2019 Graduate Student Excellence Awards

Thirty-nine receive recognition for research, teaching, service/outreach

Students walking to classes on the Lois B. DeFleur Walkway. Image Credit: Jonathan Cohen.
Students walking to classes on the Lois B. DeFleur Walkway.
Students walking to classes on the Lois B. DeFleur Walkway. Photography: Jonathan Cohen.

TEACHING

Irem Ayan - TRIP

Doctoral candidate Irem Ayan brings a literal world of experience to her students at Binghamton University. Ayan, a native of Turkey, has used her language interpretation skills at both NATO and the United Nations. She has taught almost a dozen translation and French language courses at Binghamton since 2015, and has given four conference presentations on translation and language. Her goal as a teacher is to help students develop intellectual curiosity, and to encourage them to incorporate sociological and philosophical theories into their translation careers.

Laurel Anne Braun - Art History

Doctoral candidate Laurel Anne Braun has taught a wide variety of courses during her eight years at Binghamton University, focusing on women in art, Medieval art as well as introductory art courses. Braun, a longtime member of the Art History Graduate Student Union, Medieval and Early Modern Society Club, and seven other professional art history societies, describes her role as a teacher “to facilitate each student’s engagement in a way that acknowledges their own interests, beliefs, ideas and experiences.”

Allison Bugenis - Political Science

Doctoral candidate Allison Bugenis’ experience with political science is far from typical. Along with serving as an instructor for three courses at Binghamton University, she has worked as a coder for the Mass Mobilization Protest Dataset and a researcher into judicial elections. Bugenis is a recipient of the George L. Hinman Doctoral Fellowship in Public Policy and has given 10 conference presentations on topics ranging from biodiversity to LGBTQ protection. Her goal as a teacher is to help her students develop critical thinking skills and help them understand that there is more than one right answer.

Madhi Farahikia - Mechanical Engineering

Doctoral candidate Madhi Farahikia has developed an impressive résumé of experience in both the laboratory and at the conference podium during his time at Binghamton University. Along with working in the Mechanical Engineering Department’s Vibration and Acoustics Laboratory for over four years, Farahikia has presented at the American Society of Mechanical Engineers’ International Mechanical Engineering Conference & Exposition. He considers knowing students personally to be a critical part of the classroom teaching experience, and has incorporated this philosophy into the seven online and in-person courses he has taught at Binghamton.

Jonathan Jones - History

Doctoral candidate Jonathan Jones brings years of experience to Binghamton University and is currently working on a dissertation about an American opioid epidemic. His research into the crisis following the Civil War is especially relevant today, and has been featured on the WBUR CommonHealth series. Jones is also dedicated to helping develop quality online education at Binghamton University, and has taught an online, introductory-level American history class five times. During his three years as a teaching assistant, both his instructors and students have given Jones enthusiastic endorsements.

Deirdre Riley - English

During her time at Binghamton University, doctoral student Deirdre Riley has assisted the University’s Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies in operating its lecture series and editing Mediaevalia, its interdisciplinary journal. She published her first scholarly article in 2016 and has twice taught English classes in the Binghamton Enrichment Program (BEP), a summer program that prepares historically underrepresented and economically disadvantaged high schoolers with the tools to succeed as Binghamton University students. Riley strives to encourage a sense of inclusion, accessibility and open discussion in her Medieval literature classes.

Lynn Schmitt - Chemistry

Doctoral candidate Lynn Schmitt believes that teachers can be lifelong learners. She has taught seven chemistry classes at Binghamton University and has two papers in preparation. Schmitt has given several presentations and lectures at important educational and chemical meetings and has also participated in several community activities to encourage young people’s interest in science, including two Science Olympiads and two public chemistry demonstrations. Her dedication to future generations is apparent both in her love of teaching and her work with Binghamton’s Go Green Institute. Schmitt has two pending patents from her research involving negative ions in water.

Aaron Schultz - Philosophy

Doctoral candidate Aaron Schultz’s philosophical style of discussion has proven popular with the students in his philosophy classes. Schultz has been awarded a dissertation assistantship and has served as a teaching assistant at Binghamton University for three years. Along with being on the executive board of Binghamton University’s Social, Political, Ethical and Legal Philosophy Graduate Student Organization, he has served as a group meditation facilitator at the OASIS after-school program, the Mental Health Association of the Southern Tier and the Binghamton chapter of the Wake Up mindfulness group.

Elif Sendur - Comparative Literature

Doctoral candidate Elif Sendur’s examination of popular culture and film through a political lens is especially important today, as the film industry and mainstream media in general grows more aware of its own internal political issues. Her interest in gender and LGBTQ equality goes beyond teaching. Sendur has also served as an educator, consultant, and eventually program coordinator, for Binghamton University’s Lesbian and Gay Family-Building Project. Students have called her knowledgeable, enthusiastic and compassionate.

