The University of Georgia’s Presidential Graduate Fellow award recognizes this year’s exceptionally qualified recipients for their outstanding scholarship and excellent potential for success in their chosen fields. It is the University’s most prestigious award for graduate students, made to the most qualified doctoral trainees. Nominations for this award are presented to the Graduate School by individual departments or interdisciplinary programs in late January.

Congratulations to the 2023 Recipients

Sarieh Amiribeirami
Department of Anthropology, Franklin College of Arts and Sciences

Sarieh AmiribeiramiSarieh Amiribeiram is an Iranian student who earned her Bachelor in Archaeology from the Bu-Ali Sina University and her Master in Archaeology-Archaeozoology from the University of Tehran. In 2011, she followed the seminar of “Initiation to Archaeozoology,” a cooperation between CNRS and the University of Tehran, which led to working as a freelance archaeozoologist at the Bioarchaeology Laboratory of the University of Tehran since 2013.

She analyzed several faunal assemblages from the Late Pleistocene to Mid Holocene, participated as an archaeozoology assistant in several international projects, attended national and international archaeozoology conferences and courses, and published scientific papers. Moreover, she is a member of the ICAZ and ICOMOS organizations.

Sarieh is interested in the study of the evolution of biodiversity, subsistence strategies including hunting and herding, mobility of human communities and their herds, and the interaction between sedentary and nomadic societies. She is eager to learn about practical aspects and interpretation of stable isotope data in archaeological contexts due to the fact that by using the recent developments in archaeological science supplemented by conventional archaeozoological methods, we can offer a better understanding of past human-animal relationships, significantly, when we are faced with a unique environment such as the Zagros Mountains in Iran as a favorable condition for a pastoral way of life.

She aims to continue and complete her education by realizing a PhD thesis in archaeozoology at UGA and to learn about new archaeological science, not only to reconstruct the human-animal relation, but also to investigate environmental, chronological and geographical matters.

Rui Bai
Department of Anthropology, Franklin College of Arts and Sciences

Rui BaiRui is passionate about learning archaeology. Rui completed her B.A. and M.A. degrees in the Department of Anthropology at Sun Yat-sen University. During that time, she was awarded several scholarships for outstanding performance. 

Rui has participated in a wide range of fieldwork in China, excavating sites from the Chinese Warring States period as well as the Song dynasty. At the same time, Rui did an internship at an archaeological institution and participated in zooarchaeological work. In addition, Rui has a strong interest in public archaeology and participated in the museum’s public outreach efforts. Rui has discovered, via prior experiences, that her research interests include settlement patterns and human-environment interactions. She is also very interested in investigating the use of GIS in archaeological research. In her Master’s thesis research project, Rui used GIS to explore the distribution of pre-Qin dynasty settlements and the relationship between humans and the environment in the Lijiang Basin of southern China.

Rui wants to study ancient societies using an anthropological perspective, and the archaeology track of the Department of Anthropology at UGA fits her interests perfectly. Meanwhile, the rich academic resources of the Department of Anthropology attracted her to choose to complete her Ph.D. study at UGA. Rui would like to work with Dr. Attila Gyucha on future research and hopes to have the opportunity to conduct more cross-cultural studies. In the future, Rui hopes to find a suitable job in academia and continue her archaeological journey.

Evelyn Barrales
Human Development/Family Sciences, College of Family and Consumer Sciences

Evelyn BarralesA Rock Hill, SC native, Evelyn Barrales graduated Magna Cum Laude May 2023 from Winthrop University with her B.S. in Human Development and Family Studies and B.A. in Modern Languages with a Concentration in Spanish. 

Through her coursework as an undergraduate Human Development and Family Studies student, she realized that there needs to be more research and teaching on the heterogeneity of Mexican American families. As a daughter of Mexican immigrants and first-generation college student, Evelyn is committed to closing that gap in the family science literature while also serving as a role model for other students like her. Her long-term goal is to be a tenured professor who teaches and conducts research related to Mexican American families. More specifically, within group differences among Mexican American families, influences of biculturalism on rural Mexican American family development, and gender identity development among Mexican American women in multigenerational households. She knew that UGA – an institution dedicated to groundbreaking research and social justice – was the perfect selection for her graduate studies. 

