(top row, l-r) Abigail Clevenger, Allison Esparza, Brandon Boring and Drew Gonzalez; (bottom row, l-r) Mohammad Aghajani Delavar, Miriam Morua Catalán and Jenna Hulke
Texas A&M’s Graduate and Professional School recently selected its U.S. Senator Phil Gramm Fellowship award winners for 2023. The fellowship awards, made possible by gifts from donors in honor of Gramm, honor the former senator’s commitment to scholarship, leadership, and public service by reflecting his recognition and appreciation for Texas A&M’s graduate students, particularly in the role they play to help the university achieve its teaching and research missions.
Having earned a Ph.D. from the University of Georgia, Gramm served as an economics professor at Texas A&M from 1966 to 1978. Turning to politics, he first represented Texas’ 6th congressional district in the House of Representatives before being elected to the U.S. Senate. He currently serves as the senior advisor at U.S. Policy Metrics, as well as the senior partner of Gramm Partners.
Fellowships are annually awarded to outstanding doctoral students whose excellence in both research and teaching exemplifies the meaning of scholarship and mentorship in the highest sense. This year, awardees each receive a personalized certificate and a $5,000 fellowship to support their continuing studies. They will be honored at an invite-only ceremony held on Nov. 7.
This year’s U.S. Senator Phil Gramm Doctoral Fellowship Award winners are:
Mohammad Aghajani Delavar
Delavar is a doctoral candidate studying structural engineering in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering under the supervision of Dr. Petros Sideris. He earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in civil engineering from the University of Tehran. His research approach incorporates analytical, numerical and experimental analyses to inform reinforcement and design strategies that will increase structural resilience under stress. In his dissertation, Delavar focuses on the structural performance of 3D printed concrete (3DPC) walls in seismic regions. He has made notable contributions to the field; he has published four articles, has two more under review, and has led the development of a soon-to-be-published practice document for 3DPC buildings for the Department of Housing and Urban Development. In addition to research, Delavar has taught engineering courses and served as both president and senator in various student organizations, demonstrating his dedication to driving positive change within the campus community. His commitment to excellence has been recognized through numerous scholarships and travel awards, including the Southerland Aggie Leader Scholarship, the Academic Excellence Award, and the Structural Engineers Association of Texas (SEAoT) – Houston Chapter Scholarship. Beyond academia, he has actively engaged in community service, participating in events like the Big Event and organizing charity food festivals to raise funds for flood victims in Iran.
Boring is a doctoral candidate studying social and personality psychology in the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences under the advisement of Dr. Vani Mathur. Prior to arriving at Texas A&M, Boring earned a bachelor’s degree in biochemistry from McDaniel College and a master’s degree in experimental psychology from Towson University. His current research assesses psychosocial factors that both contribute to – and are affected by – pain experiences, with specific focus on self and identity, social threats, and pain communication. His dissertation assesses the role of self-conscious emotions as predictors of pain outcomes. He has previously been awarded a dissertation fellowship by the former College of Liberal Arts (now Arts and Sciences). Additionally, he has been recognized in a trainee spotlight by the United States Association for the Study of Pain, he was named runner-up for the G.F. Gebhart Journal of Pain Young Investigator Award, and his research has been covered by the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC). In addition to his research, Boring mentors undergraduates. One of his undergraduate research assistant mentees recently contributed to a published paper on the role of self-perceived stress reactivity on the development of chronic pain.
Miriam Murua Catalán
Catalán is a doctoral candidate in the Department of Ecology and Conservation Biology, co-advised by Dr. Carol Loopstra and Dr. Georgianne Moore. Catalán’s research investigates a novel field technique to characterize radial sap flux profiles at higher spatial resolutions to improve the measurement accuracy of transpiration using the thermal dissipation method. She hopes her research contributes to the improvement of scaling of transpiration in forests to understand how water resources are affected by drought and heat waves. She has presented her research at 20 local, national and international meetings and has published four peer-reviewed articles. During her time at Texas A&M, she has received numerous awards such as the Avilés -Johnson Fellowship, the Tom Slick Graduate Research Fellowship, and the Water Resources and Policy Initiatives/United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Watershed Management Doctoral Scholarship. Catalán was also a winner of the 2023 Distinguished Graduate Student Award, presented by The Association of Former Students. For three years, Catalán has served as a teaching assistant and curriculum assistant for the fundamentals in ecology course, where she helped revamp curriculum and trained both undergraduate and graduate teaching assistants. She has also mentored eight undergraduate research assistants through the Aggie Research program. She holds leadership positions with several on-campus organizations, where she demonstrates her passion for service, education, research and advocacy.
