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University of Virginia Faculty Senate Awards $25,000 Dissertation-Year Fellowships to Six Graduate Students

April 8, 2008 — Six graduate students at the University of Virginia have each received a $25,000 dissertation-year fellowship to help them in their last year of doctoral work.

The winners are Nicholas Douris, of Wake, Va.; Clare M. Terni, of Millerton, N.Y.; Lauren Sefcik of Saddle Brook, N.J.; Jon Readey of Columbus, Ohio; Zhen Wu, of Fujian, the People's Republic of China; and Phil Haberkern of Winston-Salem, N.C.

"Teaching graduate students is one of the most important things a university does," said Ricardo Padron, chairman of the Faculty Senate, which sponsors the fellowship competition. "It is what makes you a university."

"Graduate students are a vital part of the research enterprise at a university because they partner with professors and exchange ideas with them. They are also important to the way that research moves forward. They take their work elsewhere, thereby magnifying the effect that U.Va. has on the production of knowledge. Training these future scholars is thus one of the ways that U.Va. has an impact."

Of the six fellowships, two are funded by the Provost's office, and one apiece by the College of Arts & Sciences, the School of Engineering and Applied Science, the Curry School of Education and the Department of Athletics.

The fellowships are designed to reward graduate students who have taught extraordinarily well at U.Va. while maintaining a record of excellence in their research. Each fellowship consists of funding for the final year of doctoral work, including tuition, fees, health insurance and a stipend.

Douris, 31, who studies in the biology department, is researching the Nocturnin gene to uncover connections between biological clocks and metabolic function.

Terni, 30, studies in the anthropology department, and is examining the relationships between traditional forms of mutual obligation and present-day development practice in South Africa, especially how older familial and political relationships shape current engagement with economic development plans.

Sefcik, 26, who studies in the School of Engineering, is researching a small molecule found in human blood, sphingosine 1-phosphate, and its role in remodeling blood vessels in adult tissues.

Readey, 33, who studies in the English department, is researching "Written and Built Memorials: Global Literature in an Age of Mass Tragedy," which juxtaposes close readings of written and built memorials as texts in order to make an overall argument for how written monuments add to the tradition of built memorialization. His work compares constructed memorials to works of literature.

Wu, 27, studies in the Curry School of Education and is researching how attitudes toward computers, computer self-efficacy and computing outcome expectations collectively explain early adolescents' computing interests and how they may differentiate boys' and girls' computing interests.

Haberkern, 30, studies in the history department and is researching Czech heretic Jan Hus, who was burned at the stake in 1415, to determine how his memory was invoked by religious dissidents in the 15th and 16th centuries to justify their movements.

Among the selection criteria for the fellowships are overall effectiveness as an instructor in lectures, discussions, studios, problem-solving sessions, laboratories and/or mentoring; command of the subject area; skills in organizing, developing and presenting material in class or in other pedagogical venues; and capacity to motivate and inspire students.

Padron said U.Va. is unique in basing its dissertation-year fellowship not just on the promise of the research, but also the graduate student's talents in the classroom. "This shows the value we put on teaching," he said.

This is the sixth time the Faculty Senate has offered the fellowships.

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