Dissertation Fellowship


For the 2020-2021 academic year, the Graduate School-Newark awarded 18 competitive fellowships, totaling over $340,000 to students representing all of our doctoral programs.  These exceptional students have been spending this year in dissertation mode.  We have enjoyed working with them all on their writing, their grantsmanship, and helping them prepare for the next stage of their careers!  Continue to read more on our fellows' dissertation research.

Margot Baruch

Global Affairs

In a moment when global powers are shifting and the political power of the United Nations (UN) is consistently undermined, corporate stakeholders are assuming the role of interlocutor between Member States and the UN. With the growing role of the private sector, advocates for gender equality and women’s empowerment are finding it exceedingly difficult to navigate global accountability, funding structures, and simultaneously advance gender equality globally, nationally, and locally. This research addresses the ways in which partnerships between the private sector and the UN have implications with regard to the realization of women’s rights; and provides recommendations and solutions that fundamentally shift and analyze power dynamics and responsibilities between the stakeholders involved. 

Manasa Bollempalli

Global Affairs

The purpose of my dissertation is to understand the implications of addressing environmental refugees as security threats. Environmental refugees lie in the nexus of climate change and immigration, often framed as existential threats by state actors. Legislation of climate and refugee policies vis-a-vis the inclusion/exclusion of environmental refugees present security-oriented variations among potential host countries (EU, USA, Australia, and India) at the international, regional, and state levels. Preliminary findings indicate exclusive responses and emergence of the defense establishment as a key actor in managing refugee flows, such as through humanitarian assistance and disaster relief. This study aims to determine conditions under which security policies can be inclusive/exclusive of environmental refugees.

Nakeefa Garay

Global Urban Systems

My Newark-based study of nonprofits asks why and how community development nonprofits facilitate civic engagement in their community-based work. Using civic participation frameworks by Klandermans and Oegema (1987) and Hahrie Han (2014), and Glickman and Servon's (2007) framework on nonprofit capacity, this project seeks to understand the rationale, steps, and resources community development nonprofits use to engage community members. Through interviews with nonprofit executives and organizers, this work reflects on pre-COVID participation efforts, reviews current participation efforts in today's socially distant era, and asks participants to forecast the future position of civic participation in community development.

Ryan Harmer


My research consists of the design and synthesis of highly fluorescent perylene derivatives. Perylene compounds have remarkable photophysical properties making them ideal for studying charge transfer and other light-induced physical processes such as singlet fission and photon upconversion. In collaboration with research groups at the Universities of Delaware and Santa Catarina, Brazil, we are probing the electron transfer of these perylene derivatives to metal-oxide semiconductors utilizing ultrafast spectroscopy and theoretical analysis. The goal is to control the perylene/semiconductor interface at the molecular level. This research is of interest due to its potential application in solar energy conversion and also because of the importance of the fundamental aspects of these processes.

Sadaf Hashimi

Criminal Justice

My research focuses on the intersection between peer influence and crime, collective behavior, and criminal justice policy. For her dissertation, Sadaf draws on social network analysis to investigate the salience of police officer working relationships on facilitating use-of-force behaviors. By identifying structural and systematic patterns of relationships that are likely to lead to greater instances of police use of force, her dissertation highlights important avenues for intervention policies that may enhance officer safety and accountability while improving police-civilian relations over time.

Hussein Khdour

Behavioral & Neural Sciences

Sensory processing is one of the main functions of the brain. This function is carried out by the sensory cortices whose role is to integrate the information sent to the brain by sensory organs and identify the features of behavioral relevance. It has been extensively shown that the precise architecture of the neural connections forming the visual cortical networks is fundamental to its function. However, little is known about the rules that govern the establishment of this functional connectivity during development and its maintenance through life. The goal of my dissertation research is to determine the role of a small signaling protein (Sema3F) in the establishment and the maintenance of the computational properties of the primary visual cortex (V1).

Guang Hu


I study and develop new ways to synthesize chemical compounds. There are more than one active spots on a single reactant. I combine different catalysis modes to selectively react at one spot, creating asymmetric structure with efficiency. These new methods may be used in making pharmaceuticals, food addictive or active ingredients in cosmetics. 

Adam Kuczynski

Public Affairs & Administration

In my research, I developed a two-part study utilizing Andreoni’s warm-glow principle as a framework to explore specific reasoning behind the decision to give online to charities. In the first part, I intend to replicate warm-glow dictator games and the crowding-out principle, while adding the dimensions of an increased potential endowment and social media recognition, to assess whether these variables affect donor support of a nonprofit. In the second part, I plan to follow up with randomized semi-structured participant interviews to examine, in particular, the decisions made by the individual in the experiment portion.

Qingdong Li


My research focuses on developing and understanding the properties of carbon and semiconducting materials for energy related applications. These applications include ORR (oxygen reduction reaction) as the half reaction of fuel cells, NRR (nitrogen reduction reaction) that uses electricity to convert nitrogen gas to ammonia, and lithium-ion batteries. Novel microwave heating method was developed for the synthesis of holey graphene (hG) and single-atom electrocatalysts (SAC) which show high activity towards electroreduction of oxygen (ORR). The electronic structure of phosphorus-doped tungsten oxide (P-WO3) was carefully studied and tuned for electro-synthesis of ammonia (NRR). I also used in-situ electrochemistry-combined atomic force microscopy (EC-AFM) to study the first lithiation process which is the critical step in the production of lithium ion batteries.

