First-Cohort University Fellows Fulfilling Program's Vision
The University Fellows program at the UA recruits the best students to the University, and its members are expected to address the world's challenges with interdisciplinary solutions.

University Relations - Communications
March 2, 2016


University Fellows is the flagship program of the UA's Graduate Center. Fellows are determined by deans campuswide, receiving competitive financial support, professional development training and mentoring. They also are involved in community engagement op
University Fellows is the flagship program of the UA's Graduate Center. Fellows are determined by deans campuswide, receiving competitive financial support, professional development training and mentoring. They also are involved in community engagement opportunities. (Photo: John de Dios/UANews)

Since the launch of the highly competitive University Fellows program, University of Arizona graduate students have completed international training programs, published in scholarly journals and gained research funding from the likes of the National Institutes of Health and National Science Foundation. 

An initiative of the UA Graduate College, University Fellows was launched in 2014 to attract top graduate students from across the nation with a structured experience to help them further their capacities as interdisciplinary and collaborative leaders.

The program is an important outgrowth of Never Settle, the UA's strategic plan, which called for realigned efforts to meet statewide and national workforce and knowledge demands, with enhanced graduate education and training as a central output.

Brigette Walters, a second-year doctoral student in the Department of Spanish and Portuguese, is completing dissertation research that centers on Latin American literary and cultural representations, merging performance studies, memory studies, urban studies and also queer theory. "As someone whose interests cross disciplinary boundaries, the University Fellows program provides the ideal environment to develop academically, intellectually and professionally." (Photo: John de Dios/UANews)
Elliott Kwan, a doctoral student in optical sciences, maintains a strong research interest in treating illness and reducing pain for patients. (Photo: John de Dios/UANews)
Paul Neff, a master's student in material science and engineering, is working to enhance hypersonic flight applications. (Photo: John de Dios/UANews)
Tomas Martinez, a doctoral student in the management and organizations program, is interested in employee citizenship behaviors, with an emphasis on employee voice. (Photo: John de Dios/UANews)
Christine O’Donnell, a doctoral student in astronomy, has investigated exoplanets, star formation and galactic dynamics. (Photo: John de Dios/UANews)
Danielle Sheather, a Master of Fine Arts student in performance and choreography, has received numerous awards and has been accepted for trainings and presentations nationally and internationally. (Photo: John de Dios/UANews)

For example, 2014-2015 University Fellow Kyle Curham, a doctoral student in psychology, uses dynamical systems theory to make predictions about oscillatory processes in the brain and tries to verify them using EEG.

Interested in the organizational structures that help the brain to engage in large-scale activity, Curham is working in partnership on the development of a new type of transcranial stimulator to advance psychophysiology.

Elliott Kwan, a doctoral student in optical sciences and a 2014-2015 cohort member, is primarily concerned with treating illness and reducing pain, with an investment in translational research for the improvement of human health.

By developing quantitative imaging systems with advanced hardware and efficient processing, Kwan hopes to provide doctors with structural and metabolic information needed to aid in patient treatment, while also developing tools to aid in minimally invasive surgery.

For his work, Kwan received the National Institutes of Health-funded UA Biomedical Imaging and Spectroscopy Fellowship.

Other members of the 2014-2015 cohort — the first class — include:

Shyla Dogan, Department of Educational Leadership and Policy

Dogan, a doctoral student in educational leadership and policy who previously studied the experiences of refugees, is now investigating issues related to colorism and prejudice in Islamic schools, with a specific focus on understanding how prejudice affects people.

Since being named a University Fellow, Dogan has received numerous honors, including the William & Ruth Miller Scholarship and the Everett L. and Marian G. Holden Scholarship. She was a 2015 recipient of the Foreign Languages and Area Studies Fellowship for Arabic.

Also, Dogan presented her research at the 15th annual Southwest Graduate Conference in Middle Eastern and North African Studies, and she presented a talk, "Being Muslim in the Post-9/11 World," at the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Office in Nogales, Arizona.

