2022-2023 Graduate Teaching Assistants of the Year

Michael VanNostrandCollege of Nursing and Health Sciences Doctoral Program
Lecture Instruction Category

Michael VanNostrand is a 4th year PhD student in the College of Nursing and Health Sciences, pursuing his degree in Human Functioning and Rehabilitation Science. Michael graduated from SUNY Albany with a Bachelor of Science in Biology. He then earned a Master of Science in Clinical Exercise Science from Liberty University.

As a researcher, Michael’s interests include the development of fall risk assessments and exercise interventions for individuals with multiple sclerosis. Since joining the program in 2019, Michael has focused on understanding the intersect between mobility, cognition, and the underlying resources necessary for community participation. More recently, Michael’s work has aimed to bridge the gap between in-lab and at-home ambulation.

Michael's enthusiasm for teaching was evident as the instructor for the "Balance and Clinical Assessment" course he developed. Michael's teaching philosophy is built on the premise that active learning enhances student engagement and increases curiosity and enthusiasm with the material. Additionally, Michael believes that tailoring projects to students' interests and professional goals helps them to achieve their greatest potential. In his free time, Michael enjoys hiking, kayaking, snowboarding, and playing with his dogs, Daisy and Lucy.

Emily Beasley, Biology PhD Program
Lab Instruction Category

Emily Beasley recently defended her PhD in Biology at the University of Vermont. Originally from Kansas City, she graduated with a B.S. in Wildlife Biology and an M.S. in Biology from Missouri State University. As a quantitative ecologist, she uses mathematical models to figure out how nature works, particularly in the fields of community ecology, parasitology, disease ecology, and ecological scaling. She is also the Vertebrate Collections Manager in UVM’s Zadock Thompson Zoological Collections, where she works to make the collections accessible to researchers at UVM and beyond.

As a GTA in the Biology Department, Emily seeks to use the principles of universal design to ensure accessibility is built into every course she teaches. Together with Dr. Laura May Collado and GTA Maia Austin, she redesigned the Mammalogy lab from a primarily memorization-based course to a course that prioritizes career-relevant skills such as mammal specimen preparation, field techniques, and data literacy. She also designed and taught a 1-credit seminar, Introduction to R for Biologists, which provided students with the programming and data management skills needed to be competitive in the contemporary job market. She hopes to eventually become a professor at a research institution to balance her interests in research, mentoring, and teaching.

2022-2023 Outstanding Doctoral Dissertation Award

Libin Liang, Ph.D., Materials Science

Libin Liang received a Bachelor of Engineering degree in Materials Science and Engineering from the South China University of Technology in 2012. He then received a Master of Engineering degree in Materials Science from the South China University of Technology in 2015, where he focused his research on the aggregation behavior of submicron particles in suspension, and development of a practical simulation method to predict the stable dispersion condition.

Libin Liang carried on his passion in Materials Science and earned a Ph.D. at the University of Vermont (UVM) working in Professor Madalina I. Furis’ research group. In his Ph.D. journey, Libin showed research interest in the fundamental studies of organic semiconductors, and the feasibility of flexible electronic applications. His studies brought research attention to the ordered system of organic semiconductors, and filled the research gaps by providing new insights of the materials properties. With the Clean Energy Fund (renamed as the Sustainable Campus Fund in 2020), Libin developed multiple powerful experiment techniques and devices which offer useful tools to other researchers to facilitate relevant studies. Libin’s novel approach, which involved introducing new experiment protocol to explore the temperature- and strain-dependent material properties, was the first to demonstrate the potential of utilizing external applied strain as a property “tuning knob” in organic semiconductors. His studies will open a new gateway to investigate the organic semiconductor properties, and bridge the fundamental studies to the future novel design of electronic device.
Libin Liang is currently a process technology development engineer at Intel Corporation. He applies the extensive skills of problem-solving, design of experiment, simulation, optics, etc. obtained from his previous graduate studies, and dedicates his talent to developing the state-of-art co-packaged optics I/O technology. As always, Libin enjoys learning new knowledge and embraces challenges.

The Outstanding Doctoral Dissertation Award recognizes exceptional work on behalf of a doctoral student, as demonstrated by their dissertation, including significant contributions to their field of study.