Shruti Masand


During my first 3 years of PhD, I worked on developing polymers from renewable resources (such as lactide) that can bind to heavy metals such as lead, nickel, cadmium, and zinc from water sources. Following the Flint water crisis, technologies that can improve water quality have been extremely important. Following my third year, I started working on Steven's 1,2 rearrangement which was initially reported in 1928 but the mechanism of this reaction remains elusive till this day. We are trying to develop a catalytic and enantioselective version of the reaction since this will facilitate easier access to alkaloids such as morphine and hopefully give us some mechanistic insight as well.

Ashley Murphy

Environmental Science

Many of the geologically oldest signs of life (i.e., microbial) are preserved in dolomitized (CaMg[CO3]2) rocks called stromatolites. These ancient rocks have undergone different alteration levels since their formation, and the effect these changes have on the preservation of ancient fossils is still incompletely understood. This dissertation research aims to shed new light on understanding how microbial fossils remain preserved in geologically ancient dolostone. Through analytical work on ancient samples and experimental work on modern samples, I am investigating the organics and surrounding mineralogy’s characteristics to expand our knowledge and interpretation of microbial fossils in ancient carbonate rocks on Earth. This work has relevance and implications for the rocks analyzed by NASA’s Mars 2020 space mission, which has just started collecting data on Mars.

Lauren O'Brien

American Studies

Bridging together pivotal themes within the fields of African American history, memory studies, and public history, my dissertation is concerned with two central questions: How does silence shape the lives and afterlives of enslaved people within the production of history? And how is history crystallized and/or erased within the built environment? In tracing the ways that Newark historical manuscripts, commemorative celebrations, and public monuments obscure the history of enslavement, my dissertation aims to illustrate that one of the enduring afterlives of slavery was the erasure of the significant role African Americans had within the founding of the city. In this sense, my dissertation is not simply concerned with excavating the history of slavery in Newark, but more specifically the history of disremembering slavery in Newark.

Catrina Palmer


The dissertation advisor remains an essential actor in a doctoral student’s professional career; however, due to the lack of representation in the professoriate, women and underrepresented racial minorities are unlikely to form advising relationships with faculty members with whom they identify. Recent research has provided evidence that underrepresented racial minorities receive substantially less support than their white counterparts. This presents a critical issue: beyond providing custodial duties, advisors are also known to supply their current and former students with intangible support such as advocacy, coaching, and ongoing support while on the tenure clock. Hence, in order to better understand how to retain a diverse faculty in the professoriate, I examine the circumstances in which an advisor is likely to take on the mentoring role in the advising relationship, i.e., one that extends beyond their custodial duties. In examining the initial stage, specifically the development and transformation of the advisor and advisee relationship, I shed light on women and underrepresented racial minorities’ career progression in the academic pipeline.

Yankuo Qiao


My dissertation entitled “Three essays in corporate management and firm policy” examines the relationship between corporate decision making and firm performance, with a particular focus on CEO transition and power distribution in the top management team. The dissertation investigates, both theoretically and empirically, the nexus of top executives, firm value and various firm policies on corporate social responsibility, investment and voluntary disclosure. It strives to make a significant contribution to the literature on corporate finance, corporate governance and organizational management structure.

Alon Rabinovich

Environmental Science

The dissertation work done by Alon Rabinovich and directed by Dr. Ashaki Rouff is looking into ways to improve the recovery phosphorus (P) from livestock wastewaters as struvite (MgNH4PO4·6H2O), and at the environmental benefits of its application as a renewable fertilizer source. This work involved the development of aerated fluidized bed reactor (aerated-FBR), a treatment method geared for small farm operation. Key finding from this research were: development of a thermally stable struvite fertilizer with a potential for reducing ammonium (NH) losses as ammonia gas (NH3g); identification of beneficial microbial and dissolved organics in livestock wastewater that improved P recovery.

Md Mahbubu Rahman


My PhD research is mainly focused on synthetic organic, organometallic and polymer chemistry. I was particularly interested in discovering new generic manifolds for activation of amide bonds, which are the key building blocks of peptides and proteins and some of the most frequently used intermediates in pharmaceuticals. I have accomplished palladium-catalyzed and transition-metal-free amide bond activation for N–C(O) cross-coupling. Continuing our research interest in methodology development and catalyst design, I significantly focused on development of noble N-heterocyclic carbene (NHC) ligands which are thought to mimic properties of tertiary phosphines, a widely used ligand in organic synthesis. I synthesized a number of NHCs and NHC–metal complexes, these complexes were utilized as catalysts in a variety of organic reactions. I also concentrated my research focus on designing of conjugated polymers with reduced aromaticity for device applications. We reported the first polyenynes motifs, which are prepared with nonconventional dienyne-based repeat units.

Tavish Tejas


My dissertation develops a general framework to assess the impact of uncertainty on models of strategic decision-making. I show applications of my research to several areas in accounting, finance, and economics, which are characterized by incomplete information about underlying probabilities. Specifically, my dissertation contributes to interdisciplinary issues of independent interest such as consumption and investment problems in the face of uncertain tax policies, strategic transfer pricing, measurement of risk in financial markets, quantification of probabilistic uncertainty, robust control theory, and distributionally robust optimization.

Megan Wilson


Termites are most accurately classified as eusocial, wood-feeding cockroaches exhibiting a distinct caste system; workers, soldiers, and reproductives. Worker termites degrade the lignocellulose in wood through mechanical and chemical processes to feed the remaining colony members; this collaborative effort is suspected to be vital for the evolution of sociality within this group. This dissertation work focuses on the mechanical breakdown of wood via worker mouthparts (mandibles) modified in both shape and bioaccumulation of metals to increase hardness. In addition to exploring dietary patterns and morphology of termites, this work also explores the diversity of all ectoparasitic fungi that have been documented feeding on termites. In doing so, this dissertation work contributes new knowledge fundamental to understanding the biology of this intriguing social insect group.