In the summer of 2022, as a McNair Scholar, Evelyn conducted research under the mentorship of Dr. Adrienne L. Edwards. In the research, they addressed the following question: In what ways do culture and mothering intersect to influence constructions of gender among rural Mexican American mothers and adult daughters in multigenerational households? Evelyn presented the research at the 2022 National Council on Family Relations (NCFR) Annual Conference as first author and was awarded the NCFR Student Access Grant. She was also recognized as a 2023 NCFR Honors Student.

Aditi Bhadauria
Environmental, Civil, Agricultural, and Mechanical Engineering, School of Chemical, Materials and Biomedical Engineering, College of Engineering

Aditi BhadauriaAditi is an enthusiastic and driven researcher, originally from India. She is currently pursuing her PhD in Biomedical Engineering at the UGA, prior to which she had been working as a Junior Research Fellow in the Defence Research and Development Organization (DRDO), India, which is the premier agency under the Department of Defence Research and Development in Ministry of Defence of the Government of India, where she worked on the molecular and immunological detection of biological warfare agents.

She earned her Bachelors of Technology in Biotechnology from Amity University, India, following which she acquired her Masters of Technology in Biotechnology from Motilal Nehru National Institute of Technology (MNNIT), Allahabad, India. Over the years, she has developed sharp analytical, laboratory, and technical skills via undertaking research projects at some of the top-notch institutes of international repute, such as IIT Kanpur, IISER Bhopal and Jamia Hamdard, during her time in India. She also gained apt exposure from her professional experiences by working under the prestigious scholarship awarded by the Department of Biotechnology (DBT, India), Government of India, for working in an industrial setting for the Research and development in Biotechnology-related areas.

Supporting her academic endeavors will be the soft skills she has enhanced during her eclectic extracurricular participation. She holds a strong work ethic with the ability to thrive in new and challenging situations. Being a professional swimmer and a triathlon player for 8+ years has instilled in her the discipline, indispensability of focus, teamwork, leadership skills and self- confidence, required to work in the field of research. Apart from this, Aditi also holds a diploma in Vocal Classical Indian Music and loves to paint in her free time. 

Through a PhD in Biomedical engineering from the University of Georgia, she aims to ultimately be a part of the biomedical scientist workforce and provide valuable information that can be of great use in biosensor-based early detection of pathogenic diseases in agricultural produce. UGA’s stellar reputation in research in Biosciences and Biomedical engineering, extensive research facilities and excellent university placement made it an easy choice for her to pursue her doctorate studies.

Eduardo Monteiro Burkle
International Affairs, School of Public and International Affairs

Eduardo BurkleEduardo Burkle is a Brazilian student who earned an MA in Human Rights and Democratization from the Global Campus of Human Rights and an LLB from the Universidade Estadual de Londrina. 

His Master’s Thesis focused on the Brazilian transitional justice experience and its relation with the recent rise of the far-right in Brazilian politics. For this research, he earned the Global Campus Europe (EMA) Award and an honorable mention for the Antonio Candido Award (Latin American Studies Association – Brazil Section).

Eduardo aims to continue pursuing his research interests in human rights, populism and democracy as a PhD student at the University of Georgia.

Karla Carvalho de Almeida
Environmental Design and Planning, College of Environment and Design

Karla AlmeidaKarla Almeida holds a bachelor’s degree in Architecture and Urban Planning, a master’s degree in Built Environment, and a specialization in Landscape Architecture. Her research focuses on urban water bodies conservation and urban microclimatology, both related to the land’s use and occupation.

Karla is passionate about sustainability and ecological projects, which helped her to choose the University of Georgia’s College of Environment and Design to pursue her doctoral degree. Additionally, as her undergraduate and graduate studies were developed in a high-knowledge public university, she is proud to continue to study at the birthplace of public higher education in America.