Clevenger is a doctoral candidate in the Department of Biomedical Engineering under the guidance of Dr. Shreya Raghavan. She earned a bachelor’s degree at Trinity University, where she developed a passion for biomedical research through her work on diabetic wound healing and Alzheimer’s. Her current dissertation research explores the effect of cell mechanics on colorectal cancer growth. Her findings have been shared through numerous national conferences and peer-reviewed publications. She was awarded a National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine Ford Foundation Graduate Student Fellowship Honorable Mention and has completed both the Academy for Future Faculty and Graduate Mentoring Academy certifications. Additionally, Clevenger led the development of the biomedical engineering course offered during Aggie STEM camp for the past two summers and was an integral part of the Biomedical Engineering Graduate Student Association’s children’s book project, ABCs of Biomedical Engineering. She said she thoroughly enjoys sharing her love of biomedical engineering with K-12 students. Her passion about education also expands to the campus community with her involvement in both classroom teaching and mentoring undergraduate students in the lab. Following her Ph.D. program, Clevenger plans to become an academic scientist, where she can impact the biomedical research community and train future leaders in the field.
Esparza is a doctoral candidate studying curriculum and instruction in science education under the advisement of Dr. Joanne K. Olson. Esparza graduated from the University of North Texas with a bachelor’s degree in geography and a minor in geology, before earning a master’s degree in plant, soil, and environmental science at West Texas A&M. She also earned a master’s in curriculum and instruction with a science emphasis at the University of Houston. Before coming to Texas A&M, she spent 10 years as a middle school science teacher. Her research experience includes working as a Research Specialist and Lead Coordinator for Literacy-Infused Science Using Technology Opportunities (LISTO). She also received a School of Education and Human Development Research Grant. Her current research examines the development of educational science standards in a state with a long history of centralized curriculum control.
Gonzalez is a doctoral candidate studying sport nutrition under Dr. Rick Kreider in the Department of Kinesiology and Sports Management. He graduated from Texas State University with bachelor’s and master’s degrees in exercise science. Gonzalez currently works as a Graduate Teaching and Research Assistant in the Exercise and Sport Nutrition Laboratory, while also being the founder and chief leader of the Tactical Athlete Research Unit (TARU) at Texas A&M. He is an Armstrong Scholar Graduate Award and 2023 American Kinesiology Association Graduate Writing Award recipient. His research focuses on the impacts of nutrients and exercise on fitness, cognition, and cardiometabolic health. He has worked on several projects focused on improving the physiological stress responses among firefighters and law enforcement officers. He recently authored the International Society of Sports Nutrition Position Stand on Tactical Athlete Nutrition. Upon graduating, Gonzalez plans to work in the academic setting and conduct research with first responders.
Hulke is a doctoral candidate studying biology under the guidance of Dr. Charles Criscione. Before attending Texas A&M, Hulke worked as a field ecologist in India studying the use of vector control to limit the spread of parasitic diseases in India. She then gained field experience as a project manager for the University of California, Santa Barbara. She lived in Kenya for two years, where she examined the influence of watering holes on the transmission of parasites in cattle and wildlife. Her current research focuses on the evolution of complex life cycles of helminth parasites. Specifically, her research is addressing why many parasites require three hosts to complete their life cycles while others only need two. During her time at Texas A&M, she has published two papers as first author and three as a co-author and has presented her research at four national conferences. She is passionate about mentoring and has supervised seven undergraduate researchers. Hulke has been recognized for her excellence in research and teaching by the Texas A&M biology department by being the recipient of the Lawrence S. Dillion Distinguished Graduate Student Award.