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and Social Sciences

The University of Houston
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CLASS Dissertation Completion Fellows preparing for Commencement 2014

Six scholars awarded stipends to help them finish dissertations and graduate

After years of coursework, the dissertation marks the beginning of the end of a doctoral candidate’s journey to their PhD.

Two years ago, a new fellowship was created to make life easier for those students who are working on their dissertations. Dissertation Completion Fellowships provide stipends of $20,000 to cover students' expenses for up to a full academic year while they complete their dissertations.

The funding for the program came out of a Houston Endowment grant of $5 million to support doctoral education at the University of Houston. A portion of those funds was designated for CLASS and Dean Roberts used the money to establish the Dissertation Completion Fellowships. He also supplemented the Houston Endowment money with additional cash from the Delores Welder Mitchell Endowed Scholarship Fund in the College.

The 2013 cohort of fellowship winners span a wide variety of disciplines, from History to Health and Human Performance.

2013 Dissertation Completion Fellowship Winners

Student: Maria Corsi

Maria Corsi
Medieval History
Dissertation:  “Elite Networks and Material Cultural Exchange in Early Medieval Denmark”

Corsi is exploring colonialism as a major force in cultural integration and change. Her particular focus is on how and why "European" culture spread to Denmark in the Middle Ages as a form of ‘colonialism’ and what the economic and social consequences of this cultural integration were.

“Maria is one of the most intelligent students I have ever had,” said her dissertation director, Dr. Sally Vaughn, professor of History. “She is a fine scholar and researcher she has achieved significant progress in her published articles and her conference papers.”

Student: Marius Dettmer

Marius Dettmer
Kinesiology/Health and Human Performance
Dissertation: “Vibration of the Foot Sole as an Intervention to Improve Older Adults’ Postural Stability”

Dettmer’s dissertation investigates the potential of a new technique that augments sensory feedback from the soles of the foot that is used to maintain stable, upright posture.  The project involves applying mechanical vibration to the feet via specially designed insoles. His research experiments will test whether this technique actually improves postural control mechanisms in the elderly and whether it enables older adults to cope better with demanding postural tasks. 

“During his time as a PhD student at UH, I have been working closely with Marius as his instructor and research advisor,” said his advisor Dr. Charles Layne, professor and chair of UH Department of Health and Human Performance. “As a student he has shown broad academic interest, a high motivation and strong work ethic, while consistently providing high-quality work over the course of his studies.”

Lauren Genovesi
English/Creative Writing
Dissertation Novel: “Positive Space”

Genovesi’s project, a novel, is an attempt to invent a new kind of narration more relevant to contemporary characters than existing models, and to make a significant contribution to contemporary fiction.  As part of her project, Genovesi devised a point of view system to more directly illustrate the process and effects of hyper-conscious thinking.

“Lauren is one of the most talented and dedicated students I’ve ever had the pleasure of teaching,” said her advisor, Dr. Robert Boswell, UH Cullen Chair of Creative Writing. “What makes Lauren’s novel project unique is that she is attempting to radically challenge conventional point-of-view practices. To my knowledge, no one has ever attempted such a point of view before.”

Student: Emily LaVoy

Emily LaVoy
Kinesiology/Health and Human Performance
Dissertation: “The Effect of Exercise on the Expansion and Function of Tumor-Specific T-cells”

Mounting Clinical data indicates that T-cell immunotherapy may be a potent strategy for cancer treatment.  One method, known as adoptive transfer immunotherapy, involves infusing specific T-cells into the patient. LaVoy’s dissertation research will investigate whether exercise can be used to address the challenges of adoptive transfer immunotherapy, providing a simple and cost-effective method to increase the number of tumor-specific T-cells and thus make adoptive transfer immunotherapy more effective.

“Emily has proven to be an extremely dedicated, productive and motivated student,” said her advisor, Dr. Richard Simpson, assistant professor in exercise physiology/Immunology. “Her intellect is substantial and the dedication she shows toward her PhD studies is highly commendable, making her both a pleasure and a challenge to work with.”

Student: Lindsey Rodriguez

Lindsey Rodriguez
Social Psychology
Dissertation: “Problem Drinking and Marital Distress”

Problem drinking affects millions of Americans and is associated with higher rates of depression, anxiety, relationship and family disruptions, and comorbid substance use and dependence.  Research indicates that once both problem drinking and relationship distress exist, they often exacerbate each other, creating a feedback loop with negative outcomes for both the drinker and the partner.  The long-term objective of Rodriguez’s dissertation research is to lay the groundwork for future interventions by increasing empirical knowledge of the reciprocal relationship between heavy alcohol use and marital distress. 

“Linsday came at the perfect time in the perfect place with all the right ingredients for an immensely successful collaboration and integration of ongoing basic and applied research in our department,” said her advisor, Dr. C. Raymond Knee, professor and director of graduate education. “Never before have I encountered a student with so much potential and such an amazing balance of skills.”

Student: Natalie Schuster

Natalie Schuster
US History
Dissertation: “Political Disasters: US Federal Disaster Relief, 1927-2005”

Schuster’s dissertation examines the federal politics of disaster relief from the early 20th century to the early 21st, using as its bookends the Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 and Hurricane Katrina in 2005. The dissertation seeks to understand why government has often mishandled disaster relief, even as the government’s scope and size has expanded. 

“Natalie possesses a keen intellect and a sharp wit,” said her advisor, Dr. Nancy Young, professor and chair of the department of History. “Moreover, she has the ability to ask penetrating and important questions that cut to the essence of the topic being studied.”

The 2013 fellowship cohort will follow in the footsteps of last year’s fellows who were able to spend 2012 concentrating on completing their dissertations. Among them was Janine Joseph (English/Creative Writing), who completed her PhD and is currently beginning a tenure-track assistant professor position in English/Creative Writing at Weber State University in Ogden, UT.