Karla received first-class honors during her graduate studies, including the best paper presented in the class and the well-known CAPES (Higher Education Personnel Improvement Coordination) Brazilian scholarship for graduate research. This particular paper was about how vegetation and urban morphology influence the development of urban heat islands, measuring temperatures of different areas, mapping their thermic potential, and analyzing the data statistically. Her goal is to continue to make important contributions to the urban ecology field through her research and work.

Onyinye Choko
Department of Sustainability, Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources

Onyinye ChokoOnyinye Prince CHOKO is a Nigerian. He holds a Master’s in Forest Economics and Management and a Bachelor’s in Forestry and Wildlife Management. His research interest is applying tools in economics in evaluating sustainable forest bioeconomic strategies. He is keen to study at Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources, University of Georgia (UGA), given the school’s outstanding reputation in natural resources management, which attracts such a variety of students. He believes Warnell offers the best resources to support his Ph.D. study. He is inspired to know that his research output would assist in mobilizing donor agencies to provide money for Natural Resources Conservation.

Onyinye has worked as a volunteer at the Biodiversity Wetland and Climate Change Centre, Rivers State University, Nigeria, and he is currently working as a lecturer in the Forestry and Wildlife Management Department at the University of Port Harcourt, Nigeria. He has contributed to creating a comprehensive knowledge base on the Niger Delta ecosystem services values, including data on key ecosystem components and processes needed to deliver services and trade-offs relevant to the delivery of those services.

Onyinye’s long-term career goal is to become an authority in forest economics and sustainability, where he would lead research and publish manuscripts that would inform policies on natural resource sustainability. He is especially interested in communicating his findings to non-scientific audiences like lawmakers, corporate bodies, and the public.

Gisell Fuentes
Department of History, Franklin College of Arts and Sciences

Gisell Fuentes is a proud, first generation Latina from northeast Georgia. Before attending the University of Georgia, she graduated from Emory University with a bachelor’s degree as a double major in history and Spanish and Portuguese. While attending Emory University, she received an award from the Emory College Language Center as the representative of Emory’s Portuguese department in its poetry contest. In addition to this, she also received an award for excellence in Lusophone studies. Her research interests lie at the intersection of migration, Southern history, labor history, and Latinx studies. She is interested in pursuing a research methodology that delves into oral histories. Gisell selected to pursue graduate studies at the University of Georgia due to the faculty within the history department that aligned with her research interests and methodology, in addition to the university’s growing digital humanities archives. She also looks forward to the lively ambience and community within the University of Georgia. After obtaining a PhD from the University of Georgia, she plans on joining the professoriate and advocating for first generation individuals occupying spaces of higher education.

Chadley Hollas
Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources

Chadley HollasChadley Hollas is a PhD student in the Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources working under the direction of Dr. Kyle M Woosnam. He previously attended Texas A&M University where he obtained his Bachelor of Science and Master of Science in Recreation, Park, and Tourism Sciences. Chadley works as an independent researcher and consultant and guides projects on the development of agritourism in the US. He has helped lead award-winning projects funded by the National Science Foundation, the USDA, and others. His work has been published in the top journals in his field. Chadley is also a co-founder of the Global Agritourism Network (GAN).

Raised in rural Texas and a former farmer, Chadley is passionate about sustainable rural tourism development. He is interested in tourism as a way to build resilience and flourishing in rural communities. Chadley found his first love in travel and has never tired of connecting with locals and their places. This passion inspired a clever professional journey that allowed him to work in hotels, on events, and with communities across the world. Chadley is excited to continue growing at the University of Georgia. He chose to attend the University of Georgia and the Warnell School because of its emphasis on international collaborations and its commitment to use the research community to support positive, practical advances in society.

Chadley is a fervent student of life and is constantly challenging himself with his favorite hobbies of cooking, gardening, and woodworking. Chadley recently welcomed his first child into the world and enjoys long walks with his son, wife, and two dogs.