Alison Twang - Community Research and Action

Doctoral candidate Alison Twang’s passion for engagement goes beyond her love of classroom discussion. Twang has served as the associate director for Binghamton University’s Center for Civic Engagement for over a year, helping to develop a strong town and gown relationship with the greater Binghamton area. Along with teaching two classes on civic engagement, she has given six presentations on the subject. Her teaching philosophy of embracing complexity and ambiguity as well as challenging assumptions is well-received by students, who have called her a high-quality and inspiring instructor.

Victor Wambua - Chemistry

After teaching for eight consecutive semesters, doctoral candidate Victor Wambua is still looking for ways to improve his instructional style and skills. With a strong background in organic chemistry, he believes teachers have a duty to never stop learning. He shares his passion for chemistry, not only in the five classes he has taught at Binghamton University, but with young students in the greater Binghamton area. Wambua provided three science club demonstrations to elementary schools in Binghamton and Vestal, has presented at six conferences and workshops and has published a manuscript in the Angewandte Chemie International Edition.

Kai Wen Yang - Sociology

Doctoral candidate Kai Wen Yang believes teachers can learn from their students. Yang, who has taught almost 20 courses at Binghamton University since 2012, believes students should be able to apply their in-class learning experiences to their everyday lives. An alumnus of the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, Yang has an extensive research background and has presented at seven professional conferences on sociology, capitalism and Asian-American studies. He has also helped organize four Latin American and Caribbean Area Studies conferences at Binghamton and a conference for the school’s Comparative Literature Graduate Conference.

RESEARCH

Olga Blomgren - Comparative Literature

Doctoral student Olga Blomgren’s research has long sought to bring the works of Caribbean poets and authors into the mainstream literary discussion. Her dissertation on the works of Puerto Rican author Rosario Ferré and Haitian novelist Edwidge Danticat shows the importance of language in literature and how it relates to the historical questions of identity. Along with her fellowship and teaching experience at Binghamton, Blomgren has earned a fellowship with the University of California, Santa Barbara’s Department of Black Studies.

Jenn Dum - Philosophy

Doctoral student Jenn Dum’s work shows her dedication to social justice in education. Dum has presented at over a dozen conferences and received a Graduate Student Award for Excellence in Teaching. She teaches four undergraduate courses at Binghamton and has received three fellowships for her work in education and ethics. Her research also looks at analyzing and evaluating issues in education, such as school discipline policies, the human right to education and post-migration education.

Kiera James - Psychology

Doctoral student Kiera James’ research into adolescent psychology has been published in seven journals and she has six additional manuscripts under review and four in preparation. She has served as a graduate clinician at the Binghamton University Psychological Clinic and the Binghamton Anxiety Clinic and as a diagnostician at Binghamton’s Mood Disorders Institute. James most recently acted as the instructor of record for three University psychology courses and worked on four projects covering stress, depression and anxiety in women and children.

Shaojie Jiang - Materials Science and Engineering

The world of science is always changing, and doctoral student Shaojie Jiang’s research into supercrystal structure has him involved in one of the most “hot topics” in the nanoscience world. Jiang has authored or co-authored six papers, presented at the Materials Research Society Fall 2017 meeting in Boston, and has served as an instructor in Binghamton University’s General Physics Lab.

Nusrat Jimi - Economics

Doctoral student and Bangladesh native Nusrat Jimi’s work in the Department of Economics addresses important social and financial issues in South Asia and Africa. The study she co-authored on educational policy in Tanzania was published in the celebrated journal Applied Economics. Nusrat designed the study of the Bangladeshi school lottery system and collected the data herself from school administrators, teachers and students. Her study of micro-finance and agriculture is especially relevant today given the need for farmers’ access to non-traditional forms of financial services in the Global South, a metaphor for underdeveloped countries.

Sarah King - History

Doctoral student Sarah King’s research into celebrity anti-war activism provides a look at a fascinating intersection of political and popular culture. King’s dissertation, which features firsthand interviews with musician Pete Seeger and actors Jane Fonda and Donald Sutherland, has received both internal support from Binghamton University and external grants from the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library. King has served as an instructor at SUNY Brockport, Alfred University and Binghamton University. Her work on historian and author Gerda Lerner was published in the Journal of Women’s History.