2022-2023 Outstanding Master's Thesis Award

Alexandra Perlow, M.A.
Master of Arts in English

Lexie Perlow received her B.A. in English from St. Lawrence University prior to coming to the University of Vermont in 2020 to pursue an M.A. in English. During her masters she worked closely with Dr. John Gennari to conduct research on Bob Dylan and his contribution to the worlds of literature and music history.

Lexie’s thesis explored Dylan’s role in the mythology surrounding the 1965 Newport Folk Festival, an event that changed the way audiences interacted with and understood the artist. Using Philip Auslander’s theory on Musical Personae as the frame in which to study Dylan’s history, she sought to better understand how the audience-performer contract played a role in Dylan’s career, as well as how our perceptions of performers can impact the way we construct history and collective memory. She shed new light on Dylan’s career and urged readers to reassess the way they understood music history, giving them opportunity to apply this theory and understanding to their own favorite musicians.

Lexie is currently working at the University of Vermont as a lecturer in the English department. She teaches classes in composition and American Literature, with a special concentration in pop culture and ethnomusicology. She continues to think and write about the lasting impact of Bob Dylan in the cultural imagination, and plans to extend her theories to other popular artists.

The Outstanding Master's Thesis Award recognizes exceptional work on behalf of a Master’s student, as demonstrated by their thesis, including significant contributions to their field of study.

2022-2023 Thomas J. Votta Scholarship

Daniel Pratson, Ph.D. student in the Rubenstein School of Environment and Natural Resources

Daniel spent his formative years growing up and exploring in Southern Maryland, a region whose culture is informed both by a rural, agrarian past and recent expansive development. As a result, he is interested in understanding the diverse relationships among people and nature. Daniel works with Professors Rachelle Gould, Brendan Fisher, and Tony D’Amato and is currently researching decision-making of maple syrup-producing forest landowners. Specifically, he is interested in shedding light on whether incentivizing forest management for multiple ecosystem services aligns (or not) with landowner values. Daniel hopes this work can inform conservation initiatives, aiming to support human-nature relationships and livelihoods through sustainable natural resource use.

Daniel is also interested in the role education plays in human-nature relationships. He has worked in various outdoor education settings and earned his M.S. conducting research on environmental education organizations across the United States. Daniel has also worked as a lab analyst for a municipal water treatment facility and instructed chemistry and physics classes as a high school teacher.

In time outside of work, Daniel enjoys biking and taking his sailboat out on Lake Champlain.

The Thomas J. Votta Memorial Fund is established by the friends and family of Tom Votta to provide annual scholarship assistance to UVM graduate students in the Grossman School of Business, College of Engineering and Mathematics, or Rubenstein School of Environment and Natural Resources who, like Tom, wishes to make a difference in solving environmental problems and using environmental best practices to meet this goal.

2022-2023 Dr. Roberto Fabri Fialho Research Award

Maia Austin, Biology Graduate Program

Maia Austin is a third-year Ph.D. candidate in Dr. Laura May-Collado's lab. She is interested in combining novel computational methods with behavioral ecology to better understand the drivers of acoustic communication in dolphins and whales. Maia applies machine learning techniques to underwater recordings of different dolphin species from Central America to quantify the size and diversity of their vocal repertoires. This method will be combined with social network analysis to study how social and genetic relationships between dolphins affect their communication.

Maia is originally from Boston, Massachusetts. She received her B.A.Sc. in Cognitive Science with a focus in Linguistics and Neuroscience from McGill University (Canada), which helped to stoke her interest in interdisciplinary studies and the applications of artificial intelligence for analysis. At UVM, she serves as one of the Graduate Student Representatives to the Biology faculty Graduate Affairs Committee and is a leader for the Northeast student chapter for Marine Mammalogy. In her spare time, Maia enjoys knitting, hiking, and cooking.

The Fialho Research Award is given annually to a University of Vermont doctoral student in support of their research in areas related to ecology, evolution, population genetics, or animal behavior. The funds are awarded in memory of Roberto Fabri Fialho, Ph.D., Biology.