Dogan credits Graduate Center director Meg Lota Brown, who is currently on sabbatical, and program coordinator David Bradshaw for their tailored support, noting that she became even more engaged as a fellow thanks to their "passion" and dedicated focus on supporting graduate students. 

"I am so grateful to this program," said Dogan, who is the first in her family to pursue advanced degrees and is on track to serve as a faculty member. "I have really benefited from all the resources and relationships that have been offered to University Fellows. I have learned a lot and feel that I have been given insights into aspects of higher education and the professional world that I would have had to work really hard to attain without the program."

Paul K. Neff, Department of Materials Science and Engineering

Neff's intention is to work in an aerospace-related industry focused on high-speed flight applications.

Ultimately, he envisions using his combined knowledge of aeronautics and materials science to enhance supersonic and hypersonic aircraft, increasing flight speeds and manueverability.

Being named a University Fellow helped Neff continue work he began as an undergraduate at the UA.

During a materials science course taught by Erica Corral, an associate professor of materials science and engineering, Neff developed an intense interest in studying and helping to develop new materials that could improve the capabilities and efficiencies of aerospace vehicles.

Ultimately, he graduated with degrees in aerospace engineering and materials science and engineering.

"I was fortunate in that my research found me as much as I sought it out," said Neff, a master's student and a graduate research assistant in the Corral Laboratory. He will graduate in May.

Since being named a fellow, he has presented his collaborative research at the International Conference and Expo on Advanced Ceramics and Composites and has published a paper on the oxidation behaviors of aerospace materials.

The University Fellows program, he said, has helped him to expand his potential, creating opportunities to network with other faculty and student researchers engaged in scholarly communities nationwide. "Academically and personally, the benefits of the program are based in the experiential knowledge gained through the workshops and activities," he said, "which can be applied in numerous ways in both professional and personal realms."

Melodie Yen, Department of Linguistics

Since being named a fellow, Yen has earned a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship to support her work investigating the neural underpinnings of language through fMRI.

"The University Fellows program has been a huge help in several domains of my life," said Yen, a doctoral student, who maintains complementary expertise in computer science, psychology and cognitive science.

"Professionally, it funded my first year in the linguistics program, gave me access to academic workshops, opened up opportunities for interdisciplinary collaboration, offered me chances to practice talks for a diverse audience and contributed to my success in securing the NSF Graduate Research Fellowship."

On a personal level, the program has enabled Yen to interact with scholars from other disciplines and develop the type of lasting friendships that enhance a person's network.

After the UA, Yen intends to continue her applied work with her combined interest in language and the brain, investigating both disordered — such as stroke, traumatic brain injury and neurodegenerative disease — and typical populations.

Yen is currently involved in several research projects centered on long-term aphasic recovery and protocols for language mapping in individuals who experience stroke. She also is working to develop psychophysical experiments to improve knowledge of language processing.

"Language is unbelievably complex, and yet is effortless and common to all humans — so is the brain," she said. "It is really quite beautiful."

Extra info

UA graduate students are welcome to attend workshops facilitated by Michael J. Zigmond, a University of Pittsburgh professor of neurology, neurobiology and psychiatry, and Beth A. Fischer, an assistant professor in the University of Pittsburgh's School of Education.

Both will be visiting the UA on March 8 and 9, offering workshops on writing research papers, moving from graduate school to postdoctoral training to employment, lifestyle and brain health, and physical exercise and environmental enrichment.

For more information on the workshops, contact Jeannette D. Hoit, interim faculty director of the UA Graduate Center, at 520-621-7064 or

Zigmond currently holds a joint appointment with Shanghai Medical College of Fudan University, where he is a Distinguished Foreign Professor. His research interests are in the area of neurobiology as it relates to neurological and psychiatric disorders, as well as aging. Fischer is also a visiting professor at Fudan University in China and at Shanghai University of Traditional Chinese Medicine. She has a diverse background combining formal training in science, communication and education with 10 years of experience as a research assistant in neuroscience.