University of Nebraska President James B. Milliken has announced the eight recipients of 2011-12 Presidential Graduate Fellowships. These prestigious fellowships honor NU graduate students – four at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, two at the University of Nebraska at Omaha and two at the University of Nebraska Medical Center – on the basis of high scholastic performance, personal accomplishment and innovative research. This year, fellowships are presented in teaching, learning and teacher education; business; chemistry; mathematics and computer science; biology; industrial-organizational psychology; cancer research; and biochemistry and molecular biology.

“The recipients of Presidential Graduate Fellowships are among the University of Nebraska’s most outstanding students – future scientists, teachers and business leaders who are accomplishing extraordinary things in the laboratory, the classroom and beyond,” Milliken said. “We are fortunate to have a level of private support that allows us to provide these students an opportunity to devote full time to their academic pursuits. I’m confident we will see great things from each of our fellows.”

Each fellow receives an annual stipend provided through the University of Nebraska Foundation.

This year’s Presidential Graduate Fellows are:

University of Nebraska-Lincoln
  • Bradley Baurain Bradley Baurain, Chicago, a Ph.D. candidate in teaching, learning and teacher education. With 20 years of teaching experience already under his belt – half of it in China and Vietnam – Bauran’s career goal is to become a university-level teacher educator and researcher. One of his prime research interests is the impact of spiritual and religious beliefs on teachers’ classroom philosophies and actions, an area in which little formal data has been gathered. Baurain has written and presented on this subject, and it is the focus of his Ph.D. dissertation. Baurain’s research could help lead to a more holistic understanding of how and why teachers think and act, which is key to developing better practices in student achievement and teacher development.

  • Shannon Cummins Shannon Cummins, Waco, a Ph.D. candidate in business. Cummins’ research focuses on the uninvestigated outcomes of networks on firms, industries and marketplaces. Her dissertation – the first of its kind – explores how network ties between firms’ top management teams inform the strategies these firms employ and their subsequent performance. The dissertation grew out of an earlier study Cummins had submitted to the premier journal in her field, the Journal of Marketing, which then asked her to submit an extended version of the piece. Cummins is a Fulbright Scholarship winner who studied at the Warsaw School of Economics in Poland before returning to UNL to earn her MBA in agribusiness and enter her Ph.D. program.

  • Rhitankar Pal Rhitankar Pal, Kolkata, India, a Ph.D. candidate in chemistry. Pal’s career objectives are directed toward solving fundamental problems in nanoscience and technology using modern computational chemical techniques. His research has focused on novel gold nanoparticles and how they bind with molecules such as carbon monoxide and oxygen. Nano-gold clusters have the potential to be a catalyst for a process that could remove toxic carbon monoxide from the atmosphere, thus making the planet greener and safer. Pal has built a strong research record and has been published in leading scientific journals. He also is well-known in his department for his character, receiving high ratings as a teaching assistant and volunteering each year for UNL’s Chemistry Day, an event to encourage high school students to pursue chemistry careers.

  • Derrick Stolee Derrick Stolee, Lincoln, a Ph.D. candidate in mathematics and computer science. Stolee, a graduate of the Jeffrey S. Raikes School of Computer Science and Management, was called “probably the most brilliant student I have ever interacted with” by one of his Fellowship recommenders. Stolee combines tools from applied mathematics and computer science to tackle pure mathematical problems, a tactic that could help bridge the gap between the computer science and mathematics research communities. Stolee’s specialty is graph theory, which studies relationships in a collection of objects. He already has produced several research papers on this and other topics, and he hopes to become a professor at a research university in order to continue his work while also educating the next generation of professionals.

University of Nebraska at Omaha
  • Robert Stanton Robert Stanton, Hoffman Estates, Ill., a master’s degree candidate in biology. Stanton’s master’s thesis research focuses on immunological costs of parental care in Nicrophorus marginatus (a type of burying beetle). His research interests include the behavioral ecology of social and semi-social insects, particularly Nicrophorus species; the ecological impacts and implications of arthropods in prairies; plant-insect interactions; and the effects of prairie restorations on insect populations. This research has important implications for the management of insect populations. Stanton has presented at several conferences and has served as a teaching assistant at UNO for several years. He carries a 3.9 grade point average and earned his bachelor’s degree at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

  • Benjamin Wigert Benjamin Wigert, Hastings, a Ph.D. candidate in industrial-organizational psychology. Wigert, who carries a 3.98 grade point average, is a research associate and trained facilitator at UNO’s Center for Collaboration Science. His research interests include creativity, decision-making, teamwork, and facilitation of technology-based collaboration. Wigert is a member of the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology and recently learned that he had been selected to present a poster, “Are Perfectionists Creative? The Relationship Between Perfectionism and Creativity,” at the American Psychological Association Convention. Wigert also is active in the community, serving as a basketball and tennis coach for the Special Olympics and volunteering for Habitat for Humanity.

University of Nebraska Medical Center
  • Jesse Cox Jesse Cox, Bellevue, a Ph.D. candidate in cancer research. Cox’s research focuses on understanding how transcription factors, specifically Sox2, and their associated proteins contribute to the self-renewal of embryonic stem cells and tumor cells. Specifically, Cox’s team has identified Sox2-associated proteins in various cell systems, including embryonic stem cells, embryonic stem cells undergoing the early stages of differentiation, and brain tumor cells. The team has identified novel Sox2-associated proteins that are critical for maintaining the self-renewal of both embryonic stem cells and brain tumor cells. Their studies will provide new insights into the mechanisms driving stem cells and tumor cell self-renewal. Cox has been co-director of the Midwest Student Biomedical Research Forum since 2008.

  • Parama Dey Parama Dey, Kolkata, India, a Ph.D. candidate in biochemistry and molecular biology. Dey’s research focuses on the role of human ecdysoneless protein in pancreatic cancer. She is testing the hypothesis that hECD plays a role in the pathogenesis of pancreatic cancer by regulating cancer cell-specific metabolic pathways. Her work has important implications for developing new therapies and treatments for pancreatic cancer. She has been included as a co-author on a review article that was published in Expert Reviews in Endocrinology and Metabolism and a manuscript in Stem Cells, among other recognitions. Dey came to UNMC from the University of Calcutta, one of the top universities in India, and completed her undergraduate studies at Presidency College Calcutta, ranking 9th among nearly 800 students.


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