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2010 Graduate Excellence Award Winners


Irmak Ertuna, Comparative Literature

Irmak Ertuna’s syllabus for a course called “The Life and Death of Avant-Garde” became the starting point for her dissertation research, which studies the aesthetic transition from Dadaism into Surrealism in relation to technology, as developed within a Marxist framework. It provides a counterpoint to the predominance of psychoanalytical approaches, especially in recent scholarship on Surrealism.

Now a professor at Isik University and Istanbul Technical University, Ertuna has published in a special issue of Transformations, and has two articles under consideration by significant journals. Also recognized last year with a graduate award for excellence in teaching, her nominators note that she presents material of the highest order of theoretical and philosophical difficulty in a readable, engaging manner.

Tomas Filler, Electrical and Computer Engineering

As a research assistant, Tomas Filler has worked on two projects funded by the Air Force Office of Scientific Research and one funded by the National Science Foundation. His numerous ground-breaking contributions in steganography, steganalysis and digital forensics have spanned all aspects of data hiding and detection of hidden messages. He has contributed significantly to 11 published research papers which form the backbone of his dissertation.

His nominator uses glowing terms to describe his productivity and contributions as a researscher, including that of the Square-Root Law Theorem of secure payload, which explains why the amount of secret information hidden in a digital image is proportional to the square root of the number of pixels. “I have never met a person so creative, independent and self-motivated ...” she writes.

Balagopal Gopakumar, Industrial and Systems Engineering

Balagopal Gopakumar’s dissertation focuses on leading-edge research in the health systems domain. He currently works as a lead management engineer intern at Virtua Health and has worked on various research projects ranging from lean concepts, process improvement, system modeling, capacity planning and beyond.

Actively involved in conducting time and motion studies, collecting and analyzing data, and presenting his technical research, Gopakumar has published seven, fully-refereed papers, nine technical reports to industry and is at work on one journal manuscript. His nominators commend his work ethic, and the results he achieves. “He is an inquisitive researcher with an excellent level of initiative and research acumen,” they write. One who leads by example and is an excellent mentor, Gopakumar was awarded the Virtua Super STAR award by Virtua Health, given to a select few in recognition of exemplary work.

Zhen Guo, Computer Science

Zhen Guo’s research interests are in the areas of machine learning, knowledge discovery and data mining, information retrieval, and their applications to imagery database mining retrieval and computer vision. His dissertation studies knowledge discovery and information retrieval from relational data under different settings including supervised, semi-supervised and unsupervised learning. With a publication record that includes five top conference papers, one journal paper and three book chapters, and his nominators write that “his work is considered fundamental and seminal and his code has been distributed all over the world ...”

As an intern at the NEC Laboratories America he has also impressed management, who refer to him “as an independent, creative and extremely hard-working young researcher.” He has already placed himself on the leading edge of research, impressing his peers at Binghamton and many of the nation’s top computer science programs.

Fuat Gürsözlü, Philosophy

Fuat Gürsözlü’s dissertation, “The Problem of Peaceful Political Action,” exhibits his thorough knowledge of both the relevant Anglo-American and continental philosophical literature, his nuanced understanding of the philosophical issues, his sophisticated analysis, and his own original take and solutions. His research, which focuses on political action and considers both the barriers to, and the possibilities for, peaceful political action has led to publication of one article in The Journal of Political Philosophy.

Teaching this year at Dalhousie University in Canada, Gürsözlü is described by his nominators as extremely thorough as a scholar and one who reads widely and carefully: “He is thoughtful and original in this thinking, and has contributed insightfully to the philosophical literatures with which he is in dialogue ...”

Aparna Kher, Political Science

Aparna Kher’s dissertation project starts with the bargaining model of war, one of the most influential recent explanations for international conflict. Bargaining models start by stating that, because war is costly, there should always be a negotiated solution that all parties would prefer instead of fighting. Kher’s dissertation holds out the promise of linking research on the politics of the decision-making process with more formal and quantitative research on bargaining processes.

A recent recipient of a National Science Foundation Dissertation Improvement Grant, Kher also received a prestigious NSF fellowship to the summer Empirical Implications Theoretical Methods Institute. She has “an eye for problems in existing research that make for interesting research questions” and “is highly organized and has a great work ethic” write her nominators. Her work “moves a step beyond impeccable standards ... is also relevant and timely – a rare distinction that offers tremendous promise for a broader impact.”

Yihua Liu, Materials Science Program

Yihua Liu’s PhD project relates to the development and synthesis of nanostructured materials with a variety of applications including the processing of superhydrophobic metal and polymer surfaces. His publications are pioneering in the field, and his research achievements are illustrated by his extraordinary publication record — he has authored or co-authored seven journal publications, unusual for a third-year graduate student.

Liu is a well-prepared, enthusiastic and knowledgeable researcher, according to his nominators, who write that he is “an active participant in all aspects of the research, offering initiative, creativity and leadership at a level rarely seen in even very experienced graduate students.”

Ashwin Malshe, School of Management

Ashwin Malshe’s research and publications, which have led to his selection as the first Binghamton University student selected for the Marketing Doctoral Consortium, have involved several projects related to the links between a business’s advertising and its liquidity. He is also working on a project that examines how a consumer’s risk attitude can change if the wins and losses from taking the risk are shared with others. 

