Recognizing Graduate and Professional Students for Outstanding Achievement in Research, Community Service, Teaching and Leadership During Academic Year 2020-2021
“Carolina’s graduate students are essential to our University’s mission of research, teaching, and service. I’m inspired by our graduate students who contribute to innovative discoveries that make a difference in our state and beyond.
Graduate students are at the heart of what makes Carolina a global public research university. Graduate students are instrumental in supporting others, including undergraduate students, as they pursue their own academic and professional goals. They champion our University’s faculty and staff members, and they serve our community. On behalf of our University, thank you, graduate students, for all that you do. ”
Kevin M. Guskiewicz
“UNC-Chapel Hill is known for its excellence, powered by its mission of exemplary research, teaching, and service. Carolina’s graduate and professional students play a critical role in fulfilling these missions. Our students become scholars who will continue to propel their disciplines forward. They inspire others through their dedication to public service and to our state. And, they shape undergraduate careers through with their enthusiasm and compassion in the classroom.
Despite the challenges they have faced during this extraordinary year, Carolina graduate and professional students have continued to teach, serve, innovate and investigate in ways that both enhance the reputation of our university and improve quality of life for citizens of North Carolina and beyond. This week, as we celebrate our graduate and professional students and their many achievements, we also thank them for their essential contributions to our university. We also thank faculty, staff, and administrators who are dedicated to our students’ success. Congratulations on your many accomplishments, graduate and professional students, and all best in your endeavors ”
Suzanne E. Barbour
Dean of The Graduate School
Graduate students and graduate alumni make an impact through their research, which benefits our state and beyond. Each year, The Graduate School honors graduate students in programs throughout our University for their powerful discoveries that contribute to a better future for people and communities in North Carolina.
We're pleased to present 11 Impact Awards and five Horizon Awards for 2021.
Summer Research Fellowships provide summer support to doctoral students so they may focus exclusively on their dissertation research. The students were selected for the quality of their work, their readiness to productively use the time this summer, and their mentors' willingness to work with them and provide guidance.
We're pleased to present 33 Summer Research Fellowships for 2021.
The dissertation is the highest level of graduate student scholarship. Recipients of the 2021 Dean’s Distinguished Dissertation Award are making outstanding contributions — read about their research in their own words.
Dissertation Adviser: Christopher Johns and the late Mary Sheriff
“My dissertation examines how Europeans and Ottomans politicized images and artifacts related to ancient sites, such as Palmyra and Athens, throughout the 18th century. I argue the resulting narratives of cultural entitlement were used as political justifications for imperial expansion by both groups in present-day Syria, Iraq and Greece.”
Dissertation Adviser: Marisa Domino
“Deaths from opioid overdoses continue to devastate communities across the country, but it doesn’t have to be this way. Medication treatment for opioid addiction is safe and effective although it remains underused. My dissertation examined access and quality of medication treatment in Medicaid, the country’s largest payer of addiction treatment.”
Dissertation Adviser: David Pfennig
“Where do new traits come from? Diverse evidence from spadefoot toads supports the controversial hypothesis that environmentally induced changes to development — phenotypic plasticity — can lead to the evolution of new features. More generally, this work provides critical information to inform ongoing debates around the origins of novelty, diversity and adaptation.”
Dissertation Adviser: Jinsong Huang
“My research is to develop technology to make energy consumption in the world affordable and environmentally friendly. I designed a novel surface treatment method, synthesized a new active layer and explored a unique encapsulation method to convert solar energy to electricity with perovskite solar cells in an efficient and green manner.”
This award, one of the Chancellor's Awards at Carolina, recognizes graduate and professional students who demonstrate exemplary character, scholarship, leadership and service by giving above and beyond to the greater University community.
Juanita Limas, a doctoral student in pharmacology, is the 2021 recipient of the Boka W. Hadzija Award for Distinguished University Service by a Graduate or Professional Student.
Ms. Limas is a Ph.D. candidate in pharmacology and is recipient of the prestigious Howard Hughes Medical Institute Gilliam Fellowship for Advanced Study. She has not only been involved but led a variety of important efforts focused on graduate student mental health and wellness during her time at UNC.
She started the mental health task force in her department (pharmacology) and created the Justice, Equity, Diversity & Inclusion (JEDI) Leadership fellows program in the Office of Training Initiatives in biomedical and biological sciences in the School of Medicine. She was an invited reviewer of the “Supporting the Whole Student: Mental Health and Well-Being in STEMM Undergraduate and Graduate Education” report of the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine and started the Initiative for Maximizing Student Diversity (IMSD) Peer Mentoring program for underrepresented graduate students at UNC.
Ms. Limas is co-founder of the Transforming Academic Ecosystems Consortium, which focuses on toxicity in academia and its impact on imposter syndrome and mental health. One nominator wrote “I cannot think of any student that I know at UNC who would be more deserving of this award…. Juanita's service to the broader community has been orders of magnitude above anyone else's.”
In the words of another nominator, “On top of her many accomplishments, what I find most impressive about Juanita is her passion and drive. Despite facing many hardships throughout her educational journey, she truly cares to make academia a more accessible place for minority students. She recognizes some of the toxic attributes of academic culture, and has put so much time and energy into addressing them for her fellow students and students to come…. She has been an inspiration and a driving force for me during my time at Carolina, and there are not enough awards in the world to recompense her for this or her friendship.”
It is an honor to bestow the 2021 Boka Hadzija Award for Distinguished Service on Ms. Limas for her outstanding service to the University community.
Student services managers work hard to support graduate students' academic success and professional development. The Graduate and Professional Student Federation and The Graduate School are pleased to present an award in recognition of this important work.
