Vena Haynes awarded EPA STAR Fellowship

Vena Haynes was recently awarded the EPA STAR Fellowship for her environmental toxicology research with Dr. J. Evan Ward. Vena is a PhD student in the UConn Marine Sciences program, where her research is focused on the effects of environmental pollutants on marine food webs. Manufactured nanomaterials are entering aquatic environments from product usage, industrial waste, and wastewater treatment plant effluents. Specifically, titanium dioxide nanoparticles found in consumer products, such as sunscreen and personal care products, can be toxic to organisms and its toxicity can increase with exposure to light. Very little research has been done on the effects of these nanoparticles in the marine environment with exposure to natural light. The objective of this project is to examine the effects of titanium dioxide nanoparticles on ecologically important food web grazers that inhabit coastal waters, using environmentally relevant experimental conditions. This work will aid in the development of safer nanomaterials and help predict impacts on grazer populations and organisms that rely on grazers for food (primarily fish).

UConn Environmental Engineering student wins EPA STAR


Rebecca “Becca” Rubinstein was recently awarded the EPA STAR Fellowship for her research on wastewater treatment with Dr. Ranjan Srivastava. Becca is a PhD student in the UConn Environmental Engineering Program, where her research is focused on understanding and modeling biological wastewater treatment. Nutrients commonly found in wastewater streams, particularly nitrogen species, can seriously damage aquatic ecosystems near the outfall, and as a result are carefully regulated. The microbial community that is largely responsible for nutrient removal from wastewater streams is very complex, changing in response to both nutrient loading rates and ambient environmental conditions. The objective of this project is to characterize the chemical and microbial system in the activated sludge basin of the UConn Water Pollution Control Facility through daily sampling and analysis at various locations in the treatment basin. A machine learning approach will be applied to model the system. The model will then be used to dynamically optimize treatment conditions. In developing this model, Becca hopes to provide a useful tool for evaluating the impact of different treatment techniques or system perturbations on treatment efficiency.

Current NSF Fellow awarded NSF GROW

Emily Seelen was recently funded through the National Science Foundation (NSF) Graduate Research Opportunities Worldwide program to conduct research with Dr. Erik Björn at Umeå University in Sweden. This opportunity is only available to active awardees of the NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Program. Emily is currently a PhD student in the UCONN Marine Sciences Department where her research is focused on mercury cycling in estuarine ecosystems. Even though mercury is a naturally occurring element, human activity has increased its abundance and altered its behavior in coastal waters. These changes potentially impact the incorporation of methylmercury, a more toxic form of mercury, into our aquatic resources including seafood. The degree of mercury accumulation in aquatic food webs has been shown to depend on the chemical form of methylmercury in the water column, and is related to the type of organic matter the methylmercury is bound to. In Sweden, Emily will use a molecular approach to describe the relationship between methylmercury and various types of natural organic matter in order to mechanistically understand how their interaction influences biotic uptake. The project is expected to last up to 9 months and will include advanced synchrotron and mass spectrometry work. Through this research, Emily hopes to improve mercury speciation models to more accurately predict mercury cycling and human exposure to methylmercury under climate change scenarios.

Jorell Meléndez-Badillo: Ph.D. Candidate, Recipient of the 2016-2017 Ford Foundation Dissertation Fellowship

Currently a Ph.D. candidate in Latin American History, Jorell Meléndez-Badillo is a recent recipient of the 2016-2017 Ford Foundation Dissertation Fellowship. Jorell has previously published books, edited volumes, journal articles, book chapters, and newspaper articles on the topics of labor, anarchism, and radical politics in Puerto Rico. During his tenure he will work under the supervision of Prof. Blanca G. Silvestrini to complete his dissertation, currently titled, “The Workshop is Our Homeland: Puerto Rican Workers and their Production of Knowledge and Identities, 1897-1932.”

His work will provide an intellectual and cultural history of Puerto Rican workers, which adds new perspectives to our scholarly understanding of early twentieth-century Puerto Rican society by untangling the complexities of knowledge production and identity construction among its working classes. The project also widens the scope of how we look at and think about working-class transnationalism in the Caribbean and Latin America. Scholars have concentrated on migration patterns, physical movement, and labor institutions. By focusing on the movement of ideas rather than individuals or institutions, his work shifts the emphasis towards how local processes and identities were transnationally informed even when people lacked mobility.

After earning his Ph.D. Jorell aspires to become a Latino scholar and professor, and hopes to translate all of his research discoveries to students in the classroom. From large introductory classes about Latin America or the Caribbean, to upper-level courses about social movements, ideologies, or subaltern classes, he envisions his scholarship to be used in a wide-variety of interdisciplinary settings to think about gender, race, exclusions, and popular classes through the lenses of social, cultural, and intellectual history.

David Etim: Ph.D. Candidate, Recipient of 2016 NNSA Graduate Fellowship

David Etim, Ph.D. Candidate, Department of Computer Science and Engineering. 

Currently a Ph.D. candidate studying in computer science and engineering, David Etim is a recent recipient of the 2016 National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) Graduate Fellowship.  David has a strong interest in data analytics as well as development of applications that utilize the extraction of information from various documents. During his tenure at NNSA, David will work in the NNSA Office of Advanced Simulation and Computing, where he is to contribute to overseeing procurement of the most advanced high performance supercomputers for the NNSA National Laboratories across the country as well as identifying characteristics of next-generation platforms to procure necessary resources. David will also participate in improving high resolution 3-D Multiphysics simulations in support of the NNSA mission.

After David earns his Ph.D., his goal is to continue his career into Federal employment and make use of his skills and computer science background to facilitate cutting-edge projects that will serve the objectives of respective government agencies.

