Top honors for Huskie graduate students announced

Four NIU scholars are being recognized by the Graduate Council’s Student Awards Committee for the exemplary work on their theses and dissertations.

This year’s honorees are Erika Sparby from the Department of English; Robert Keating from the Department of Psychology; Ryan Myers from the Department of Biological Sciences; and Muhammad Adib Uz Zaman from the Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering.

“Recognizing outstanding thesis and dissertation writers is one way that the Graduate School seeks to celebrate the achievements of graduate students,” Bradley Bond, dean of NIU Graduate School, said. “I do not envy the work of the faculty committee that selects these award winners; the pool of nominations is always strong and the decision to recognize a specific thesis or dissertation is not easy.”

The Graduate Council’s Student Awards Committee selected one dissertation and one thesis winner in each of the following two categories: Arts, Humanities, Social Sciences and Education; and STEM and Health Sciences.

Sparby, who is currently an assistant professor in the Department of English at Illinois State University, was named the recipient of the Outstanding Dissertation Award under the category of Arts, Humanities, Social Sciences and Education. Her work, titled “Memes and 4chan and Haters, Oh My! Rhetoric, Identity and Online Aggression” earned her a $750 prize.

“It is heartening to see my work recognized,” Sparby said. “With so much digital aggression pervading every digital platform and space and silencing voices in public discourse, it is more important now than ever before to think rhetorically about why it happens, how it spreads and what we can do to respond to or prevent it.”

Also honored in that category for Outstanding Thesis Award is Robert Keating, a current doctoral student at NIU. He received a $500 award for his work, titled “The Effect of Inclusion on Identity Management Decisions in the Workplace: The Roles of Organizational Support, Anticipated Stigma, and State Psychological Well-Being.”

Keating said the idea for his thesis began while he was an undergrad student at Penn State and he read an article on an airplane that addressed challenges faced by individuals with invisible disabilities in the workplace. The article, authored by NIU associate professor Alecia Santuzzi and colleagues from NIU and Purdue University, was a major influence on his decision to choose NIU’s doctoral program.

“It means the world to see this study evolve from a rough sketch on an airline napkin to collaboration with a researcher I truly admire,” Keating said. “The thesis award makes it that much more special.”

In the category of STEM and Health Sciences, Ryan Myers was recognized as the Outstanding Dissertation Award winner for his work, “RTFA Controls Development, Secondary Metabolism, and Virulence in Aspergillus Fumigatus.” His work involved genetic studies of the opportunistic human pathogen Aspergillus fumigatus, the main causing agent of invasive aspergillosis that leads to high mortality rate in immune-depressed patients.

Currently a Postdoctoral Research Associate in the Department of Biomedical Sciences, University of Minnesota Medical School (Duluth), Myers earned a $750 award for his work.

The Outstanding Thesis Award and $500 prize went to Muhammad Adib Uz Zaman, for his work, “Bicubic L1 Spline Fits for 3D Data Approximation.”

Adib Uz Zaman, who is currently a research assistant in the Department of Industrial, Manufacturing and Systems Engineering at Texas Tech University, said his faculty adviser and mentor, Ziteng Wang, along with department chair, Purush Damodaran, inspired him while a student at NIU.

“Since the day I joined NIU I have been involved in research,” he said. “NIU taught me how to use my potential to produce quality work – like this thesis – and prepared me for my doctoral study.”

Damodaran called Zaman’s work “some of the most impactful in terms of the theoretical developments and its potential to solve many real-life applications” that he has seen among all thesis work completed in the department for many years.

The award winners will be recognized during NIU’s annual Outstanding Graduate Student Recognition Reception planned for April 23 at 3 p.m. in the Altgeld Auditorium.

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