Scholars of Excellence

Outstanding Thesis & Dissertation Award

The Outstanding Thesis and Dissertation (OTD) Award recognizes graduate alumni whose research exemplifies the highest quality. The award recognizes those USF graduates who have demonstrated exceptional performance and whose thesis or dissertation has resulted in a significant impact to the discipline at the national level.

View 2023 Program

2023 Outstanding Dissertation Award Recipients


Yi-Jie Zhu (Geosciences Geography, Environmental Science and Policy)
Inland Tropical Cyclone Intensity Decay in the Continental United States
Major Professor: Jennifer Collins, Ph.D.

Research Summary

Yijie’s research at USF examines the spatial-temporal pattern of hurricane post-landfall intensity variations in the continental United States. The proposed method to quantify the longevity of inland destructive winds highlights the impact of post-landfall hurricanes, especially under a changing climate. The results brought global attention to the importance of inland-moving storms.

[This] dissertation provides an overview of historical inland-moving tropical cyclones, which could also benefit (re)insurance companies and emergency management agencies to better serve local communities that are prone to the potential inland-moving tropical cyclone risks.

MacLean Hall

MacLean Hall (Molecular Biosciences)
Utilizing neoantigen-specific CD4+ T cells and immune checkpoint modulation to advance adoptive cell therapy with tumor-infiltrating lymphocytes for metastatic melanoma patients
Major Professor: Shari Pilon-Thomas, Ph.D.

Research Summary

The results of this dissertation have demonstrated that neoantigen-specific CD4+ Tumor-Infiltrating Lymphoctyes (TIL) and combination immune checkpoint modulation each may have therapeutic utility in the setting of Adoptive Cell Therapy (ACT) for metastatic melanoma patients. These studies substantially contribute to the knowledge in the TIL therapy field concerning the ability to shape and enrich for antigen-specific T cells, the breadth and depth of the neoantigen-specific TIL repertoire, and the functional potential and limitations of these TIL. 

We find that increased access to therapeutically relevant antigen­ specific T cells, especially CD4+ TIL, has the potential to provide additional clinical benefit, although further work investigating the impact of neoantigen-specific cellular or genomic profiles, antigen expression, and the tumor microenvironment is warranted. Resistance to immunotherapy and in particular ACT is an increasing challenge, although translational studies that include access to patient specimens provide invaluable insight into strategies to overcome these mechanisms.

Overall, the optimal ACT regimen with TIL will likely incorporate multiple advances such as those presented here in order to ultimately provide improved therapeutic efficacy for patients with cancer.


Keval Doshi (Electrical Engineering)
Video Anomaly Detection: Practical Challenges for Learning Algorithms
Major Professor: Yasin Yilmaz, Ph.D.

Research Summary

The technological innovation in (my) research lies in its ability to revolutionize video anomaly detection by making it more data-efficient, adaptable, and conducive to real-time decision-making. These advancements have the potential to significantly improve the effectiveness and practicality of video surveillance systems in addressing modern security challenges… 

Similar to the video anomaly detection problem, harmful or unregulated content represents only a minute fraction of the vast volume of videos circulating on these video streaming platforms, making manual detection an extremely time-consuming endeavor. Extending the research proposed in my dissertation offers the potential to significantly reduce the manpower required for the identification of regulated content. By automating the content regulation process, my research not only safeguards customers from encountering violent, explicit, or potentially traumatic material but also eases the burden on individuals tasked with content moderation.

2023 Outstanding Thesis Award Recipient

Amanda Connella

Amanda Connella (Criminology)
The Invisible Victims of Commercial Sexual Exploitation: Boys and Their Barriers to Access to Services
Major Professor: Joan A. Reid, Ph.D.

Research Summary

While there has been a large body of research conducted on girl victims of commercial sexual exploitation, boy victims are often left out of the conversation. From the few studies that have been conducted on this topic, boys and young male victims of commercial sexual exploitation may have gender specific barriers that result in boys being overlooked by service providers and researchers. 

Using survey data from key providers that work in programs that serve commercially sexually exploited boys, my thesis fills this hole in the literature by providing insight on the gender specific barriers that boy victims face. 

In my thesis I propose three barriers, drawn from feminist criminology and critical masculinity theories, that I believe may help explain why boys are forgotten when talking about Commercial Sexual Exploitation (CSE) victims. These barriers are: hegemonic masculinity, male victimization myths, and homophobic beliefs. Additionally, my thesis aims to highlight the lack of programs available for boys and suggests that the same barriers that prevent boys from being identified as victims may also be to blame for the lack of programs for boys.

Past Outstanding Thesis and Dissertation Award Winners


Name Major Type

Elizabeth Hintz, Ph.D.