Andy Jiang
Department of Chemistry, Franklin College of Arts and Sciences

Andy JiangAndy Jiang brings a very unique background and skillset to the UGA Graduate School, combining his passion for mathematics, physics, chemistry, and computer science. At the University of Georgia, Andy will work for Professor Henry F. Schaefer at the Center for Computational Quantum Chemistry (CCQC). Andy first learned about Dr. Schaefer’s lab through participating in the Department of Chemistry’s Summer Undergraduate Research Opportunities (SURO) program in the summer of 2022, where he published a paper as a first author, titled “Tensor Hypercontraction Form of the Perturbative Triples Energy in Coupled-Cluster Theory.” As a result of the SURO program, Andy decided to attend the UGA for his graduate studies. Andy earned his degree in Computer Science from Georgia Tech (Go Jackets!), with a minor in Chemistry. At Tech, he first discovered his passion for computational chemistry through his work with Dr. David Sherrill.

Andy’s main research interests include algorithms and methods development in quantum chemistry. Andy’s work will involve devising new algorithms for computing the properties of molecules faster and more accurately. Understanding the behavior of molecules is crucial in many areas of scientific research, especially biochemistry and drug discovery. Andy’s vision is for his algorithms to be applied to protein-drug and protein-protein interactions, in order to help provide better treatment and potential cures for viral infections and other diseases.

Andy is primarily motivated by his faith as a Christian. He believes that his work as a researcher is an extension of Jesus’ command to “ love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:31), and he carries his heart for others with him with every line of code he writes. Outside of work, Andy enjoys playing basketball, watching college football, as well as spending time with loved ones. Andy is always down to meet new people and make more friends, and never passes up an opportunity to put a smile on someone’s face.

Jovan Johnson
J.M. Tull School of Accounting, Terry College of Business

Jovan JohnsonJovan considers himself a lifelong learner who is passionate about contributing new knowledge to the accounting field. As a first-generation college graduate, he deeply understands the significance of lifting others as we climb. He prides himself on embracing new volunteer and service opportunities. He is very passionate about personal finance and providing clarity to others about the true meaning of wealth.

Education has played a key role throughout his life. Jovan has obtained a bachelor’s degree, master’s degree, a CPA license, and the CFP® certification to advance his education. He has a deep passion and curiosity for learning.

His decision to attend UGA to pursue his Ph.D. in Accounting was an easy one. One of the many benefits of UGA’s accounting doctoral program is the abundance of research professors that specialize in financial accounting archival research. Based on Jovan’s research interests, there are several faculty members that he would love to collaborate with. As an institution with some of the brightest and best financial archival researchers in the world, he knows that he will have the best mentors to prepare him for a successful academic career.

Completing a Ph.D. program will position Jovan to fulfill the most meaningful career that he can imagine: an accounting research professor. Serving as a professor will allow him to not only produce impactful research but also give back to the community and serve as a role model to underrepresented students. He aspires to mentor the next generation of accounting leaders from all backgrounds.

Jovan is motivated to research further how and where individual investors acquire and utilize accounting information to make decisions.  

Outside of work, Jovan enjoys traveling, volunteering, working out, spreading financial literacy, meeting new individuals over brunch/coffee, and playing tennis.

Hunter Jones
Louise McBee Institute of Higher Education

Hunter JonesHunter Jones is a first-year Ph.D. student in the Louise McBee Institute of Higher Education at the University of Georgia. Before coming to UGA, she earned bachelor’s degrees in human development and journalism from Washington State University as well as a master’s degree in educational studies from The Ohio State University. While she was an undergraduate student at Washington State, Hunter was a member of the nationally ranked women’s rowing team for four years during which she earned a varsity letter. After graduating from Washington State in 2018, Hunter served as an AmeriCorps VISTA member from 2018 to 2019, and an AmeriCorps State and National member from 2019 to 2020. During her time as a master’s student at The Ohio State, Hunter contributed to the research of Drs. Kristen J. Mills and Stephen John Quaye. Her qualitative research contributions have focused on racial battle fatigue among Black collegians attending predominantly white institutions, as well as financial and academic stress and wellness among undergraduate students. 

Hunter chose to attend the University of Georgia because of the educational support and professional development opportunities that are available in the Louise McBee Institute and the support she has been offered by the Presidential Fellowship. After completing her Ph.D. at UGA, Hunter is interested in working as a researcher at a think tank or policy center focused on education. She believes the University of Georgia provides the best opportunity to develop as a scholar so she can reach her goals.