2022-2023 Rodney L. Parsons Anatomy and Neurobiology Award

Helaina R. Stergas, Biology Graduate Program

Helaina R. Stergas grew up in a small, rural community in upstate New York where, early on, she found herself fascinated with the intricacies of “life” and the sciences. She received her B.S. in biological science at the University of Vermont. Helaina began her work investigating early retinal development and neuronal migration in the zebrafish model organism with Dr. Alicia Ebert as an undergraduate. She became intrigued by the intersection of cellular communication and central nervous system development and decided to extend her time in the Ebert Lab by completing the Accelerated Master’s Program (AMP) in Biology. After graduating with her M.S., she took a gap year to explore her other passions outside of research – travel, hiking, the outdoors, and dog ownership – before returning to the University of Vermont and the Biology Graduate Program to pursue her doctoral degree, once again as a member of the Ebert Lab.

In her current dissertation project, Helaina studies the roles of cell signaling molecules in neuronal patterning of complex central nervous system structures, with a focus on the retina. Her project utilizes both organismal phenotype investigation and, in collaboration with Dr. Bryan Ballif, biochemistry and proteomics to compare neurodevelopmental roles of related families of signaling molecules. Helaina is not only passionate about the intricacies of organismal development, but also about teaching and mentoring, science communication, and accessibility. To her, helping to develop the way students and the public see the scientific world has been the most rewarding experience of her Ph.D. program. She hopes to continue to cultivate excitement and instill understanding in science during the rest of her time here at UVM and beyond.

Dr. Rodney L. Parsons joined UVM as Assistant Professor of Physiology in 1967. In 1979, he became chair of the then Department of Anatomy and re-purposed it to establish one of the first Anatomy and Neurobiology departments in the country. He was the founding and only chair of that department, which merged with the Department of Neurology in 2012 to become the Department of Neurological Sciences, integrating basic and clinical science under one department. The goal of the Parsons Award is to support outstanding graduate students who demonstrate excellence in both neuroscience research and teaching in any broadly defined anatomical science, the disciplines which Dr. Parsons played a key role in the growth and evolution of at UVM.

2021-2022 Sustainable Campus Fund Innovation Research Project Proposal Winners

Masoumeh Khodaverdi
Ph.D. student, Plant Biology Program.
Project: Climatic and genetic determinants of biomass production and yield in the temperate model grass Brachypodium distachyon.

Population growth and climate change are threatening the sustainability of our planet’s natural resources. Plants are sources of clean and renewable energy that can be used as an alternative to fossil fuels. Among the flowering plants, grasses comprise the fourth largest family that not only provide food crops, but also produce biomass that can be harnessed for biofuel production. Most plant biomass is produced before flowering, which makes flowering time a major determinant of biomass yield. Furthermore, flowering time, biomass, and grain yield are all affected by temperature that is set to increase under global warming. In this project, we aim to study the climatic and genetic factors that are responsible for the changes in plants’ flowering time, and therefore changes in their biomass yield, under different thermal conditions. For this purpose, we will conduct experiments on seeds from different populations of the grass temperate model species Brachypodium distachyon. By targeting populations collected from a variety of geographical localities, we hope to gain better insights into the role of native climate in shaping biomass and yield traits under different temperatures. Results of this study will be useful in designing optimal setups for growing plants with maximal biomass yield, which in turn, can lead to increased and sustainable production of renewable biofuels.

Hannah Lacasse
Ph.D. Candidate, Department of Community Development and Applied Economics
Project: Metrics for hemp as a contributor to sustainable and resilient agricultural systems: Variations in geography and scale from Vermont, Kentucky, and Colorado producers

Farmers across the country are looking to hemp as a contributor to financial and on-farm diversity. Hemp’s versatility in cultivation and end-use processing make it a viable target for value-added products and its properties make the crop a potential sustainable input for otherwise conventional products, such as fabrics and plastics. Hemp’s potential contributions to sustainable agricultural systems cannot be realized without considering the social, ecological, and economic factors at each stage of the value chain. A recent USDA Agricultural Research Service (ARS) Food Systems Research Center white paper on metrics for value-added products in Vermont identifies several data gaps that prevent a comprehensive understanding of hemp as a contributor to sustainable food systems. This project seeks to fill these data gaps by collecting information on environmental, economic, and socio-political indicators associated with hemp, thereby addressing Sustainable Campus Fund goals of engagement in research related to social equity, ecological health, economic viability, and human values and behavior. Specifically, this project will survey registered hemp producers in Vermont, Kentucky, and Colorado to obtain information on sustainable hemp indicators and understand the decisions, values, and challenges associated with participation in the hemp industry. Project findings will provide a baseline understanding of how hemp production varies by geography and scale, contributing to a more robust comprehension of how the sector can move towards on-farm and sector-wide sustainability. By addressing explicit needs from hemp stakeholders, this project will support growers and processors and advance hemp’s ability to contribute to resilient and sustainable agricultural systems.

