Texas A&M Announces 2020-21 Distinguished Dissertation Award Winners
Texas A&M University’s Graduate and Professional School has announced the recipients of its Distinguished Dissertation Awards for the 2020-2021 academic year. Distinguished Dissertation Awards honor current or former students whose dissertations make a significant, impactful contribution to their discipline.
Awards are given in four categories: Biological and Life Sciences; Humanities and Fine Arts; Mathematics, Physical Sciences and Engineering; and Social Sciences. Each award comes with a certificate and $1,000 prize.
Mathematics, Physical Sciences and Engineering
Justin L. Andrews, a first-generation college student and May 2021 graduate of the Department of Chemistry, won in the Mathematics, Physical Sciences and Engineering category. Andrews also earned the George W. Kunze Endowed Graduate Student Award for most outstanding research by a current doctoral student.
Andrews’ dissertation, “Corralling Electrons in Metastable Vanadium Oxides,” proposes a solution to an imminent global problem. Our new, information-based economy—fueled in particular by the collection of data—places an increasing and unsustainable demand on energy production. Andrews’s research focuses on the design, discovery and utilization of novel compounds to improve computing efficiency and, thus, reduce energy consumption.
Sarbajit Banerjee, Andrews’ dissertation committee chair and professor of science, chemistry and materials science and engineering, praised Andrews’ research for the “profound national and international impact” it will have. “Justin brings unparalleled creativity in his approach to solving the most formidable of problems, and he is ‘off-the-charts’ in terms of his ability to grasp the big picture. His research has fundamentally changed the landscape of energy storage and computing,” Banerjee said.
Biological and Life Sciences
A December 2019 graduate in toxicology, Meichen Wang earned top honors in Biological and Life Sciences for her dissertation, “Development of Broad-Acting Enterosorbents for the Mitigation of Toxin Exposures during Outbreaks and Emergencies.” Her research seeks to address problems of exposure to pollution and hazardous chemicals that often contaminate drinking water and foods in the wake of natural disasters or other emergencies. Wang has developed edible, dietary therapies that can minimize the adverse health effects of ingesting contaminants. Her research could be lifesaving, particularly for people vulnerable to exposure to pollutants and hazardous chemicals, including underserved communities, first-responders and frontline workers.
“Meichen has a very bright future as a scientist,” said Timothy Phillips, professor of veterinary integrative biosciences and Wang’s mentor.
According to School of Public Health Associate Professor Natalie Johnson, who served on Wang’s dissertation committee, Wang is poised to make a difference in the world. “Meichen’s research is applicable and beneficial to all populations globally” and will have “a unique impact on toxicology and human and animal health,” Johnson said. Through collaborations and partnerships with companies such as Texas EnteroSorbents, U.S. Silica, Halliburton and Great Plains Processing, the multicomponent sorbents Wang has developed already have a project-to-field pathway.
Yixing Chen, a December 2020 graduate of the Mays Business School’s Business Administration (Marketing) program, won in the Social Sciences category for his dissertation, “Linking Marketing to Social and Economic Outcomes: The Case of Cancer Prevention and K-12 Education.” Chen’s research proposes strategies for making marketing investments in healthcare and educational environments that improve outcomes for cancer patients. The first study in his dissertation found that outreach programs for cancer treatments were significantly more effective when personalized according to the patient’s socioeconomic status. A second study examined the benefits and costs of increasing school district internet access spending (SDIAS), providing data to support school districts’ SDIAS marketing campaigns.
Professor of Marketing Shrihari Sridhar, Chen’s committee chair, said Chen’s research “provides guidance on effective marketing investments for practitioners, such as school superintendents and physicians, who generally lack such guidance.”
Deanna Stover, an August 2020 graduate from the Department of English, earned top honors in the Humanities and Fine Arts category. Her dissertation, “Deadly Toys: Mini Worlds and Wars, 1815-1914,” employs a multimedia research approach to studying the gamification of war in Victorian era fiction, life writing, poetry, maps and toys. Through her analysis, Stover explores power relations between Victorian adults and children.
Claudia Nelson, Professor Emeritus of English and Stover’s faculty advisor, lavished high praise on her work. “This innovative and ambitious study intervenes in one of the liveliest and most significant conversations presently taking place in Victorian studies and children’s literature,” Nelson said. “It makes a genuine contribution to knowledge, not only through shrewd analysis, but also by expanding the range of what scholars in the field have examined.”
National Distinguished Dissertation Finalists
Texas A&M University will nominate the dissertations produced by Meichen Wang and Deanna Stover for the 2021 National Distinguished Dissertation Award competition sponsored by the Council of Graduate Schools and ProQuest. This year, dissertations in Biological and Life Sciences and Humanities and Fine Arts are eligible for national honors.
George Cunningham, senior associate dean for the Graduate and Professional School, commended the outstanding work of the winners. “Congratulations to this year’s winners, whose dissertations reflect the innovative, rigorous and impressive scholarship in which our doctoral students are engaged,” Cunningham said. “They have made significant scholarly contributions in their fields, and their work will make—and, in some cases, is already making—an impact on our world.”