Marta Mohedano Jurado
Industrial-Organizational (I/O) Psychology, Franklin College of Arts and Sciences

Marta Mohedano Jurado is an upcoming international student from Spain pursuing a Ph.D. in Industrial-Organizational (I/O) Psychology. She originally moved to the United States for her bachelors degree but eventually found a passion for I/O psychology and decided to attend graduate school to pursue it as a career. Marta chose the University of Georgia due to their labs, especially the ECHO Lab which aligned with her research interests, and for the university’s outstanding and renowned I/O program that offers many opportunities to their students. At UGA, she wants to focus her research on finding ways to enhance the wellbeing of workers and promote a safe and healthy climate within organizations. She has previously been recognized by the Psychology Department at her previous university as the 2023 Outstanding Student of the year, as well as by other organizations such as the National Collegiate Honors Council for her work as an honors student. Her future plans include getting involved in research after graduation in order to contribute to the growing field of I/O, as well as eventually working for a company doing more applied work. She feels fortunate to call UGA her new home.

Kobina Oduro (Kobi) Korankye
Department of Philosophy, Franklin College of Arts and Sciences

Kobi KorankyeKobina Oduro Korankye (Kobi Korankye) was born in Cape Coast, Ghana. He has a BA in Philosophy and Political Science from the University of Ghana and an MA in Philosophy from Kent State University. 

Kobi is passionate about encouraging diversity in Philosophy. During his undergraduate studies, he was elected head of the academic committee of the Association of Philosophy & Classics Students (APHICLAS). In this role, he sought to encourage Ghanaian students to study philosophy (often seen as a prohibitive field) by leading a reading group meant to help first year students in their understanding of philosophical texts. In his first year at Kent State, he was the Minorities and Philosophy (MAP) vice president where he helped plan and facilitate a reading group on issues of minority representation in philosophy and academia. Kobi believes University of Georgia’s philosophy department will be a thriving environment for him because of its diversity and pluralism. 

Kobi’s broad interests in philosophy include Analytic Epistemology, Philosophy of Language, Philosophy of Cognitive Science and Applied Ethics. His master’s thesis at Kent State was squarely in Analytic Epistemology. He explored whether Laurence BonJour’s foundationalism is a viable theory of epistemic justification. In the future, Kobi hopes to investigate how developments in Cognitive Science might affect BonJour’s solution to the Sellarsian dilemma. 

As a PhD student at University of Georgia, Kobi hopes to benefit from the relationship between the Philosophy department and the Institute of Artificial Intelligence to conduct research in areas where philosophy and artificial intelligence intersect.

Dallas Kreisa
Institute of Plant Breeding, Genetics & Genomics

Dallas KreisaDallas Kreisa is from Plymouth, Wisconsin. She earned her bachelor’s degree from Marian University in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin majoring in biology with minors in chemistry and data analytics. While at Marian, she graduated with Magnum Cum Laude honors, in the honors program, and was selected as the 2023 Student of the Year. 

Through the USDA REEU program hosted at South Dakota State University, she gained research experience analyzing the microbiome community in the soil of warm season grasses in different grazing pasture densities compared to cool season grasses and forb plants.  

In an NSF funded REU program at Utah State University, she had another opportunity for more research experience, this time helping in the USDA turf grass breeding program in Logan, Utah. She analyzed the growth patterns and water usage of several Lolium perenne varieties at different irrigation levels.  

She will be pursuing a doctoral degree in Plant Breeding, Genetics and Genomics to research the use of genotyping, phenotyping, and molecular breeding techniques to increase soybean yield and decrease disease. She chose UGA because of their incredible reputation in the agricultural sciences. The Institute of Plant Breeding, Genetics and Genomics is a great interdisciplinary department with plenty of resources, technology, facilities, and experienced faculty.  

In the future, she plans on pursuing a career as a plant breeder.

Yu Wen Lu
Department of Sociology, Franklin College of Arts and Sciences

Yu Wen LuYu-Wen’s research focuses on aging and health, environmental factors, and social relationships. Her goal in pursuing her Ph.D. in UGA Sociology and her future career is to examine the supportive power of older people’s living communities, mitigate the negative aging process, and challenge social inequality.

