2014-15 Presidential Graduate Fellows announced

August 12, 2014

University of Nebraska Interim President Dr. James Linder has announced the seven recipients of 2014-15 Presidential Graduate Fellowships. These prestigious fellowships honor a select group of NU graduate students each year on the basis of high scholastic performance and personal accomplishment. Fellows receive a stipend provided through the University of Nebraska Foundation that allows them to pursue their studies full-time.

This year, fellowships are presented to three students at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, two at the University of Nebraska at Omaha and two at the University of Nebraska Medical Center. The honored students are pursuing advanced degrees in natural sciences, English, educational psychology, cellular and integrative physiology and pharmacology and experimental neuroscience.

“The students who are honored with Presidential Graduate Fellows are among the University of Nebraska’s best and brightest. We are very fortunate to enjoy a level of private support that allows us to recognize these scholars and give them an opportunity to devote themselves fully to their academic pursuits,” Linder said. “While still in school, these students have already made important contributions to their scholarly fields. I’m certain we will continue to see great things from them.”

This year’s Presidential Graduate Fellows are:


Danielle Haak, of Milwaukee, Wis., a Ph.D. student in natural resource sciences at UNL. Haak’s research interests include ecological resilience, biodiversity, aquatic invasive species and organism energetics. She has spent significant time studying the Chinese mystery snail in order to understand the ecological or economic harm an organism can cause in a new environment where it is not native. In the last 18 months, Haak has published five peer-reviewed articles and participated in UNL’s Integrative Graduate Education and Research Traineeship (IGERT) program, which took her on a 10-week international trip where she collaborated with scientists from Austria, Hungary, France and Poland. She is currently participating in the Young Scientists Summer Program at the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA) in Austria, researching how humans influence species movement and energetics in southeastern Nebraska’s Salt Valley reservoirs. Through her dissertation research, Haak hopes to identify problem species and compare management actions across countries to develop innovative solutions that impact the field of invasion ecology. Haak earned her bachelor’s from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and her master’s degree from Michigan Technological University.


Jonathon Sikorski, of Hudson, Wis., a Ph.D. student in educational psychology at UNL. Sikorski’s dissertation will examine educators’ use of data to monitor student learning. He will look specifically at how to adequately measure teachers’ ability to collect, analyze and apply that data in the classroom. This is an essential contribution to national efforts to use data to strengthen schools’ accountability. Sikorski holds multiple leadership positions at UNL and nationally that include being a student mentor for his department, student liaison for the Academic Program Review, chair of the National Association of School Psychologists (NASP) Student Development Workgroup, and serving as a contributing editor of a monthly column in the NASP Communique. He has co-authored four journal articles, four book chapters and participated in 15 presentations at regional and national conferences. He received his undergraduate and master’s degree from the University of Wisconsin-River Falls. Sikorski’s long-term goal is to pursue a faculty position at a R1 university that would enable him to teach, research and collaborate with others.


Trisha Spanbauer, of Stevens Point, Wis., a Ph.D. student in earth and atmospheric sciences at UNL. Spanbauer followed a non-traditional path to her study in natural sciences. As an undergraduate she majored in art and worked in the non-profit sector for several years following her undergraduate education. She decided to change career paths to pursue earth sciences by taking multiple courses and volunteering in research laboratories, all while holding down a full-time job. Spanbauer’s research is at the intersection of micropaleontology and evolutionary biology and centers on understanding the evolution and diversity of microscopic species of freshwater algae. She is a member of the university’s Integrative Graduate Education and Research Traineeship (IGERT) program and has substantial experience in community outreach involving the education of different audiences about environmental science.


Elizabeth Heinrichs-Graham, of Marshalltown, Iowa, a Ph.D. student in psychology at UNO. Heinrichs-Graham is well on her way to becoming a leader in the field of neuroimaging. She is a full-time student in the Center for Magnetoencephalography (MEG), which is a human neuroimaging laboratory; and just commenced work on her dissertation – a groundbreaking study on the brain mechanics that underlie Parkinson’s disease. She currently has 15 peer-reviewed articles that have been published in the last two years and three more under review. Heinrichs-Graham also has co-authored a number of poster presentations at national conferences and a manuscript that was published in the No. 1 journal for acoustics and audiology, JASA. She received her undergraduate training at Creighton University, double majoring in psychology and chemistry and completed her master’s degree at UNO in psychology.


Meg Marquardt, of Omaha, a master’s student in English at UNO. Marquardt has attained great success in two different disciplines, earning her bachelor’s degree in physics from Creighton University and a master’s degree in science writing from Johns Hopkins University. She spent several years as a journalist before deciding to return to school to pursue teaching. She is a graduate teaching assistant in UNO’s Department of English. Her teaching interests include the importance of providing explicit and creative writing instruction to students in the sciences, showing students how to read complex scientific articles and translate them to appeal to various audiences. Her theoretical and pedagogical perspectives on science writing have also added to UNO’s First Year Writing Program and the richness of students’ experiences. Her research interests include the rhetoric of science, specifically the evolution of science literacy in the 19th and 20th centuries.


Duy Minh Ha, of Portland, Ore., an M.D./Ph.D. student in cellular and integrative physiology at UNMC. Ha graduated cum laude from Harvard University with a bachelor’s degree in biology as well as an honors certificate in the Mind Brain Behavior Program’s neuroscience track. He was former president of the Graduate Student Association and member of the UNMC Student Senate Executive Council. Currently Ha is the co-founder and co-president of the UNMC Interprofessional Society and member of the American Physician Scientist Association Policy Committee. Over the past few years, Ha has co-authored 13 publications and abstracts, and received more than 17 different honors, including the UNMC Graduate Student Scholarship for Leadership. He has spent his time at UNMC investigating peripheral artery disease (PAD), which is a condition caused by blockages of the arteries that provide blood flow to the arms and legs. No therapies currently exist for PAD that target the pathobiological disease processes at the skeletal muscle and microvasculature levels. Ha will use his fellowship to identify novel therapeutic targets that he hopes will increase limb function and quality of life of PAD patients.


Phillip Purnell, of Sacramento, Calif., a M.D./Ph.D. student in pharmacology and experimental neuroscience at UNMC. Purnell received his undergraduate training at the University of California-Santa Cruz, majoring in molecular, cell and developmental biology and completed his master’s degree at California State University, Sacramento in molecular and cellular biology. His Ph.D. dissertation research focuses on the role of autophagy in neurodegenerative disease. He has found that Drp1, a protein which regulates mitochondrial division, is regulated by the autophagy. This is a mechanism that the cell activates under stress and starvation. In addition, the research shows important mitochondrial changes can occur after neurons are exposed to the antiretroviral drug Efavirenz. Purnell has co-authored several publications in the field of neurodegeneration and cancer and has received funding for a number of research projects including the Bukey and Regents Tuition Fellowships. In the past he has also dedicated much of his research efforts toward treatment methodology in breast and lung cancer.

Media Contact:
Melissa Lee
Director of Communications,
University of Nebraska