Communication Dissertation

Title: Explicating the Process of Communicative Disenfranchisement for Women with Chronic Overlapping Pain Conditions (COPCs)
Major Professor: Steven R. Wilson, Ph.D.

Ausmita Sarker, Ph.D.

Computer Science and Engineering Dissertation
Title: Secure Hardware Constructions for Fault Detection of Lattice-based Post-quantum Cryptosystems
Major Professor: Mehran Mozaffari Kermani, Ph.D.

Shangqing Zhao, Ph.D. 

Electrical Engineering Dissertation
Title: Data-Oriented Approaches towards Mobile, Network and Secure Systems
Major Professor: Zhuo Lu, Ph.D.

Ruchitha Chinthala M.S.

Computer Science & Engineering


Title: An Internet of Medical Things (IoMT) Approach for Remote Assessment of Head and Neck Cancer Patients
Major Professor: Srinivas Katkoori, Ph.D.


Name Major Type
Michelle Guitard Marine Science Dissertation
Title: Ocean Forcing of Quaternary East Antarctic Ice Sheet Evolution: An Ice-Proximal Sedimentary Perspective
Sheikh Ariful Islam Computer Science Dissertation
Title: Behavioral and RT-Level Synthesis of Secure Nano VLSI Digital ASIC Designs 
Stephanie Phillips English Dissertation
Title: The Power of Non-Compliant Logos: A New Materialist Approach to Comic Studies
Sarah Schmid Integrative Biology Thesis
Title: Novel CO2 Transporters from Autotrophic Bacteria from Extreme Environments


Name Major Type
Kadriye Merve Dogan Mechanical Engineering Dissertation
Title: Stable Adaptive Control Systems in the Presence of Unmodeled and Actuator
Fiona Kearns Chemistry Dissertation
Title: Development and Application of Computational Models for Biochemical Systems
Zeinab Motawe Molecular Pharmacology & Physiology Dissertation
Title: Functional Significance of Endothelial Sigma-1 Receptors in Vascular Reactivity and Barrier Function
Kristen Grafton English Thesis
Title: 9/11 Then and Now: How the Performance of Memorial Rhetoric by Presidents Changes to Construct Hero


Name Major Type
Mengqiu Wang Marine Science Dissertation
Title: Spatial and Temporal Distributions of Pelagic Sargassum in the Intra-Americas Sea and Atlantic Ocean
Brent Kuenzi Cancer Chemical Biology Dissertation
Title: Off-Target Based Drug Repurposing Using Systems Pharmacology
Kim Miender Music Education Dissertation
Title: The Effects of a Self-Regulated Learning Music Practice Strategy Curriculum on Music Performance, Self-Regulation, Self-Efficacy, and Cognition
Dean Hobbis Physics Thesis
Title: A Fundamental Investigation into Low Thermal Conductivity P-Type Chalcogenides and Skutterudites with Potential Thermoelectric Applications


Name Major Type
Brad Steele Physics Dissertation
Title: Computational Discovery of Energetic Polynitrogen Compounds at High Pressure
Renee Fleeman Cell Biology, Microbiology, and Molecular Biology Dissertation
Title: Discovering Antibacterial and Anti-Resistance Agents Targeting Multi-Drug Resistant ESKAPE Pathogens 
Kimberly French Psychology (Industrial-Organizational) Dissertation
Title: Episodic Work-Family Conflict and Strain: A Dynamic Perspective
Amanda Palmer Psychology (Clinical) Thesis
Title: Parsing the Influences of Nicotine and Expectancies on the Acute Effects of E-cigarettes: A Balanced Placebo Experiment 


Name Major Type
Ashley Basiorka Cancer Biology Dissertation
Title: Changing the Pathobiological Paradigm in Myelodysplastic Syndromes: The NLRP3 Inflammasome Drives the MDS Phenotype
Jeremy Cohen Integrative Biology Dissertation
Title: Climate Change Drives Outbreaks of Emerging Infectious Disease and Phenological Shifts
Prerna Malaney Pathology Dissertation
Title: Significance of PTEN Phosphorylation and its Nuclear Function in Lung Cancer


Name Major Type
Jacqueline L. Fries Chemistry Dissertation
Title: Chemical Investigation of Antarctic Marine Organisms & Their Role in Modern Drug Discovery
Nikita La Cruz Geosciences Thesis
Title: Schreibersite: Synthesis, Characterization and Corrosion and Possible Implications for Origin of Life
Kaya Wei Physics Dissertation
Title: Investigation of Low Thermal Conductivity Materials with Potential for Thermoelectric Applications
JungA (Alexa) Woo Molecular Medicine Dissertation
Title: Role of the Slingshot-Cofilin and RanBP9 Pathways in Alzheimer's Disease Pathogenesis