Malshe’s study of promotion-focused consumers vs. prevention-focused consumers led to data collection from the U.S. and India, two cultures that are dissimilar in their promotion/prevention beliefs. Malshe is also an excellent teacher and respected mentor for newer graduate students, and his nominators write that he “is one of those rare scholars who is not only well versed in the number crunching intricacies of econometrics, but he also has that rare talent of understanding what those numbers have to say to us about consumer decision making.”

Olga Petrova, Biological Sciences

Olga Petrova has identified three novel sensor kinases that are essential for biofilm maturation, a discovery that has far-reaching effects on the biofilm arena, according to her nominators, who write that “there is no question that the work will have a permanent and positive impact in the world of biofilms and our need to control these bacterial colonies.”

Her dissertation, “Stage Specific Regulation of Pseudomonas Aeruginosa Biofilm” is a comprehensive, eloquently written work representing an astonishing scientific contribution to the biofilm and microbial communities. In addition, she has published in the prestigious PLoS Pathogen journal, and has several publications in preparation. Her nominators also comment that Petrova has “golden hands” in the laboratory, and has complete command of a variety of complex techniques. She has a true entrepreneurial spirit, is an engaging and independent research scientist and has unlimited energy that fuels her love of science.

John Smelcer, English, General Literature and Rhetoric

Originally a poet who focused on the Alaskan experience, John Smelcer has expanded his work to include the oral traditions of Alaskan Native peoples, Native American literature and Alaskan Native language preservation. His young-adult novel The Trap has helped young readers learn about survival in the Alaskan wilderness, and is at the top of the list of recommended reading for Alaska schoolchildren.

Smelcer is a well-known editor, publisher, poet, scholar, novelist and playwright who has earned the respect and admiration of faculty and publishing executives. His most recent works include the young-adult novel The Great Death, about an Alaska smallpox epidemic, and The Binghamton Poems. His nominators note that “one of his most impressive research endeavors has been his compilation of dictionaries of the Ahtna and Alutiq languages...” which are in danger of extinction. The research involved patient, lengthy interviews with elders who knew the language well.

Zhaoyong Sun, Chemistry

Zhaoyong Sun’s research is focused on the synthesis, characterization, optical properties and self/binary assembly of indium oxide-based semiconductor nanocrystals. The nanocrystals he has produced show large non-linear optical susceptibilities and two-photon absorption properties.  This research, according to Sun’s nominators, “may open a new area in quantum electronics and biosensor materials, such as quantum computing, optical limited devices [and] solar cells.” 

With 11 peer-reviewed papers in journals including Langmuir, ACS Nano and the Journal of the American Chemical Society, Sun continues to shine. His nominators write that “his unique background, talents, diligence and commitment have combined to provide him with a very strong boost in [the] frontier [of] research [in] magnetic semiconductor nanomaterials.”

James Witnauer, Psychology

James Witnauer has developed “great expertise doing sophisticated modeling of our own theory and the theories of others, and has acquired techniques to estimating parameters within models” write his nominators. In his laboratory endeavors he is a productive scientist who has assembled an impressive research agenda. Writing with precision, mastery and perspective, he has authored or co-authored six publications in print or in press with top-flight, peer-reviewed journals, with six more under review or about to be submitted, and has made 19 conference presentations, as first author on nine. 

With a “clear aptitude and a tremendous interest level and enthusiasm for learning,” Witnaur has shown himself “to be a sharp and original critical thinker,” write his nominators. They add that he “has found his calling and clearly has the ability to become a valued contributor in his field.”

Dan Xu, Chemistry

Dan Xu’s research focuses on the synthesis of Cu-based bimetallic nanocubes, as well as their electrochemical properties examination. She has successfully proposed a mechanism to interpret the particle growth and shape evaluation of advanced fuel cell materials. Co-author of five high-quality, high-impact journal publications, Xu “conducts her research steadily, progressively and thoughtfully” write her nominators. She “invariably understands exactly what a project is all about from the outset, how to plan/arrange an experiment and how to get it done quickly and effectively.”

Xu’s nominators add that she is a unique graduate student who has demonstrated knowledge in the field of inorganic chemistry and materials science, along with a proven ability to carry out independent research.


Hala Auji, Art History

Since arriving at Binghamton, Hala Auji has explored the historic dimensions of design in the Middle East and Asia, developing as an outstanding teacher. Her presentation and attention to detail are an index of her consummate style in the classroom. In two unique courses she proposed and designed, “Printing Before Gutenberg” and “Patterns and Arabesques,” she pushes her students to think about the materials in new and innovative ways. 

Auji’s research and clarity of thought provide a model for exemplary teaching in dialogue with her students. One writes of the impact Auji’s teaching has made. “I became so interested in art and the history or story behind it that I have decided to study abroad next semester so that I can encounter the art and see it first hand.” Auji’s nominators write that “she takes her teaching responsibilities as seriously as any tenured member of this faculty and proceeds with forethought and careful preparation ...”

