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Hard work pays off: Four students awarded for outstanding theses and dissertations

November 29, 2017

The Graduate Council’s Student Awards Committee is honoring four scholars for outstanding work on their theses and dissertations for work covering an impressive array of scholarly pursuits in two broad categories: Arts, Humanities, Social Sciences and Education; and Health Sciences and STEM. Each recipient will be recognized during the Outstanding Graduate Student Recognition Reception on Tuesday, April 24, 2018 at 3 p.m. in the Altgeld Auditorium.

This year’s honorees are Mathieu Billings from the Department of History; Melissa Wright from the Department of English; Michael Lesslie from the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry; and Ann Kolker from the School of Allied Health and Communicative Disorders.

Billings, who completed his Ph.D. degree in 2016 and is currently teaching at the University of Indianapolis, was named the recipient of the Outstanding Dissertation Award under the category of Arts, Humanities, Social Sciences and Education. His work, titled, “Potent Legacies: The Transformation of Irish American Politics, 1815-1840,” earned him the recognition and a $750 prize.

“Mat’s project is truly transnational, rooted in broad and deep research in both Ireland and the United States,” said Sean Farrell, associate professor of History. “He asks important questions about how an emigrant population’s cultural and political background impacts their ability to participate in the politics of their new countries.”

Farrell added, “Mat’s work on emigration and politics has obvious contemporary relevance, something that should provide him with greater access to a variety of publics and enhance his publishing opportunities.”

Melissa Wright was also honored in the category of Arts, Humanities, Social Sciences and Education. She received the Outstanding Thesis Award, which includes a $500 prize, for her thesis titled, “Natural Language Processing and Syntactic Differentiation: A Corpus Case Study.”

Wright’s thesis was the result of a year‐long digital humanities project in which she used computation tools and methods to examine the syntactic structures within Oscar Wilde’s novel The Picture of Dorian Gray.

Professor of Linguistics Gulsat Aygen said Wright’s thesis is noteworthy particularly due to its unique and efficient collaboration between the Department of English and the Department of Computer Science.

“The contribution of this research to the discipline of linguistics cannot be overstated,” Aygen said. “Wright’s thesis not only sheds new light on the syntactic context of embedded clauses and comparative syntax of language but also provides a scholarly work that highlights the benefits of interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary research.”

Michael Lesslie is another scholar being recognized for his academic work. Lesslie came to NIU in January 2013 after receiving his B.A. degree from Elmira College and working more than two years for Advion, a bioanalytical company.

Lesslie received the Outstanding Dissertation Award for the category of Health Sciences and STEM. His dissertation, titled, “Investigations of Biologically Relevant Free Radicals Utilizing Novel Gas-Phase Analytical Techniques,” also won him a $750 prize.

Lesslie was nominated for the award by Associate Professor of Chemistry and Biochemistry Victor Ryzhov, who believed Lesslie’s contributions to department research and his overall productivity made him a standout candidate.

“Michael’s productivity has been simply stellar,” said Ryzhov, explaining that in addition to presentations at conferences and involvement in international research, Lesslie has published nine peer-reviewed manuscripts with two pending.

The Outstanding Thesis Award—and $500 prize—for the category of Health Sciences and STEM was awarded to Ann Kolker, a voice language pathologist at Symphony at Aria in Hillsdale, for her thesis, “Practical Elicitation Methods for the Voice Range Profile.”

“Ann explored the efficacy of reducing the elicitation time of the Voice Range Profile as a way of increasing its use in clinical settings, thereby improving clinical services,” said Sherrill Morris, dean of the School of Allied Health and Communicative Disorders.

For her study, Kolker recruited 24 singers and conducted a full voice range profile procedure and a modified procedure with each participant. She compared and discussed the results of the two protocols, all while considering the clinical applications of her work and choosing procedures that could be replicated by speech-language pathologists.