Name Major Type
Aaron Craig Curriculum & Instruction Dissertation
Title: National Investigation of Pre-Activity Health Screening Procedures in Fitness Facilities: Perspectives from American College of Sports Medicine Certified Health Fitness Specialists
Jayita Das Electrical Engineering Dissertation
Title: Auxiliary Roles in STT-MRAM Memory
Jianing Fu Cancer Biology Dissertation
Title: Targeting T-bet for Prevention of Graft-Versus-Host Disease and Leukemia Relapse after Allogeneic Hematopoietic Stem Cell Transplantation
Robert Hardy Marine Science Thesis
Title: Assessments of Surface-Pelagic Drift Communities and Behavior of Early Juvenile Sea Turtles in the Northern Gulf of Mexico


Name Major Type
Brian Barnes Marine Science Dissertation
Title: The Combined Effects of Light and Temperature on Coral Bleaching: A Case Study of the Florida Reef Tract Using Satellite Data
Taegan McMahon Integrative Biology Dissertation
Title: Effects of Pesticides and the Pathogenic Chytrid Fungus on Aquatic Organisms with an Emphasis on their Role in Amphibian Declines
Darrell Nicholson Creative Writing Thesis
Title: Waterborne
Hillary Seifert Molecular Pharmacology Dissertation
Title: The Inflammatory Response Initiated by the Spleen to Ischemic Stroke


Name Major Type
Lyudmyla Adamska Physics


Title: Theory and Modeling of Graphene and Single Molecule Devices
Brian Dunst Philosophy Dissertation
Title: Embodying Social Practice: Dynamically Co-constituting Social Agency
Stefce Stefanoski Physics Dissertation
TItle: Synthesis and Physical Properties of Group 14 Intermetallic Clathrates
Claire Stephens English Thesis
Title: Split City Blues


Name Major Type
Julia Galkiewicz Marine Science Dissertation
Title: Microbial Ecology and Functional Genomics of Deep-Water Coral-Associated Microbes
Cristina Mazza Geography, Environment, & Planning Thesis
Title: The Influence of Meteorological Parameters on Rainfall and Severe Weather in Pinellas County, FL
Cecelia Padros Applied Anthropology Dissertation
Title: The Participation of NGOs in Healthcare: The Case of Pediatric Cancer Treatment in Argentina
Adrian Popescu Applied Physics Dissertation
Title: Carbon Nanotubes Interactions: Theory and Applications


Name Major Type
Huijuan Chen Chemical Engineering Dissertation
Title: The Conversion of Low-Grade Heat into Power Using Supercritical Rankine Cycles
Jason Lewis Applied Physics Dissertation
Title: Device Physics of Solution Processable Solar Cells
Javier Pulecio Electrical Engineering Dissertation
Title: Field-Coupled Nano-Magnetic Logic Systems
Matthew Tucker Public Health Dissertation
Title: Phenotypic and Genotypic Analysis of In Vitro Selected Artemisinin Resistant Plasmodium falciparum


Name Major Type
Koutstav Bhattacharya Computer Science & Engineering Dissertation
Title: Architectures and Algorithms for Mitigation of Soft Errors in Nanoscale VLSI Circuits
Michael Conroy Applied Physics Dissertation
Title: Density Functional Theory Studies of Energetic Materials
Sabrina Hughes Art History Thesis
Title: Empty Streets in the Capital of Modernity: Formation of Lieux de Mémoire in Parisian Street Photography From Daguerre to Atget
Scott Segro Chemistry Dissertation
Title: Surface-Bonded Sol-Gel Sorbents for On-Line Hyphenation of Capillary Microextraction with High-Performance Liquid Chromatography


Name Major Type
Matt Beekman Applied Physics Dissertation
Title: Fundamental Investigations on Open-Framework Intermetallic Materials of Group 14
Angela Gilbert Geography Thesis
Title: Air Toxics and Equity: A Geographic Analysis of Environmental Health Risks in Florida
Vishnu Nanduri Industrial Engineering Dissertation
Title: Generation Capacity Expansion in Restructured Energy Markets
Praveen Sekhar Electrical Engineering Dissertation
Title: Nanomanufacturing of Silica Nanowires: Synthesis, Characterization and Applications


Name Major Type
Shayam Aravamudhan Electrical Engineering Thesis
Title: Development of Micro/Nanosensor Elements and Packaging Techniques for Oceanography
Upavan Gupta Computer Science & Engineering Dissertation
Title: Utilitarian Approaches for Multi-Metric Optimization in VLSI Circuit Design and Spatial Cluster 
Rebecca Kinkade Davis Cancer Biology Dissertation
Title: Rb-Raf-1 Interaction as a Therapeutic Target for Proliferative
Luca Lai Applied Anthropology Dissertation
Title: The Interplay of Economics, Climatic and Cultural Change Investigated Through Isotopic Analyses of Bone Tissue: The Case of Sardinia 4000-1900 BC