Hannah Shafer
Ph.D. student, Plant Biology Program
Project: Functional Diversification of FLOWERING LOCUS T (FT)-like Genes in Pooideae Grasses

This project aims to engage in research on sustainability through the exploration of grass genetics. As climate change progresses, and the human population continues to grow, agricultural practices must be improved to increase crop yields more sustainably. Overall, understanding the natural evolution of grasses, especially traits related to flowering, can help optimize agricultural production both economically as well as ecologically. More specifically, we aim to understand if the diversification of FT-like genes can explain shifts in how annual versus perennial plant flowering responds to devernalization. The results of the research will be a critical jumping-off point for developing perennial crops with well-understood flowering regimes. This work aligns with the SCF mission of increasing sustainable practices at UVM and will undoubtedly further our understanding of how to create a more regenerative future of agriculture.

Patrick Shafer
MS Candidate, Food Systems Graduate Program
Project: Consumer acceptance of insect-based foods among university students in New England

Dietary shifts to protein sources requiring fewer inputs are required to meet an expected 75% increase in protein production to feed the expanding global population. Simply improving existing agriculture will
not be enough to meet this demand–innovative solutions are necessary. Edible insects are increasingly
receiving attention as alternative proteins that can boost the sustainability of food systems. Insects are
nutrient dense as they contain up to 70% protein, and are high in fiber, amino acids, and micronutrients.
Farming insects is highly environmentally sustainable, as they have high feed efficiencies, low
greenhouse gas emissions, minimal space requirements, and can be fed with food waste and agricultural
byproducts. Insects may therefore help meet the growing demand for environmentally-friendly protein,
particularly among university students. However, insects are not yet on the menu for most US
consumers. This study will explore the perceptions of insect-based foods among UVM students by
hosting focus groups where students will sample pita sandwiches containing falafel made with
mealworms. The goal of this study is to support a perspective that university students are potential early
adopters of edible insects, and they may help this sustainable protein source establish a foothold in US

(Note: the Sustainable Campus Fund was previously known as the Clean Energy Fund)

Past Student Awards Recipients

Past Clean Energy Fund Innovation Research Project Proposals (now Sustainable Campus Fund):

2020 - Irfan Tahir, Mechanical Engineering Graduate Program
2020 - Ceres Rafiq, Materials Science Graduate Program
2019 - Libin Lian, Materials Science
2018 - Lindsay Barbieri, Natural Resources; Alex Neidermeier, Natural Resources; Robin Rice, Materials Science


Past Outstanding Thesis and Dissertation Award Recipients:

    Dissertation Category
2022 - Mariana Wingood, Interprofessional Health Sciences Program (Social Sciences, Humanities, and Creative Arts Category)
    2022 - Reed Gurchiek, Mechanical Engineering (Basic and Applied Sciences Category)
    2021 - Loren Bowley Dow, ELPS Program (Social Sciences, Humanities, and Creative Arts Category)
    2021 - Sam Kriegman, Computer Science (Basic and Applied Science Category)
    2020 - Elias M. Klemperer, Clinical Psychology Doctoral Program
    2019 - Sarah E. Cleary, Chemistry Graduate Program
    2018 - Rajiv Jumani, Cellular, Molecular and Biomedical Sciences
    2017 - Tianxin Miao, Bioengineering

    Thesis Category
    2022 - Ben Liebman, Master of Science in Pharmacology Program
    2021 - Jo Martin, Mathematics Master’s Program
    2020 - Mauricio Pereira, Mechanical Engineering Master’s Program
    2019 - Lukas Adamowicz, Mechanical Engineering Graduate Program
    2017 - Social Sciences/Humanities - Caitlin Morgan, Food Systems
    2017 - STEM/Health Discipline - Alison Denn, Geology

