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Six dissertation prizes were announced at the University of
Delaware’s 2022 Doctoral Hooding Ceremony on Thursday, May 26. Two of
the prize winners are in this photo. From left they are: Nancy
Rios-Contrera, criminology, who won the George Herbert Ryden Prize in
the Social Sciences; Lou Rossi, Dean of the Graduate College and Vice
Provost for Graduate and Professional Education; and Kristen Nassif, art
history, who won the Wilburn Owen Sypherd Prize in Humanities.
Six University of Delaware doctoral students have won dissertation
prizes for outstanding work in their disciplines — including chemical
engineering, art history, criminology, physics, human development and
family services, and bioinformatics data science.
The dissertation is the culmination of the doctoral effort, an
extensive written document that addresses in detail the question that
was the focus of research, explains the process used for that research
and describes the findings of the research.
UD’s 2022 awards, announced during the Doctoral Hooding Ceremony and
Graduate School Convocation on Thursday, May 26, underline the potential
impact these works could have on the world.
The winners this year include Kristen Nassif, Wilbur Owen Sypherd
Prize in Humanities; Nancy Rios-Contreras, George Herbert Ryden Prize in
the Social Sciences; Lin Shi, Allan P. Colburn Prize in Engineering and
Mathematical Sciences; Utkarsh Bajpai, Theodore Wolf Prize in Physical
and Life Sciences; Ginnie Sawyer-Morris, Dan Rich Prize; and Juniper
Lake, Interdisciplinary Research Prize.
Move this whole section up, swapping places with the section above it.
Kristen Nassif, art history, won the Sypherd Prize for her
dissertation “Unseeing Sight: Blindness in American Art and Material
Culture.” In this work, Nassif explores how sighted and blind people
made works of art in the mid-to-late 19th century, producing a
“ground-breaking contribution to the field of American art history,”
according to Wendy Bellion, professor and Sewell Biggs Chair in Art
History and director of the Center for Material Culture Studies.
“At a moment when the humanities are closely attuned to the important
questions about access, (dis)ability and equity, this interdisciplinary
dissertation on the historical and cultural representations of
blindness will impact multiple fields and excite many readers,” Bellion
wrote in her letter supporting the nomination.
Sandy Isenstadt, professor and chair of the Department of Art
History, said Nassif’s work is a “tour de force demonstration of the
dynamic and mutually interdependent relationship between vision and
blindness. Drawing from fields as diverse as anatomy, prosthetics,
optometry, cartography, tariffs and taxation, education and more, not to
mention the fine arts, Kristen’s work will without doubt astonish
scholars in her field.”
Nancy Rios-Contreras, criminology, won the Ryden Prize for her
dissertation “Lo Único Que Queremos Es una Oportunidad de Vida (All We
Want is an Opportunity of Life): Intersecting Migrant Experiences En
Route to the United States-Mexico Borderlands.”
The work is a study of the migrant experience, focused on those
traveling through Mexico en route to the United States, looking
especially at ethnicity, gender, citizenship, culture and resilience.
She spent more than 200 hours in the field and interviewed 100 migrants,
mostly from Guatemala, Honduras, Haiti and Mexico, according to the
letter of nomination by Eric Rise, associate professor of sociology and
Tricia Wachtendorf, professor of sociology and criminal justice and
director of the Disaster Research Center, said the work “makes important
contributions to social science fields, but — perhaps most
significantly — her work sheds light on challenges of national and
international import around the issue of migration, human rights and
Amarela Varela Huerta, professor at Universidad Autónoma in Mexico
City said “this thesis honors and demonstrates many intellectual and
political strengths to investigate social processes that seek to put the
dignity of migrant and binational communities at the center.”
Rise said the dissertation “is a timely investigation that advances
scholarly understanding of the migrant experience, challenges the
dominant political discourse about immigration and honors the humanity
of her research participants.”
Lin Shi, chemical engineering, won the Colburn Prize for his
dissertation “Performance, Durability and CO2 Removal of Hydroxide
Exchange Membrane Fuel Cells.”
Shi’s work addressed the key challenges in developing hydroxide
exchange membrane field cells (HEMFCs) for affordable zero-emission fuel
Among his contributions, “Lin improved the performance and durability
of HEMFCs to an outstanding level through careful engineering,
including material screening, operating condition optimization and fuel
cell modeling,” according to Prof. Yushan Yan, Henry Belin du Pont Chair
of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering. He also “demonstrated the
world’s highest HEMFC performance and longest durability with a
non-platinum anode and proposed a new concept for fuel cell water
management after observing a unique feature in the polarization curve.”
