(l-r) Viridiana Martinez, Angela Achorn, Asim Maity and Caitlin Castaneda
The Texas A&M University Graduate and Professional School has selected its U.S. Senator Phil Gramm Fellowship award winners for 2021. The Senator Phil Gramm Fellowships are given annually to outstanding current doctoral students whose excellence in both research and teaching exemplifies the meaning of scholarship and mentorship in the highest sense.
Made possible by gifts from donors in honor of Gramm, these awards reflect Gramm’s appreciation of the vital role graduate students play in helping Texas A&M achieve its teaching and research mission, as well as honor his legacy of scholarship and public service .
Gramm received a Ph.D. in economics from the University of Georgia and served as an economics professor at Texas A&M for 12 years before turning to politics. Gramm first represented Texas’ 6th congressional district in the U.S. House of Representatives before being elected to the U.S. Senate, where he served for nearly two decades. He is currently the senior partner of Gramm Partners, a public policy firm in Washington, D.C., and is the senior advisor at U.S. Policy Metrics.
The 2021 awardees each receive a personalized certificate and a fellowship in the amount of $5,000 to support their continuing studies.
The 2021 Phil Gramm award winners are:
Achorn is a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Anthropology. She graduated from Rhode Island College with a bachelor’s degree in anthropology and a minor in environmental studies and earned her master’s degree in anthropology at Texas A&M. Previously, she studied cultural perceptions of primates as pets, trash-raiding behaviors by white-faced capuchins, intestinal parasite infections in select lemur species, and genetic benefits of mate choice. She received a Fulbright U.S. Student Research Award to travel to Indonesia to study Sulawesi crested macaques, but had to return to the U.S. partway through the grant period due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Her current dissertation research examines the function of food sharing within the Fongoli chimpanzee community, a population of savanna-dwelling chimps in southeastern Senegal. This dissertation research is part of a collaboration with Jill Pruetz, Texas State University, and the Fongoli Savanna Chimpanzee Project.
A doctoral candidate in the Department of Veterinary Integrative Biomedical Sciences, Castaneda’s research is focused on understanding the genetics and genomics of stallion fertility. To fully explore this topic, her projects combine interdisciplinary “bioinformatics research” (a blend of computer science, mathematics, physics and biology) and classical chemistry research. She has published her results as a first author in several peer-reviewed journals and has presented her research at numerous national conferences. Castaneda has served as a mentor for nine undergraduate students and one fellow graduate student during her graduate career. The U.S. Senator Phil Gramm Doctoral Fellowship is her first university award at Texas A&M.
Maity is a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Chemistry and a member of the Powers Research Group. He was born and raised in West Bengal, India, and completed his Bachelor of Science from Jadavpur University, Kolkata, and his Master of Science from the Indian Institute of Technology Kharagpur. His doctoral research focuses on developing innovative processes to efficiently and sustainably synthesize and replicate organic small molecules. His research accomplishments have been published in high-impact chemistry journals and recognized by awards such as the Bruno J. Zwolinski Endowed Graduate Fellowship and the Sharon Dabney Memorial Fellowship. Outside of his research, Maity has mentored several undergraduate students and served in multiple student-led organizations.
A Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Ecology and Conservation Biology (ECCB), Martinez’s research focuses on the impact of environmental stressors on health in wild birds and spans across the fields of ecology, endocrinology, immunology and parasitology. Her dissertation research has the potential to contribute significantly to understanding the spread of avian diseases under environmental change, especially in West Texas, which is an understudied region predicted to be a hotspot of climate change over the next century. She has served as a teaching assistant and lead teaching assistant for the Fundamentals of Ecology laboratory course, where her work during the COVID-19 pandemic was essential in developing new assignments and labs for remote students. In recognition of her dedication to teaching and mentoring, she was awarded the ECCB departmental Outstanding Graduate Teaching Assistant award in 2021. Martinez is also dedicated to STEM outreach and has served as the Texas A&M chapter president for the Society for Advancing Chicanos and Native Americans in Science (SACNAS) in 2019-2020, as well as vice president of the Ecology and Conservation Biology Graduate Student Association in 2020-2021. She mentors students and has trained numerous undergraduates in avian ecology techniques at her remote field sites in West Texas, providing them with a fully immersive field research experience.