Weingartner,
PhD candidate in psychology, seeks to identify factors that influence the retrieval of information from memory during reading in her research. Her focus is on cognitive bias: once people settle on an interpretation of an ambiguous stimulus, they fail to appreciate its ambiguity or the possibility of alternative interpretations. She has found that readers devote different amounts of attention to processing different, or competing, inputs of related concepts, and this affects how they are able to learn new or make more subtle interpretations. She has two major papers published, three more in the pipeline and three presentations to her credit. A faculty advisor wrote that Weingartner can take a research project from inception to publication "without faltering" and that she "possesses a wonderful and unusual combination of self-motivation with the ability to attend for long hours, she always seems to be have fun, regardless of the task."

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Last Updated: 10/14/08