Kim Miles, student services coordinator for the classics department, is the 2021 recipient of the Excellence in Graduate Student Services Award.
Ms. Miles was nominated by students in the classics graduate program. Many students from a relatively small department came forward to talk about Kim's role in holding their community together — how she goes above and beyond to make sure everyone has what they need, promotes wellbeing and provides individual support to every student, and coordinates social gatherings to bring students together, which has been especially important this past year.
Students talked about Kim's ability and willingness to “organize our lives and ensure that nobody falls through the cracks,” going out of her way to provide students with quick responses to questions and to connect them with resources. She recently organized a guide to the Chapel Hill area to help new students, particularly international students, get acclimated to the area and see all the great things the community has to offer.
During normal times, Kim organized weekly teatimes for students to connect and made baked goods for everyone in advance of stressful exams; she's been sending care packages to students and has worked incredibly hard to keep things running “as normal” even as so much normalcy has fallen away from students' lives.
It is an honor to present the 2021 Excellence in Graduate Student Services award to Ms. Miles in recognition of her tremendous dedication to graduate students in the classics graduate program.
Directors of graduate studies provide exemplary leadership. The Graduate School is pleased to honor the many ways they provide outstanding support for graduate programs and their students.
Sara Smith, director of graduate studies for the geography graduate program, is the 2021 recipient of the Faculty Award for Excellence in Graduate Student and Academic Program Support. Graduate students submit a nomination letter, in addition to a letter expressing faculty support.
Dr. Smith was nominated by students in the geography graduate program who cited the tremendous support she has provided throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.
One student noted “In summer 2020, when many fellowships and employment opportunities were cancelled due to COVID-19, Dr. Smith worked with staff and faculty within and beyond the department to ensure that every graduate student could support themselves over the summer. She responded to the unique needs of international students, those supporting families, and of students unexpectedly leaving field sites abroad”.
Students also highlighted Dr. Smith’s attention to her students, saying “She always her time for her mentees, nominates them for awards, collaborates in writing projects, introduces them to key scholars, and helps build a vision and expand their networks. She has prioritized recruiting minority and international graduate students as her advisees, contributing”. Dr. Smith was also commended for the “personalized support” she provides to students in the Geography graduate program.
It is an honor to present 2021 Faculty Award for Excellence in Graduate Student and Academic Program Support to Dr. Smith, in recognition of her tremendous dedication to graduate students in her program.
This award recognizes an individual who has gone above and beyond what is normally required to make significant contributions that impact graduate education.
We are pleased to name Dr. David Lewis as the 2021 recipient of the Dean’s Award for Significant Contributions to Graduate Education. Originally from Binghamton, N.Y., Lewis earned his doctorate in chemistry from UNC-Chapel Hill in 1973. His career in industry took him from chemical production companies in Cleveland and New Jersey and eventually to Cary in 1988 with Lord Corp.
He was an active member of the UNC-Chapel Hill Graduate Education Advancement Board for nearly a decade, during which he did many things to support graduate education at our institution. Among his many contributions is his role in the development of our Professional Science Masters (PSM) programs, which provide students with the technical and business skills necessary for careers in industry.
“Dr. Lewis has been a special friend to The Graduate School for many years, having supported our efforts both financially and through his service on the Graduate Education Advancement Board. He is a visionary, who recognized the need to prepare Carolina graduate students for a diverse array of careers and leveraged his experience in the corporate sector to promote such training. This is one of the many ways that Dr. Lewis has helped to modernize graduate education on our campus; it is one of his many significant contributions to graduate education.
Thank you, Dave for your commitment to the future of graduate education at your alma mater.”
—Suzanne E. Barbour, Dean
The Three Minute Thesis (3MT) is an academic competition that assists current graduate students with fostering effective presentation and communication skills. Participants have just three minutes to explain the breadth and significance of their research project to a non-specialist audience.
Jeliyah Clark, an Ph.D. student who is completing her doctoral work in the environmental health sciences within the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health, won the UNC-Chapel Hill Three Minute Thesis (3MT) competition in fall 2020.
Here’s what she had to say about the experience:
“Participating in the 3MT competition was a huge step outside of my comfort zone! In the beginning, the greatest challenge was describing my research without explaining every detail of inorganic arsenic (iAs) metabolism. I have also never enjoyed public speaking opportunities and did my best to avoid them when I could. Growing up, I frequently incorporated humor into speeches as a coping mechanism—that’s why the bit about placental invasion being similar to a parasite was so easy to create. Through prayer and the support of my family and friends, I was able to write an engaging story about my dissertation work without mincing important details or over-simplifying the science.
Participating in the 3MT competition alone was a major accomplishment for me, and I was not expecting the competition to take me so far. I recently placed first in the Society of Toxicology’s (SOT) first 3MT competition, as well. The 3MT competition has refined my public speaking, writing, and teaching skills, and I find it easier to explain the goals and impacts of my research. Most importantly (to me) my family members became familiar with my research. In fact, my aunt can probably recite the speech better than I can at this point.
I look forward to future opportunities to talk about my work and am even considering additional science communication opportunities, which had not been as strong of an interest prior to competing. I am so grateful that my advisor, Rebecca Fry, PhD, encouraged me to participate.”
Throughout the year, organizations and programs throughout UNC-Chapel Hill honor graduate students for their contributions. These honors recognize mentorship, leadership, excellence in undergraduate teaching and other important areas.
External fellowships, which are highly competitive awards from the federal government and other organizations, add to Carolina’s reputation as one of the world’s leading public research universities. This academic year, 191 graduate students campus-wide, who represent 49 academic programs, received prestigious external fellowships.