Bradley Seymour, Psychology

Bradley Seymour is a natural in the classroom, according to his nominators. With “an unassuming style [he] engages his audience by using questions, real-world examples and humor,” they write. A master of the strategic use of the Socratean method, he nurtures active learning and independent thinking. They add that he “has the ability to clearly present complex ideas and data sets to a diverse audience, and seems to possess an intuitive sense of how to put a talk together.”

Seymour effectively mentors undergraduates in the laboratory in all aspects of their hands-on research, from the use of equipment, supervision of data collection and data analysis to the presentation of results at lab meetings. Students commend his teaching style, noting that he uses “media tools and animated stories to sustain our interest in the content.”

Kerri-Ann Smith, School of Education

Kerri-Ann Smith personifies the goals of the Doctor of Education program, which emphasize the intersection of theory and practice. Her nominators write that “she strives to link the curriculum of her courses to the experiences of the students in her classes” and “creates a spark within her students,” encouraging them to become lifelong learners who will also work to improve their communities. Her prior teaching at Clara Barton High School and Broome Community College, and her work in Ghana, Nigeria, and in Jamaica illustrates her commitment to these ideals.

Smith’s students attest to her high expectations, her dedication and her frank approach to subject matter. One student notes that she has an “ability to connect and draw the best out of each individual,” and another writes, “I am confident I will take all I have and will learn from Kerri-Ann with me throughout life.”

Lewis Trelawny-Cassity, Philosophy

Although Lewis Trelawny-Cassity tends to teach demanding and controversial courses within social and political philosophy, he does not shy away from the kinds of questions that make his students think critically or to consider and reconsider their views. As a result, they find his courses challenging and potentially life-changing. 

His nominators write that Trelawny-Cassity is “passionate about the ideas that are driving his own work, and he brings this passion into the classroom, where his students are fortunate to see a very sharp philosopher, armed with a quick yet gentle wit at work.” A student writes that, in Trelawny-Cassity’s class, “I find that I am engaged ... and that I am truly understanding and learning rather than just memorizing.”

Laura Warren Hill, History

Laura Warren Hill has earned a reputation as one of the finest and most talented teaching assistants in the History Department, write her nominators. She “exhibits confidence and poise in the classroom ... maintains high but not unrealistic standards ... effectively prods students and ... successfully utilizes a mix of techniques,” they write. An excellent facilitator who is calm and in command of her classes, Hill provides detailed and thoughtful written assessments to her students, and her criticism is couched with ample praise.

She also works in the Languages Across the Curriculum program, where she has been responsible for piloting new program models. The director writes that Hill has become “the pedagogical and administrative anchor of the team.” Her students commend her professionalism, noting that she “consistently led thought-provoking and insightful discussions in both large- and small-group settings,” and “challenged us to rethink our sometimes oversimplified views ...” 

Charles Wesley, English, General Literature and Rhetoric

Charles Wesley has taught several well-received courses, including Postcolonial Literature, The Politics of Food, Great Films, Magical Realism, and The Literature of Exile. He also works with the Educational Opportunity Program, where his knowledge of social justice issues incorporate broad themes such as racism, economic disparities and environmental degradation. His nominators write that, in the classroom, he successfully manages “to encourage the students to give voice to their own understanding of the text, while also providing a pointed and instructive critique of their interpretations.”

His nominators add that teaching is a passion for Wesley, and fully enmeshed with his intellectual endeavors. He creates a classroom atmosphere where students feel equally comfortable expressing thoughts, anxieties and questions, and receiving pertinent, critical feedback. One student, admittedly shy, writes that “his discussions helped me to analyze readings in a new way and his accepting classroom atmosphere helped me to share these insights.”


Annemarie Fischer, Comparative Literature

Annemarie Fischer is committed to sharing her expertise widely and to giving back to the University and the community and her service “grows out of her teaching and research activities ...” write her nominators.

She co-organized a conference on “Inhabiting the Transnational,” and a symposium, “Leftovers,” marking the anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. She has presented six conference papers and been recognized internationally for her scholarly work in Germany and Russia. She also serves as staff adviser to the German Club, organizing a film series, coffee-time meetings and a successful soccer tournament. Reflecting a truly global intellect, Fischer’s outreach is also international in scope. For four years, she has worked to publicize a South Africa-based NGO devoted to human rights advocacy.

Anne Maloney, Psychology

Anne Maloney exudes a tremendous “work ethic, research savvy and drive,” according to her nominators, and her engaging manner as she serves the local community “sets her apart.” Her work with the Broome County Mental Health Clinic to develop a report evaluating mental health services in the county’s jail system led to several public presentations to local health and law enforcement professionals. Maloney also provided outstanding service to the University’s Division of Student Affairs, helping to develop and evaluate a questionnaire for new undergraduates that would help to predict early withdrawals. At the same time, she assisted in developing a project to assess the benefits of Educational Opportunity student participation in a summer enrichment program.

Maloney now volunteers her time doing psychological assessments at Binghamton General Hospital, even as she serves as assistant director of the Binghamton University Psychological Clinic that offers psychotherapy and behavior therapy for community members.


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Last Updated: 10/14/08