Before joining UGA, Yu-Wen gained valuable experience as an undergraduate research assistant at Academia Sinica in Taiwan. There, she utilized survey datasets and conducted fieldwork to investigate the determinants causing regional resource gaps, including disparities in social support. Her background in a rural county has also fueled her interest in aging research. She recognizes that dementia and loneliness significantly impact individuals’ golden years, particularly in rural areas, where socioeconomic status intertwines with these challenges. Guided by the vision of aging in place, Yu-Wen aims to enhance the well-being of older adults by exploring the mechanisms of social connections and promoting health behaviors. She is excited to be a part of the exceptional interdisciplinary research team at UGA Sociology, enabling her to delve deeper into these critical health and medical sociology research topics.

Furthermore, in recognition of her potential and commitment, Yu-Wen’s studying is supported by the “Aging Society” Ph.D. scholarship from the Taiwanese government. As she continues her journey at UGA Sociology, Yu-Wen looks forward to collaborating with esteemed colleagues and impacting the lives of older adults and the broader community.

Fabio Mariano
Department of Romance Languages, Franklin College of Arts and Sciences

Fabio MarianoFábio Roberto Mariano is currently a Ph.D candidate at the Romance Languages Department. He has a BA in Literature Studies, an MA in Literary Theory and History, and a specialization in International Relations from the State University of Campinas (UNICAMP). During his MA, he was awarded with a Professional Internship Program (PED-C) assistantship and with a research stipend from CNPq. He was also granted the DAAD Winterkurs Stipendium at Uni Duisburg-Essen in 2012-2013.

Fábio has taught from 2012 on, focusing on Portuguese language and literature and English as a second language at high school and technical school levels. He is the author of the novel Habsburgo (2019), and of short story collections O Gelo dos Destróieres (2018) and Ruído Branco (2020), the last of which was selected for funding by the State of São Paulo cultural program ProAC. He has also translated poems by German author Paul Boldt, four of which have been published as the booklet O Café Literário in 2022, with more to be published in book format in 2023. Fábio, who has always had a passion for studying and teaching languages, found the perfect environment for his professional and academic activity at UGA’s Romance Languages department, given its interdisciplinary approach and emphasis on the pedagogical development of graduate students. His research interests include Brazilian and South American contemporary literature, literary theory and modernist and postmodernist narrative. He plans to become a Latin American literature professor.

Ryan Martinez
Department of Communication Studies, Franklin College of Arts and Sciences

Ryan MartinezRyan J. Martinez is a native Texan who completed their B.A and M.A. degrees in the Department of Communication Studies at Texas Tech University. While at Texas Tech, Ryan enjoyed teaching and was the Assistant Basic Course Director for Public Speaking. In addition, Ryan has been involved in various research projects that have resulted in publications, is a coauthor for an interpersonal communication textbook, and has served as a Graduate Student Editor & Contributor. Ryan has been awarded various awards and grants at Texas Tech University, such as the Outstanding Graduate Student Award, several different research awards, such as the Exceptional Graduate Student Research Award, and the Open Educational Resource Library Fund Grant. 

Ryan’s scholarly pursuits focus on delving into the intricacies inherent in interpersonal relationships. His primary focus revolves around establishing correlations between communication patterns and their profound impact on the different types of relationships that we experience, such as romantic and nonromantic relationships, familial bonds, and associations within work-life dynamics. 

Ryan is enthusiastic about pursuing his Ph.D. at the University of Georgia and is eager to begin working with the faculty. Upon completing the Ph.D., Ryan plans to become a professor and faculty member at an institution of higher education with the primary goal of researching, teaching, and continuously contributing to his field.

Laura Mathews
Department of Statistics, Franklin College of Arts and Sciences

Bio info not available

Delaney Morgan
Department of Mathematics, Franklin College of Arts and Sciences

Delaney MorganDelaney Morgan is a PhD student in Mathematics in the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences. They graduated magna cum laude from Wellesley College in 2023 with a B.A. in American studies and mathematics. Delaney graduated with honors in the mathematics department, the Lewis Attebury Stimson prize in mathematics, and nomination for the Wellesley chapter of the Sigma Xi research honors society. In addition to being a UGA Presidential Fellow, Delaney is a recipient of the Alice Freeman Palmer fellowship. 

