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Advancing Women

Doctoral and Postdoctoral Fellowships

AdvanceVT awarded Ph.D. and Postdoctoral fellowships in 2004, 2005, 2006, and 2007 to outstanding women graduate students and recent Ph.D. recipients preparing for faculty careers.

Miriam Stewart, Civil and Environmental Engineering (Advisor: Dr. George Filz)
Miriam will be a 4th year PhD student. Her research involves looking at a new technology called columnar reinforcement practices for stabilizing roadway embankments. Use of columnar reinforcement speeds up the roadway construction process, and minimizes impact on society and the environment. She is using existing data sets from field applications to model these elements, and hopes the outcome of her research will result in the development of new and improved practical methods for designing these systems. Miriam has 5 professional engineering reports and 2 international/national conference presentations/papers. She has taught courses at Virginia Tech as part of the Dept. of Education GAANN program and was an adjunct instructor at Montana State University, teaching engineering courses. Through the GAANN program, she has been involved with programs that integrate engineering concepts to high school kids.

Megan Elwood Madden, Geosciences (Advisor: Dr. Robert Bodnar)
Megan will be a 4th year PhD student, developing new isotopic methods to measure the nature of aqueous environments in the solar system, the impact of meteorites on fluid-bearing materials, and examining chemical weathering patterns on Mars. She has 1 peer-reviewed journal article and 6 international/national conference papers/presentations, has been a TA, and is an active member of the GSA and graduate representative to a number of university commissions.

Olga Pierrakos, Mechanical Engineering/Biomedical Engineering, (Advisor: Dr. Pavlos Vlachos)
Olga will be a 4th year PhD student. Her research involves characterizing the flow past mechanical heart valve prostheses and the left ventricle of the heart. She hopes the modeling effort will lead to a better understanding of prosthetic hardware and to help doctors improve their clinical procedures associated with these prosthetic devices. She has 1 peer-reviewed journal article and 9 national/international conference papers/presentations, has been a TA in math and mechanical engineering, and is a representative for the graduate honor system.

Charlotte Wahl, Postdoctoral Fellow
Mathematics Department

Dr. Wahl obtained her PhD at the Mathematical Institute in Goettingen, specializing in noncommutative geometry. She spent the academic year 1995/96 at the Ecole Normale Supérieure in Paris and then continued her studies in Goettingen. Her first postdoc position was in Paris at the Institut Henri Poincaré where she studied K-theory and noncommutative geometry.

Cortney V. Martin, PhD Fellow
Industrial and Systems Engineering Department

Ms. Martin researches the development of design guidelines and usability testing methods for procedural assembly instructions for children. She is an adjunct instructor in the Department of Engineering Education and previously worked with Virginia Tech's broadband wireless research testbed and as Assistant Director of the Blacksburg Electronic Village.

Elena F. Burguera, Postdoctoral Fellow
Materials Science and Engineering Department

Dr. Burguera obtained her PhD in chemical engineering from the Univ. of Santiago de Compostela. She worked in the Paffenbarger Research Center at the NIST campus in Gaithersburg, MD. She is studying sedimentation profiles of aggregating proteins involved in the progression of several neurodegenerative diseases using a z-axis translating laser light scattering device (ZATLLS), with a goal of developing an in vitro screening test for chemicals with potential for inhibiting protein aggregation.

Sara Chiara Haden, PhD Fellow
Psychology Department

Ms. Haden is primarily interested in risk and protective factors involved in the development of aggressive behavior in children. She works on several research projects involving the effects of community violence exposure, physiological and neurochemical correlates of aggressive behavior, and treatment outcomes for children with specific phobias. She would like to continue research on the etiology and treatment of antisocial behavior and work with forensically-minded clinical psychologists in evaluating and treating offenders' risk for recidivism.

Jessica Homyack, PhD Fellow, Fisheries & Wildlife Sciences
Jessica originally is from Pennsylvania and graduated with a B.S. in Wildlife and Fisheries Resources, Magna Cum Laude from West Virginia University in 1999. She has a M.S. in Wildlife Ecology from the University of Maine where she was voted the outstanding graduate student in her department in 2003. Prior to coming to the Department of Fisheries and Wildlife Sciences at Virginia Tech, Jessica was a Fish and Wildlife Biologist for the Wyoming Ecological Services Field Office of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. For her dissertation research, Jessica is investigating the experimental effects of forest regeneration methods on salamander populations in Virginia and West Virginia. Jessica is married to Tom Gorman, who also is a PhD student in Wildlife Sciences, and she looks forward to utilizing her AdvanceVT fellowship to explore issues in academia related to dual career relationships and balancing family and work.

Michelle Soupir, PhD Fellow, Biological Systems Engineering
Ms. Soupir obtained her B.S. from Kansas State University and her M.S. from Virginia Tech.  She is currently researching the transport of fecal bacteria from pasturelands to determine if cells are transported to surface waters in the planktonic or attached phase.  She plans to graduate with her PhD from Virginia Tech in the summer of 2007.

