Announcing the winners of the 2022 US Senator Phil Gramm Award Doctoral Fellowship Award


Texas A&M University Graduate and Professional School has selected the 2022 U.S. Senator Phil Gramm Fellowship award recipients. These scholarships are awarded annually to outstanding current PhD students who demonstrate excellence in both research areas and Teaching embodies the meaning of science and mentoring in the highest sense.

These awards, made possible by gifts from donors honoring Senator Gramm, reflect Gramm’s appreciation for the important role graduate students play in helping Texas A&M University fulfill their teaching and research assignments, and honor his Legacy of science, leadership and public service.

Gramm earned a Ph.D. in economics from the University of Georgia and was an economics professor at Texas A&M for 12 years before turning to politics. Gramm initially represented Texas’ 6th congressional district in the US House of Representatives before being elected to the US Senate, where he served for nearly two decades. He is currently a senior partner at Gramm Partners, a public policy firm in Washington, DC, and a senior advisor at US Policy Metrics.

The 2022 honorees will each receive a personalized certificate and a $5,000 scholarship to support their continued studies. They will be honored at an invitation-only ceremony on October 5.

The 2022 U.S. Senator Phil Gramm Doctoral Fellowship Award winners are:

Amanda Beckman is a doctoral student in ecology and conservation biology. She holds a bachelor’s degree in biology and a minor in chemistry from Florida State University. Beckman’s research, jointly conducted by Dr. Sarah Hamer and Dr. Gil Rosenthal, examines how management efforts and various sources of anthropogenic selection have influenced the evolutionary trajectory of turkeys. Working with hunters and wildlife authorities across North America, Beckman has collected hundreds of turkey feathers that serve as sources of DNA, allowing her to analyze population structure and hybridization between wild turkey subspecies on an unprecedented scale. Using these DNA sources, her dissertation examines the genomic implications of turkeys’ close association with humans in different contexts and advances our understanding of the modern evolutionary pressures that shape populations of all species. Beckman has been recognized for her research and service with the Ecology and Evolutionary Program Student Award, the Schubot Center for Avian Health Director’s Award, and the Bryan/College Station Girl Scout Service Unit Star Volunteer Award.

Ana Cristina Chang Gonzalez is a doctoral student in biomedical engineering with a focus on molecular biomechanics. Under the direction of Dr. Wonmuk Hwang, Chang-Gonzalez worked on developing methods for constructing quantitative surface models of human and zebrafish embryonic brains from three-dimensional image stacks. Her research is currently focused on unveiling the mechanics of the T cell receptor, a key component of the adaptive immune system, through molecular dynamics simulations. Change-Gonzalez is a 2016 National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship recipient and has received awards from the Korea Institute for Advanced Study, the Biophysical Society, and the Protein Society. She was recently featured in the magazine’s cover article Biophysical Reports for her work on 3-dimensional image stacks. Chang-Gonzalez enjoys developing materials to teach scientific concepts, such as B. a contribution to the children’s book project of the Biomedical Engineering Graduate Student Association “ABCs of Biomedical Engineering“ and leads an AggiE challenge team.

Mary Colleen “MC” Hannon is a graduate student in marine biology at Texas A&M University on the Galveston campus. Under her advisor Dr. Anja Schulze, Hannon is researching the reproductive cycle of a local marine worm, expanding the current understanding of the genetic drivers and associated muscular transformations behind this worm’s sexual metamorphosis. Hannon’s research was funded by the American Microscopical Society, Texas SeaGrant, and the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History. As a member of the Invertebrate Zoology teaching team, Hannon helped develop a unique curriculum for distance learning in 2020. Hannon has served on several administrative committees and boards at both university and department levels and organized a workshop for her fellow students on resources and training for mentoring students, has met the requirements for the Advanced Level Professional Development Certificate offered by the Graduate and Professional School.

Hanna Justen is a doctoral student in ecology and evolutionary biology. After completing her Bachelors in Environmental Impact Assessment and her Masters in Molecular Biology and Evolution in Germany, she joined Texas A&M in 2018 where, under the guidance of Dr. Kira Delmore works. Her research has the potential to fill important gaps in our understanding of the process of speciation, or the emergence of new species, that occurs when groups within a species evolve new and unique traits. Her dissertation specifically follows songbirds in the wild, examining which genes control their seasonal migration patterns and how this contributes to speciation. Justen’s work was supported by several grants and grants, including the American Philosophical Society, the Animal Behavior Society, the Schubot Center, and an international grant from the American Association of University Women. Passionate about education and outreach, Justen has been involved in classroom teaching and mentoring students during field collection trips and is part of a group dedicated to making research on seasonal migration more accessible to students and the public.

Aravindh Nagarajan is a doctoral student in the interdisciplinary research training group Genetics and Genomics. After receiving a bachelor’s degree in biotechnology from Anna University in Chennai, India and a master’s degree in biotechnology from Texas A&M, Aravindh joined Dr. Helene Andrews-Polymenis to study host-pathogen interaction. His current research uses laboratory mice and is multidrug resistant Staphylococcus aureus, tries to understand the genetic factors why some people infected with the same pathogen become ill while others remain asymptomatic. Aravindh is the co-author of several peer-reviewed publications, teaches genetics laboratory courses (for which he received the Genetics and Genomics 2020 Student Choice Award) and mentors numerous undergraduate students through the Aggie Research program and the Summer Research program . Upon graduation, Aravindh hopes his research will expand access to personalized medicine and safe research/educational spaces for students from underprivileged communities.

Donnie Secret is a PhD student in English. She holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees in English from Radford University and the University of North Carolina-Wilmington, respectively. Her current research focuses on the intersections of ecocriticism and humor in 20th and 21st century literature. Her current dissertation, which was supervised by consultant Dr. Emily Johansen, explores how nature fiction uses grotesque and absurdist humor to transcend preconceived notions about the environmental fiction genre. Recently awarded the Elizabeth Qualls ’89 Endowed Graduate Fellowship 2021-2022, Secreast has presented her work at several national and international conferences and currently serves as Associate Editor for the literary journal artemis.


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