During her time at Wellesley, Delaney served as a grader and tutor for many math classes, was a fellow at the Institute for Math and Democracy, and served as an HHMI inclusive excellence intern for the Math Department. With the Institute for Math and Democracy, she assisted in coordinating the AMS special session on math and democracy at the 2023 Joint Mathematics Meetings, and the recent AMS Engaged Pedagogy Workshop on the same topic.

Delaney is interested in studying theoretical mathematics, especially abstract algebra and number theory, and chose the University of Georgia math department for their strength in both those areas, as well as their welcoming and inclusive community. Passionate about diversity, inclusion, and accessibility in mathematics, Delaney plans to be a professor, where she can not only perform math research, but also demonstrate that anyone with passion has the potential to do mathematics. 

James Oni
Ecology, Odum School of Ecology

James OniJames Paul ONI is a Nigerian and a first-generation graduate student with a master’s in conservation biology and a bachelor’s degree in biological sciences with first-class honors. He is deeply passionate about ecology and interested in investigating conceptually motivated questions around infectious disease dynamics, particularly how environmental factors and species interactions impact infectious diseases’ dynamics and epidemics.

James has chosen the University of Georgia (UGA) for its excellent international reputation, especially as the birthplace of public higher education in America, and for UGA’s dedication to upholding a diverse community. Additionally, James is excited about joining Odum School of Ecology at UGA, which is not only the first standalone school for ecology but also has a long-standing history of being a leading institution in the field that is exceptionally reputable for its innovative research, state-of-the-art facilities, and excellent faculty.

In addition to his academic achievements, James has received other honors or awards, including the Tropical Biology Association and A. P. Leventis Master’s Scholarships. He is excited to continue pursuing his research interests at UGA, contributing to ecology by conducting groundbreaking research, publishing in reputable journals, and mentoring the next generation of ecologists. James’ long-term goal is to become a professor of ecology, where he will combine research with teaching roles. He is confident that the education and training he will receive at Odum School of Ecology at UGA will prepare him well for a successful career in ecology.

Elizabeth Thomas
Integrated Plant Sciences Program

Elizabeth ThomasAfter receiving her B.S. in Landscape and Nursery Horticulture from the University of Florida in 2010, Elizabeth spent almost a decade working in agriculture before shifting gears to work in public gardens. In recent years, she has worked to enhance the conservation value of preserved and living collections at botanical gardens and arboreta. As part of this work, she has led seed-collecting initiatives across seven states, from the Great Lakes to the Gulf Coast, and worked with groups such as the Global Conservation Consortia, the American Public Gardens Association, and Botanic Gardens Conservation International. In Spring 2022, she helped to rediscover Quercus tardifolia–a long-sought oak species thought to be extinct–in a remote area of Big Bend National Park in West Texas.

Elizabeth’s research interests lie at the intersection of plant population genetics/genomics, ecology, and biogeography, inspired by the patterns and idiosyncrasies of the plant species and communities observed through her field work. Her ultimate goal is to use such research to inform germplasm collection and maintenance strategies for maximizing in situ and ex situ plant conservation actions. In the future, she hopes to curate a plant conservation collection or run an applied plant conservation research program at a botanical institution.

Choosing UGA was an easy decision for her. Not only is the State Botanical Garden of Georgia affiliated with the University, but UGA’s diversity of plant-focused research programs and the collaborative culture between them set UGA apart from other schools. She also felt excited by the work of several UGA lab groups, made sweeter by the opportunity to do lab rotations via UGA’s Integrated Plant Sciences Program.