Kathryn Lanza - Psychology

Doctoral student Kathryn Lanza is dedicated to helping others, from mentoring undergraduate Psi Chi students and those in the Bridges to Baccalaureate program to her time as an instructor for 300-level psychology courses. Lanza helped her fellow psychology researchers seek funding from the National Institute of Neurological Disease and Stroke on a brand-new topic, has published five manuscripts and has given over a dozen conference presentations.

Duong Le - Economics

Doctoral student Duong Le has published four working papers and given six conference presentation in his six years at Binghamton University. His work has examined the impacts of micro-finance and environmental disasters in India and Vietnam and he is praised as an effective teacher by students in his Labor Economics and Industrial Relations class. Le’s paper on the Formosa disaster was produced in less than two months and his findings in his paper, “Infrastructure Grants and Microenterprises,” produced important conclusions about the effectiveness of infrastructure spending.

Zachary Lebens-Higgins - Physics

Doctoral student Zachary Lebens-Higgins’ work is helping to make a greener future. His research into improving the efficiency of lithium-ion batteries was published in the Chemistry of Materials journal, and an essay published during his first year in the PhD program has been cited by over 50 other researchers. Lebens-Higgins has also given several presentations on oxide-coated cathodes and even chaired a session on the subject at the 60th annual Electronic Materials Conference in Santa Barbara, Calif.

Nathan Lipps - English

Creative writing instructor and doctoral student Nathan Lipps’ work has been published in literary and poetry magazines across the country, including the Best New Poets anthology. His work examines life on an American farm and the nuances of the rural lifestyle. Lipp’s first book, the body as passage, is scheduled to be published this year by Open Palm Press.

Yancy Luan - Chemistry

During his time at Binghamton University, Yancy Luan’s work with advanced nano-alloy fabrication has been published in the Materials Research Society’s Advances journal. Luan and advisor James Fang have also filed a patent on mass-producible nickel catalysts. With a focus on creating something new, he is the first person to enable carbon monoxide to etch the Pt-Ni nanocatalysts by extracting the Ni-component through a gaseous mixture. He has presented at the American Chemical Society’s Northeast Regional Meeting and the Materials Research Society conference.

Maedeh Mohammadifar - Electrical and Computer Engineering

Doctoral student Maedeh Mohammadifar’s work has exciting implications for the world of renewable energy. Her work, including her research into a blood-glucose monitoring patch, has been published in journals such as Micromachines and Renewable Energy. Her research into bio-batteries and green technology has also been published in Advanced Science News, which was then reported on by ScienceDaily, Techxplore, Newswise and others. Mohammadifar scored among the top .01 percent of students to take the University Entrance Exam in her native Iran.

Roberto Ortiz - Sociology

Doctoral student and Clark Fellowship alumni Roberto Ortiz’s award-winning work on the environment and politics has been published in two peer-reviewed journals and presented at over a dozen conferences. Ortiz’s focus on the history of capitalism, global inequalities and environmental degradation are especially relevant today with the current global focus on environmental preservation and inequality. His dissertation and his paper, “Late Capitalism Unbound,” were given awards by the Binghamton University Department of Sociology and the American Sociological Association, respectively. Ortiz has served as both an adjunct professor in two departments at Binghamton University and as an advising associate at Harpur College.

Mark Pallay - Mechanical Engineering

Doctoral student Mark Pallay works to help create the next wave of technological advances. His understanding of both theory and practice has allowed his work to be published in the prestigious journal, Applied Physics Letters. Pallay has twice presented his work at the American Society of Mechanical Engineers’ International Design Engineering Technical conference. His research interests include electrostatic levitation and micro-electro-mechanical systems.

Kevin Revier - Sociology

Doctoral student Kevin Revier’s work has covered many of today’s most relevant social issues, from drug laws to race and justice. His current work on the opioid crisis is especially relevant for communities like Binghamton dealing with such issues. His essays have been published in the journals Contemporary Justice Review and Crime, Media, Culture. In addition, Revier has given nearly two dozen research presentations at conferences.

Shabnam Sabounchi - Community Research and Action

Shabnam Sabounchi already had an impressive career as a public health scholar in her native Iran when she came to Binghamton University in 2016. Sabounchi, a dental surgeon, has given over a dozen presentations and published over a dozen peer-reviewed papers in her career. While her research has covered a diverse array of public health issues, her current focus on the opioid epidemic has earned Sabounchi a grant from Binghamton University’s Poverty and Inequality Transdisciplinary Working Group.

Zohreh Soltani - Art History

Zohreh Soltani’s experience as a trained architect has been invaluable to her current work at Binghamton University. Her dissertation on the impact of the Iranian Revolution on its capital city’s architecture draws on political science, urban studies, history and art. Soltani has published five articles and given seven professional presentations, in addition to designing and/or teaching almost a dozen courses at Binghamton. She is currently a Dissertation Diversity Fellow at Ithaca College.