Past Rodney L. Parsons Anatomy and Neurobiology Award Recipients: 

   2021 - Melissa Boucher, Neuroscience
   2020 - Patrick Mullen, Neuroscience
   2019 - Katharine Beca, Neuroscience
   2018 - Megan Perkins, Neuroscience
   2017 - Riley St. Clair, Neuroscience
   2016 - Estelle Spear, Neuroscience

Past Graduate Teaching Assistant Award Recipients:

    2022 - Colin Giles, Mathematics Doctoral Program (Lecture Instruction Category)
    2022 - Lily Shapiro, Biology Master's Program (Lab Instruction Category)
    2021 - Wilson Captein, Clinical Psychology Program (Lab Instruction Category)
    2021 - Calum Buchanan, Mathematical Sciences (Lecture Instruction Category)
    2020 - Patrick Mullins, Mathmatics and Statistics (Lecture Instruction Category)
    2020 - Bijay K.C., Civil and Environmental Engineering (Lab/Field Category)
    2019 - Laboratory Instruction - Bijay K C, M.S., Civil and Environmental Engineering Doctoral Program
    2019 - Lecture Instruction - Patrick Mullins, Mathematics Master’s Program
    2018 - Laboratory Instruction - Lauren Ash, Biology Graduate Program
    2018 - Primary Instruction - Cassie van Stolk-Cooke, Clinical Psychology Graduate Program
    2017 - Primary Instruction - Virginia Peisch, Clinical Developmental Psychology Program
​    2017 - Laboratory Instruction - Emily Mikucki, Biology Graduate Program
    2016 - Lecture Instruction - Abigail Ross, Complex Systems and Data Science
​    2016 - Laboratory Instruction - Nicholas D’Alberto, Neuroscience Graduate Program
​    2015 - Nicole Lafko, Psychology
    2014 - Alice Newman, Geology, and Vincent M. Mugisha, Educational Leadership and Policy Studies
    2013 - Benjamin Green, Animal Science, and Taylor Sacco, English
    2012 - Amy Paysnick, Psychology
    2011 - Julia McQuade , Psychology
    2010 - Kirsten Stor, Mathematical Sciences
    2009 - Victoria Marini, Psychology
    2008 - Derek Strong, Anatomy and Neurobiology
    2007 - Amanda Getsinger, Geology
    2006 - Patricia Connolly, English
    2005 - Krishnan Venkataraman, Microbiology and Molecular Genetics
    2004 - Stevenson Flemer, Jr., Chemistry

Past Roberto Fabri Fialho Awardees:

    2022 - Csenge Petak, Biology Graduate Program
    2021 - Erika Bueno, Plant and Soil Science
    2020 - Raquel Asuncion Lima Cordon, Biology
    2019 - Emily Mikucki, Biology
    2018 - Lauren Ash, Biology
    2017 - Allison Hrycik, Biology
    2016 - Susan Fawcett, Plant Biology
    2015 - Samantha Alger, Biology
    2014 - Michael Herrmann, Biology
    2012 - Ashley Steere, Biochemistry
    2010 - Chun Yang, Biology
    2009 - Laura Bermingham, Biology

Past Thomas J. Votta Scholarship Recipients:

    2022 - Liza Morse, Rubenstein School of Environment and Natural Resources
    2022 - Taylor Smith, Sustainable Innovation, Grossman School of Business
    2021 - Elizabeth Duffy, College of Engineering and Mathematical Sciences
    2020 - Taran Catania, Sustainable Innovation, Grossman School of Business
    2020 - Kristin Raub, Gund Graduate Fellow, Rubenstein School of Environment and Natural Resources
    2019 - Joseph Ament, Gund Graduate Fellow, Rubenstein School of Environment and Natural Resources
    2018 - Bonnie Reese, Rubenstein School of Environment and Natural Resources   
    2017 - Jack Reed, College of Engineering and Mathematical Sciences   
    2016 - Courtney Hammond Wagner, Rubenstein School of Natural Resources
    2015 - Samnuel Parker, Rubenstein School of Natural Resources
    2014 - Chester Harvey, Rubenstein School of Natural Resources
    2014 - Laura Yayac, Field Naturalist and Ecological Planning
    2012 - Julie Nash, Rubenstein School of Natural Resources