Danielle Vaughn
Educational Psychology, Mary Frances Early College of Education

Danielle VaughnDanielle Vaughn is attending The University of Georgia to pursue a PhD in Educational Psychology with an emphasis in School Psychology, under the advisement of Dr. Kristen Bub. Through this degree, her goal is to provide meaningful clinical evaluation and intervention for diverse youth and families. Long-term, she aims to pursue licensure as a professional and school psychologist. She plans on working within a school or clinical setting to prevent, identify, and treat mental health disorders from early childhood to adolescence. Danielle attained a BA in Clinical & Behavioral Neuroscience with a minor in Advanced Scientific Analysis from Drury University, where she received Outstanding Student of the Year in her program. She then completed a Master of Arts in Clinical Psychology from Southern Illinois University – Edwardsville. Danielle is a recipient of the Outstanding Research Grant for Graduate Students award from Southern Illinois University – Edwardsville for her Master’s thesis. She most recently worked as a Psychometrist & Clinical Service Coordinator for SSMHealth Saint Louis University – Dept of Neuropsychology, where she administered cognitive and behavioral assessments for children with various neurological and emotional disorders.

Danielle’s research focuses on the impact of technology and screen time on children’s cognitive development. She is also interested in parenting practices related to screen use and relationships between screen time and childhood development and behavior. She chose UGA because of the substantial opportunity to engage in independent and collaborative research with supportive faculty and students, as well as gain a variety of practicum experiences in both educational and clinical settings.

William Walker
Higher Education, Louise McBee Institute of Higher Education

William WalkerWill Walker, Jr. (he/him) is a  native resident of Winnfield, Louisiana. He is a proud alumnus of the LEDA Scholars Program (Cohort 12). He holds a B.A. in Leadership Studies (University of Richmond) and an M.S.Ed. in Higher Education and Student Affairs (Indiana University). As a student affairs practitioner and emerging scholar, Will has advised, mentored, and supervised hundreds of student leaders. Will has conducted multiple small-scale research projects and has published editorials in multiple national outlets. Additionally, Will has served as a 2-year editor of a student-led research journal. Furthermore, as grant writer, Will drafted, submitted, and co-managed multiple grants, totaling approximately $420,000, which have been used to implement strategic, retention-focused programs for undergraduate students.

He is pursuing a Ph.D. in Higher Education at the University of Georgia’s Louise McBee Institute of Higher Education. Will is excited to pursue his doctoral degree at UGA/the McBee Institute because of its reputation for producing scholars who go on to do influential work as researchers, policy leaders, and university administrators. Additionally, Will is inspired by the unique ways that the faculty at the McBee Institute utilize multidisciplinary perspectives to investigate and produce solutions to prominent issues that affect higher education institutions and students.

Moreover, Will is passionate about enacting and leading transformative change that makes college education and institutional environments more accessible, engaging, and sustainable for students with marginalized identities. He currently aspires to become a tenure-track faculty member. With these factors in mind, Will intends to conduct research that critically examines concepts such as diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging (DEIB) in higher education, student leadership development, and student engagement in systems/processes of university governance.

Yao Yao
Political Science, School of Public and International Affairs

Yao YaoYao Yao, a student hailing from China, is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in Political Science. She holds a Master’s in Public Management from Johns Hopkins University, as well as a Bachelor in Public Affairs Administration and a Bachelor in Law from China University of Political Science and Law. Yao’s academic accomplishments have been further augmented by her attainment of the Chinese Legal Professional Qualification Certificate.

Yao’s research contributions are evident through her publications in journals such as the Public Policy Review, Research on Public Complaints and Governance, and the Journal of US-China Public Administration. These publications cover various subjects such as environmental governance, rural women’s organizations, and the protection of subsistence rights for disabled individuals in China. Her commitment to academic excellence is also evident from the recognition she has received, including honors for her exceptional graduation thesis and prizes in national case study competitions.

Yao is enthusiastic about pursuing her doctoral studies at UGA due to the university’s stellar reputation, rigorous training in research methodologies, and exceptional resources for studying American politics. Her interest lies in studying the administrative state and working towards the restoration of a strong system of checks and balances. She aims to examine strategies that empower Congress in the legislative process while constraining the expansion of executive authority. 

Motivated by a genuine passion for political science and a dedication to advancing knowledge in the field, Yao holds aspirations of pursuing a career as a tenure-track faculty member. She is driven by her desire to contribute to teaching, research, and scholarship in political science.


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