Kellam Throgmorton - Anthropology

Doctoral candidate Kellam Throgmorton’s extensive work on early Native American societies has been presented at universities and archaeological societies across the country. Throgmorton is a recipient of the National Science Foundation Dissertation Improvement Grant, and is currently researching the politics and landscapes of the native peoples in Chaco Canyon, N. M. As an archaeologist, he has also written about current affairs such as the dispute over the Bears Ears National Monument. In 2017, Throgmorton led a symposium at the Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology.

Haifeng Wang - Systems Science and Industrial Engineering

Doctoral student Haifeng Wang’s research may one day help improve medical diagnoses and machine learning. Over four years as a research associate at Binghamton, Wang has investigated topics like 3D medical imaging, manufacturing technology and using data analysis in pharmacies. He has also chaired sessions at two Industrial and Systems Engineering Research Conferences and been on five ad hoc review committees.

Shanana Yan - Chemistry

Doctoral candidate Shanana Yan’s extensive work goes beyond research. Yan has served as a teaching assistant for four years at Binghamton University and for three years at Xiamen University in her native China. Yan has submitted four patent applications for her work with nanomaterials and synthesis, and published over a dozen academic papers. She has also given over a dozen presentations at chemical society conferences, including several on her work with wearable biosensors. Yan’s presentation at the American Chemical Society’s Fall 2018 meeting made her a finalist in the ACS’s Graduate Student Award Competition.

Siyin Zhao - History

Doctoral student Siyin Zhao hopes his research will help the world better understand the ancient culture of his native China. Zhao’s work aims to use the history of the global superpower to understand it today, through ritual. He has written extensively about ancient China and has presented at both the Rochester Institute of Technology and Columbia University.

Jian Zhou - Mechanical Engineering

Inspired by hair-based flow receivers in small animals, doctoral student Jian Zhou works on miniaturized flow sensing. With the guidance of his advisor, Distinguished Professor Ronald Miles, Zhou has created a flow sensor made from spider silk that can detect airflow in the infrasound to ultrasound range. Zhou has first-authored three papers and holds an international patent application. He has also given various presentations in Massachusetts, Illinois and China.

SERVICE/OUTREACH

Mohammed Rabiu Abubakari - Community Research and Action

Doctoral candidate Mohammed Rabiu Abubakari brings his international perspective and background to his work on food deserts in Binghamton. The Ghana native has been a key member of the Binghamton community since beginning his master’s program in 2015. In just four years he has served on the Binghamton University Town and Gown Advisory Board, the Binghamton Food Steering Committee and Binghamton University’s Poverty and Inequality Working Group. He has given presentations on food deserts, education and urbanization at Binghamton and Kent State. His paper was awarded first prize in 2016 at Kent State’s Race, Ethnicity and Place Conference.

Victoria Brown - Anthropology

Doctoral candidate Victoria Brown’s position as a labor organizer within the Graduate Student Employees Union has allowed her to keep a pulse on issues affecting workers in both Binghamton and rural Spain, where Brown completed two international university certificates. Her doctoral dissertation on austerity, female migrants and industrial agriculture in the Andalusia region of Spain provides a unique look at the intersection of immigration, gender and workers’ rights. Brown served as a member of the negotiating team that helped the Communication Workers of America Local 1104 establish a new contract after six years without one.

Daimys García - Comparative Literature

Doctoral student Daimys García’s work uses literature to discuss gender and race and shows a dedication to inclusion and to a deepening understanding of the human experience. She furthered her interest in community-building during her time as president and secretary of the Comparative Literature Graduate Student Organization. Integrating her academic interest with her need to serve others is the driving force behind her involvement in the Binghamton Poetry Project, which aims to teach youth and adults how to write and read creatively.

Frank Tolbert - Geography

Master’s student Frank Tolbert’s background in urban planning allowed him to develop a detailed understanding of issues affecting Broome County families. His research helped create reports for the county Department of Social Services, and his findings from the Johnson City Redevelopment Project were presented at the Race, Ethnicity, and Place ninth edition conference. Tolbert, a Clark Fellow, is also both a graduate research assistant and teaching assistant, as well as the president of the Geography Graduate Student Organization.

Vanessa Wuerthner - Biological Sciences

Doctoral student Vanessa Wuerthner is dedicated to increasing public interest in science, especially in children. Wuerthner has extensive involvement with the local Binghamton community, including the Roberson Museum and Science Center and the local Boards of Cooperative Educational Services. Her Gemma Jones Visits Nuthatch Hollow children’s book is currently in review for publication, and lesson plans she has created have been used in dozens of local high schools.

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