His work “is significant from both science and technology point of
view, which makes him stand out among his peers in exhibiting academic
excellence,” Yan said.
Shi also invented a new UD reactor design and published eight peer-reviewed journal articles during his doctoral work.
“The work pushes forward, both at UD and in the international
community, an important shift toward electrochemical processes that
enable renewable energy sources, sustainable catalytic processes and
advances critical decarbonization efforts to achieve long-term climate
stability while maintaining and growing the quality of life for all
people on the planet,” wrote Eric Furst, professor and chair of the
Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering.
Utkarsh Bajpai, physics, won the Wolf Prize for his dissertation
“Quantum-Classical Hybrid Approach Towards Out-of-Equilibrium
Time-Dependent Spintronics Systems and the Role of Backaction of
“His dissertation is a theoretical and computational work that
deepens the understanding of and the insights into critical issues in
the field of spintronics, which started about 30 years ago and has
evolved into a very broad and vibrant research area with great
technological potential and intellectual depth,” Yi Ji, associate
professor of physics and astronomy, and Edmund Nowak, professor and
chair of the Department of Physics and Astronomy, wrote in a joint
letter of support.
“For the success of spintronics, it is immensely important to
understand the behaviors and interactions of spins and charges in
non-equilibrium and many-body situations in magnetic materials,” they
wrote. “These are complicated physical problems to tackle and require
profound physical insights, strong analytical skills and extraordinary
computational talents, all of which have been demonstrated by Dr.
Bajpai wrote 12 peer-reviewed articles during his doctoral work and
his adviser, Prof. Branislav Nikolić, said he “will produce many
important contributions in the future. He is heading toward a stellar
research career in academia or industry comparable to other graduate
students or postdocs who were working on the frontiers of nonequilibrium
quantum many-body physics.”
Ginnie Sawyer-Morris, human development and family sciences, won the
Dan Rich Prize — awarded to a student whose doctoral research has the
potential to make a difference in the lives of Delawareans — for her
dissertation “Exploring Gender-Specific Differences in Substance Abuse
Disorder Recovery Capital: A Multiple-Group Latent Growth Modeling and
Random Forest Approach.”
Sawyer-Morris’ work represents cutting-edge science with highly
advanced data analytic techniques, Valerie Earnshaw, associate professor
of human development and family services, wrote in her letter of
“Her growing program of research, including her dissertation
research, seeks to identify factors that facilitate women’s recovery
from substance use disorders,” Earnshaw wrote. “This is a critically
important issue to study today. The opioid epidemic has gotten worse
during the COVID-19 pandemic, with deaths due to overdoses hitting
record highs over the past two years. Delaware has been particularly
hard hit by the opioid epidemic.
“Although gender has been recognized to play an important role in
addiction and recovery, it has been understudied during the opioid
epidemic and overlooked in recovery programming nationally and within
Delaware. Ginnie’s research fills this critical gap.”
Juniper Lake, bioinformatics data science, won the Interdisciplinary
Research Prize for her dissertation “Muscle Disorder or Metabolic
Disorder: Genomic, Transcriptomic and Metabolic Insights into the
Pathogenesis of Wooden Breast and White Striping in Commercial Broiler
Wooden breast is a muscle disorder in broiler chickens. Lake’s work required collaboration in data science and systems biology.
“Juniper’s dissertation project provided novel bioinformatics
applications using cutting-edge research, which may lead to the cause of
diseases in animals, as well as provide clues about the cause of
similar diseases in humans,” Cathy Wu, Unidel Edward G. Jefferson Chair
in Engineering and Computer Science and director of UD’s Data Science
Institute, wrote in her letter of support.
“Integrating experimental and bioinformatics data, Juniper’s research
will have broad impact on the scientific and data science community,
allowing researchers to address important bioinformatics and systems
Behnam Abasht, associate professor of animal and food sciences, said
“Juniper’s studies continue to form the basis for a much-needed
comprehensive understanding of the progression of Wooden Breast and
eventual mitigation strategies. She has made substantial progress on
this topic and her work has drawn the attention of poultry scientists as
well as major players in the poultry industry.”
Article by Beth Miller, photo by Evan Krape
Originally published May 31, 2022