Frances Bonier, Postdoctoral Fellow, Biology
Frances Bonier is currently a PhD candidate in Zoology at the University of Washington. She will be defending her dissertation in July of 2006. Fran received her M.S. in Zoology in 2001 from the University of Idaho, where she investigated noninvasive detection of steroid hormones in cougars. For her dissertation, Fran investigated evolutionary, behavioral, and physiological responses to urban breeding habitat in songbirds. As a postdoctoral researcher, she will be working with Dr. Ignacio Moore at Virginia Tech, investigating the role of mountain ranges and asynchronous seasonality in promoting population divergence in songbirds in the Ecuadorian Andes.

Patricia Dos Santos, Postdoctoral Fellow, Biochemistry
Patricia C. Dos Santos received a B.S. degree in Pharmacy from Universidade Federal do Rio Grande do Sul in Porto Alegre, Brazil and a PhD in Biochemistry from Virginia Tech. She is currently a postdoctoral fellow in Dennis R. Dean’s laboratory at Virginia Teach. Patricia’s research interest involves the in vivoassembly of Fe-S clusters. The AdvanceVT fellowship will provide funding for her study of how gram-positive bacteria build these essential metal complexes.

Krista Rule, PhD Fellow
Environmental and Water Resource Engineering

Krista Rule is a PhD candidate in the Environmental and Water Resource Engineering program in the Charles E. Via Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering. She received a B.S. degree in chemistry from the University of Idaho and an M.S. degree from Virginia Tech in Environmental Engineering. In her M.S. research, Krista investigated chemical reactions between the antibacterial agent Triclosan and common drinking water disinfectants. Her PhD research focuses on the development of a biosensor for the detection of Cryptosporidium parvum in drinking water. She plans to finish her degree in the summer of 2008.

Amy Villamagna, PhD Fellow, Fisheries and Wildlife Sciences
Amy grew up in the Hudson River Valley of New York. She earned her B.A. from Eckerd College in St. Petersburg, Florida before joining the department of Sustainable Development and Conservation Biology at the University of Maryland–College Park for her master’s degree. Since early in her academic career, Amy has pursued international science, particularly in developing areas. During her master’s she worked for an international lake conservation organization where she first learned about Lake Chapala, Mexico, the present focus of her doctoral research. Amy joined Virginia Tech in January 2005, and since has been building an international research program in collaboration with a local Mexican university. Her research in Mexico explores the effects of an invasive weed on the ecology of the lake with an emphasis on waterbird ecology. As part of her AdvanceVT fellowship, Amy looks forward to exploring the role of women in international natural resource science and field ecology.

Lori Blanc, Postdoctoral Fellow, Biological Sciences
Lori Blanc is a PhD candidate in the department of Biological Sciences at Virginia Tech and will defend her dissertation in July 2007. Her areas of research expertise are avian community ecology and conservation biology. Recent work includes studies of how interactions between different species within an avian community can influence community structure and dynamics, and subsequently, impact endangered species management. She obtained her B.S. and M.S. in Computer Science from California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo. She then worked as a visiting scholar at the University of Queensland in Australia, followed by a position as a field biologist for an environmental consulting firm conducting threatened and endangered species management. She is currently an instructor for Virginia Tech’s Earth Sustainability Core Curriculum program. As a postdoc at Virginia Tech, she will continue to teach in the Earth Sustainability program and conduct additional research on the relationship between avian community complexity and forest age.

Armaghan Salehian, Postdoctoral Fellow, Mechanical Engineering
Armaghan Salehian started her doctoral research in the fall of 2004 at the Center for Intelligent Material Systems and Structures at Virginia Tech. Her research interests include modeling and design of smart materials, finite element methods, design and vibration of large inflatable satellites using homogenization methods, and composite structures. Her PhD work focuses on vibration and control of large inflatable space structures using embedded macro-fiber composites. Armaghan received a Master of Science degree from Worcester Polytechnic Institute in Massachusetts in the June of 2003. For her master’s thesis, she performed research on wave propagation in composite laminates and has used the theory of wavelets to detect the damage in these structures. She also received a Master of Science degree from  University of Tehran in 2000 where she developed inverse methods for estimation of heat conductance coefficients of gases inside a rocket nozzle. She obtained her Bachelor of Science degree from  Sharif University of Technology in 1997.

Transforming the Professoriate Conference

Participants in the 2006 Transforming the Professoriate Conference
2006 Transforming the Professoriate Conference participants

AdvanceVT hosted the Transforming the Professoriate conference for 68 graduate students and postdoctoral researchers preparing for faculty careers from across the U.S. in July 2006. Participants attended workshops on interviewing, negotiating, networking, proposal writing, pedagogy, and work/life balance.