Graduate School 2021 Excellence in Research Award Recipients

The Graduate School recognizes the outstanding scholarship of our graduates each year with the Excellence in Research by Graduate Students awards. Students who graduated the previous year are nominated by their departments in one in these five areas: Humanities and Fine Arts, Life Sciences, Mathematics and Physical Sciences, Professional and Applied Sciences, Social and Behavioral Sciences.

Dr. Evelyn Autry

Ph.D., Romance Language | Excellence in Research Award in the Humanities and Fine Arts

Conducting her dissertation research in Peru, Dr. Autry studied the ways that native female subjectivities have been constructed, both as victims and also as perpetrators of armed conflict.  Her innovative methodology used fiction, testimonial literature, memorials, and popular artistic forms and images to study the race and gender politics during and after the difficult times of the Peruvian armed conflict between the Shining Path guerilla movement and the military.  Her study emphasized the gender perspective of this conflict through the intersections among gender, violence, memory, class, citizenship, and ethnicity.

Dr. Autry has published 5 peer-reviewed articles, with writings and presentations in both English and Spanish.  She is now developing her dissertation into a book manuscript, Racismo, género, violencia y memoria en la narrativa peruana de los Andes.  Her dissertation research was supervised by Dr. Betina Kaplan.

Dr. Autry currently holds an American Council of Learned Societies’ Emerging Voices postdoctoral fellowship in the Department of Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at Rutgers University.


Dr. Cheng Meng

Ph.D., Statistics | Excellence in Research Award in the Mathematical and Physical Sciences

Dr. Meng’s research encompassed several different areas including contemporary statistical theory and methods and deep learning.  Deep learning is the use of machine learning algorithms to solve problems such as optimal transport problems, which requires an extraordinary amount of time to calculate using traditional computational methods. His dissertation research used the power of big data to address three fundamental challenges to deep learning, as explained by his faculty advisor: “the characterization of the mathematical foundation of deep learning; the development of computational methods to balance the trade-offs between computational costs and statistical efficiency; and, integration of model-driven and data-driven approaches for physical systems.”  His work seeks to connect the gaps across theoretical computer science, statistics, electrical engineering, mathematics, and applications that are needed to address critical issues for the development of deep learning.

Dr. Meng has six peer-reviewed articles, including two published by NeurIPS, the most prestigious machine learning conference.  Dr. Ping Ma supervised his dissertation research.

Dr. Meng is currently an assistant professor in Renmin University of China.


Dr. Ryan Mote

Ph.D., Interdisciplinary Toxicology Program | Excellence in Research Award in Professional and Applied Sciences

Dr. Mote’s dissertation research studied fescue toxicosis, which produces a life-threatening toxin in the tall grass, and effects of the toxins on the animals’ metabolome and microbiome.   Because the toxin is influenced by the harsh environmental conditions, his research also looked at these interactions in the context of heat stress.  His metabolome and microbiome data are the first of their kind for both fescue toxicosis and also for grazing beef cattle.  His research also evaluated the plant’s response to the infection.  Dr. Mote’s findings will be the foundation for the development of better treatment and management strategies for this disease, which causes more than 1 billion dollars in economic loss each year.

Dr. Mote has produced 6 peer-reviewed articles from his dissertation research.  He is currently preparing a manuscript of his findings for the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).  Dr. Nick Filipov was chair of Dr. Mote’s dissertation committee.


Dr. Samantha Spellicy

Ph.D., Neuroscience | Excellence in Research Award in Life Sciences

Dr. Spellicy’s research focused on a novel therapeutic for strokes, neural stem cell derived extracellular vesicles (NSC EVs).  NSC EVs are present in biological fluids and are involved in multiple physiological and pathological processes.1 Her independent in vitro microscopy work was the first and most comprehensive to demonstrate NSC EVs trafficking within recipient stem cells.  Further research showed that NSC EVs have an anti-inflammatory effect on activated microglia, a type of cell found in the brain and spinal cord. Additional analysis identified multiple significant morphological differences between normal, brains, stroked brains, and NSC EV-treated stroked brains.

Dr. Spellicy’s published research in Translational Stroke Research that identified a single parameter, midline shift, which was significantly correlated with gait, behavioral recovery, and survival in the porcine model of stroke, is currently in the 97th percentile for the number of accesses of approximately 400,000 articles of a similar publication date.  Dr. Steven Stice was her research supervisor.

She is currently a 3rd year medical student at the Medical College of Georgia at Augusta University.

1van Niel, G., D’Angelo, G. & Raposo, G. Shedding light on the cell biology of extracellular vesicles. Nat Rev Mol Cell Biol 19, 213–228 (2018).


Dr. Denise Woodall

Ph.D., Sociology | Excellence in Research Award in the Social Sciences

Dr. Woodall’s dissertation research focused on formerly incarcerated activists who “make it” and how their lived experiences shape their personal change path and how they use their activism to resist the marginalization of being labeled as a criminal.  Her work demonstrates that personal success after incarceration depends not only on the individual’s accountability, but also the ability to build social connections and engage in meaningful collective action. Because this is the first study about this unique group, it has the potential to shape the work of groups engaged in criminal justice reform.

During her doctoral studies, Dr. Woodall had 7 peer-reviewed publications, 5 of which were solo-authored articles, that focused both on her research and teaching practices in sociology. Dr. Sharon Shannon served as her major professor.

Dr. Woodall continues as a faculty member in the Department of Sociology and Human Services at the University of North Georgia.  She has also been instrumental in forming the new Convict Criminology section of the American Society of Criminology.

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