President Hank Bounds announces prestigious graduate fellowship recipients

July 23, 2015

University of Nebraska President Hank Bounds announced today the six recipients of 2015-16 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 two students at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, two students from the University of Nebraska Medical Center and two students from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. The honored students are pursuing advanced degrees in sociology, human sciences, philosophy, pharmacology and neuroscience, English and psychology.

“The students who receive Presidential Graduate Fellowships represent the highest level of success at the graduate level. We are incredibly proud of the work they do, and we are fortunate to have a level of private support that allows them to fully devote themselves to their studies and research,” Bounds said. “These students are already making important contributions to their fields that are benefiting the university and people in the state and beyond. I’m eager to see what they accomplish in the future.”

This year’s Presidential Graduate Fellows are:



Mackenzie Harms, of Chicago, a Ph.D. student in industrial organizational psychology. Harms has an extensive background researching and analyzing for agencies such as USSTRATCOM and the Department of Homeland Security, and managing research laboratories. This year she was awarded a security clearance by the U.S. government to conduct intelligence research at USSTRATCOM. She was a featured presenter at the Strategic Multilayer Assessment group at John Hopkins University in Washington, D.C., presenting ISIS: A Strategic Analysis of Their Intangible Nature. Harms has conducted research in determining what leads to terroristic violence and written grants to secure funding for relevant research, projects on which she was often the lead graduate research assistant. Throughout her fellowship, Harms will study cognitive processes used in creative problem-solving. Her work will track how people seek out and select information to solve problems. Additionally, Harms will work on a team investigating group dynamics, finish a study on leadership within terrorist organizations, and begin a new study evaluating the reliability of information sources. Harms hopes to one day work in academia or continue her data analytical research work.


Heather Hannaford, of Omaha, an M.A. student in English. Hannaford has conducted research, supported by the Graduate Research and Creative Activity grant, on works from the Minerva Press held at both the Chawton House Library and the British Library. She studied the role of female characters and female curiosity in 18th- and 19th-century literature. In 2013, while interning for the Danish American Archive, Hannaford archived documents from the Elna Smith Melvin collection, which included letters from Aldous Huxley and Eleanor Roosevelt and works on Native American Tribes in the 1920s. She is the recipient of the Outstanding English Major Award (spring 2012 and 2013) and numerous scholarships. Hannaford will spend her fellowship preparing papers for publication, including research on Irish and English literature and 18th-century female engagement with empiricism. While finishing her degree, she will work on Ph.D. applications, intending to concentrate on romanticism and gothic literature, with the long-term goal of becoming a professor of British literature.


Elisha Hall

Elisha Hall, of Lincoln, a Ph.D. student in human sciences. Hall's goal is to fight socioeconomic-related nutrition disparities to improve community health and well-being. Poor nutrition can impact school performance, sleep patterns, illness, chronic disease development and mental health, and Hall believes each of these leads to a domino effect of other problems. Her research in the field has already made significant impacts on industry literature. Hall developed, validated and piloted a survey that measured nutrition-based knowledge, behaviors and self-efficacy in fifth-graders, finding important disparities between students at low-income and high-income schools. Her doctoral research evaluates an interactive elementary nutrition education program, examines the relationships between social cognitive theory constructs for low- and high-income groups, and explores rarely studied perspectives of teachers on classroom-based nutrition programming. Hall plans to one day teach and research in the field as a university professor. She hopes to create and evaluate programs that address the complexity of family life to in turn reduce health disparities, especially in children.

Rachel Schmitz

Rachel Schmitz, of Norfolk, a Ph.D. student in sociology. Through her current research, Schmitz hopes to provide better understanding of social phenomena. Her doctoral dissertation will focus on gender and sexuality among minority groups by studying LGBT members of the homeless community and LGBT college students. Schmitz has already achieved noteworthy success in the literary field. Thus far, Schmitz has seven scholarly publications, with four already published and three forthcoming, and has another four currently under review. Schmitz is the first sociology student in the department’s history to take both of her required comprehensive exams at the same time. Schmitz received her bachelor’s degree in sociology and Spanish from Wayne State College in 2009 before coming to UNL for graduate work. She plans to one day secure a job in academia and research disenfranchised groups, including homeless youth and LGBT young adults.



Crystal Epstein, of Columbus, a Ph.D. student in nursing. Epstein is a board-certified psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner. Her clinical and research area of interest is maternal-child mental health. The specific focus of her doctoral research is how maternal coping strategies influence stress-related health outcomes in pregnancy. Her long-term career goals are to teach in a college of nursing and to contribute research toward improving mental health outcomes among mothers and their children. Epstein has completed Leadership Education in Neurodevelopmental and Related Disabilities (LEND) through UNMC’s Munroe-Meyer Institute and is involved in a state-funded health policy project to improve access to mental health services among children in Nebraska. Her nursing education has been supported by a UNMC Regents Scholarship and the Nellie House Craven Scholarship for an Academic Career.


Aditya Bade, of Pathardi, India, a Ph.D. student in pharmacology and neuroscience. Bade received his bachelor’s degree in pharmacy from the Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar Marathwada University in India. He will earn his Ph.D. from UNMC with a thesis titled “Development of a Manganese-Enhanced Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MEMRI) Biomarker for Neuroinfectious and Neuroinflammatory Diseases.” Bade will use his scholarship to make significant progress in developing the applications of the MEMRI tool in rodent models of neurodegenerative diseases. Bade has earned several awards, including the Young Investigator Award (2015) and Trainee Stipend Award (2014). He has published in scholarly journals and presented at the national and international levels. Bade represented UNMC by presenting his research at the International Student Research Forum, once in 2013 in Australia, and again in 2014 in Denmark. In addition to research, Bade has volunteered his time organizing, developing, and executing leadership and community outreach activities at UNMC. He plans to pursue an M.B.A. at a top-tier business schools in the U.S., start his own biotech company in India, and promote basic science research in developing Asian countries.

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