For more information about the NNSA fellowship, please visit

Professor Hertel: Recipient of 2015 Edward C. Marth Mentorship Award

Edward C. Marth Mentorship Award is given each year to a member of University of Connecticut Graduate Faculty in recognition of outstanding mentoring of graduate students over the past 10 years.  Established by The UConn AAUP, the Marth Award was founded to recognize the leadership and dedication of Edward Marth, former Executive Director of the UConn AAUP Chapter, as well as to encourage and reward outstanding mentoring of graduate students by UConn Graduate Faculty members.  This year a record number of nominations were received for the award.

Faculty and staff colleagues, Graduate students, and family members gathered in the Great Hall of the Alumni Center at UConn for a reception and champagne toast as Kent Holsinger, Vice Provost for Graduate Education and Dean of The Graduate School presented the award.  Provost Mun Choi opened the evening with words of congratulations making special mention that this award recognizes the importance of the successful relationship between an advisor and graduate student as the foundation for the intellectual and professional growth of graduate students and the advancement of knowledge.

Dr. Holsinger remarked that “Recipients of the Edward C. Marth Mentorship Award are UConn Graduate Faculty members who have extraordinary records of excellence and effectiveness in activities such as facilitating smooth transitions for both entering and exiting graduate students; showing sensitivity to students’ academic, personal, and professional goals and needs; being accessible to students; playing an active role in coaching graduate students through the graduate school experience and connecting them to appropriate intellectual and professional networks; and, guiding graduate students toward intellectual and professional independence. The committee considered a record number of nominations this year and faced a very difficult task in selecting only one winner. All of the nominees presented evidence of outstanding mentorship in many ways, but in the end, Shereen’s nomination was the most compelling. Shereen exemplifies the caring, thoughtful approach to mentorship that the Marth Award is meant to honor, and it gives me great pleasure to present her with this plaque to commemorate this honor.”

Dr. Hertel is an Associate Professor in the Department of Political Science at the University of Connecticut, jointly appointed with the Human Rights Institute at UConn. Her research focuses on changes in transnational human rights advocacy, with a focus on labor and economic rights issues. She has served as a consultant to foundations, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and United Nations agencies in the United States, Latin America and South Asia and conducted fieldwork in factory zones along the US-Mexico border, in Bangladesh’s garment manufacturing export sector, among NGO networks in India, and in the multilateral trade arena.

If you are more interested in Dr. Hertel’s research, you can view additional information about here.

2015 APF/COGDOP Scholarship Winner

Lauren Long, Ph.D.Candidate, Department of Psychological Sciences. 

Currently a Ph.D candidate studying in vivo hippocampal electrophysiology in behaving rodents, Lauren Long is a recent recipient of the American Psychological Foundation/Council of Graduate Departments of Psychology (APF/COGDOP) 2015 scholarship. Lauren has a strong interest in understanding cooperative interactions between groups of neurons and how such interactions may underlie high-level cognitive operations, such as memory. By using rodent models, Lauren is able to probe critical questions in neuroscience—what determines the strength of memory representations and what is the time course for neuronal activation? A better understanding of neuronal circuit mechanisms that underlie memory formation should facilitate our understanding of how pathophysiological disruptions in network activity relate to cognitive and sensorimotor processing.

After Lauren earns her Ph.D, her goal is to make use of her skill-set and knowledge by gaining post-doctoral experience working with human clinical populations using cutting-edge electrophysiological techniques such as ECoG, depth electrodes and DBS.

Fulbright Grant Recipients: Tanisha Williams

The recipient of a Fulbright Research Grant to South Africa, Tanisha Williams (Ph.D Candidate, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology), focuses her research on the relationship between plant functional traits and their environments to assess how variation in phenotype will determine adaptability to changing climates in the Cape Floristic Region (CFR). In addition, Williams will volunteer with the non-profit organization SEED, which promotes outdoor biology learning for primary school children and involvement of the community through a food garden project within the Mitchell’s Plain area of the Cape Flats. Upon completion of her doctoral program, Williams aims to integrate research with science policymaking and to mentor underrepresented students in the STEM fields.

View more of our 2015 Fulbright Grant recipients!

EEB Student Earns Prestigious AAAS Fellowship

Currently a Ph.D candidate in Ecology and Evolutionary biology, Jessie Rack is a recent recipient of the AAAS Mass Media Science and Engineering Fellowship. In addition to this prestigious fellowship, Jessie also received an internship with National Public Radio.

Jessie is studying predator-prey interactions between two species of salamanders: the spotted salamander, whose aquatic larvae make easy prey for all manner of predators; and adult Eastern newts, amphibian predators that are primarily aquatic. She studies how behavioral responses differ depending on geographic origin of the newt predator, what the newt has been eating, and the larvae’s own pond of origin. In studying and understanding these interactions, Jessie hopes to gain some insight into interactions in a temporary pond community and help predict how amphibians might deal with an unfamiliar predator.

After she earns her Ph.D, Jessie plans to work toward a career in science communication. But she isn’t ruling out freelance, nonprofit work, or finding some wonderful opportunity that she doesn’t yet know exists!

For more information on the AAAS Mass Media Science and Engineering Fellowship, Click Here

Fulbright Grant Recipients: Dasal Jashar

Doctor of Philosophy, Psychology

As the recipient of a Fulbright Research grant to India, Dasal will examine parents’, teachers’ and health care providers’ knowledge of autism in the Tibetan community in Dharamsala, India. In particular, she is interested in the role that culture plays in the presentation, screening and diagnosis of autism in this community.

While there she also plans to teach English and, with her research findings, publish a pamphlet on Autism Spectrum Disorder which is specific to the needs and beliefs of the Tibetan community.

For more information on the U.S. Fulbright Scholarship Program: Click Here