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Awards Breakfast 2020

Bring Your Own Breakfast!

Please join us in congratulating all of our award winners! Although GPSAW 2020 was not celebrated in person, we are still so proud and excited for the accomplishments of our students, faculty, and staff! An excerpt from their nominations is included to celebrate accomplishments and success. Congratulations to all of our winners!

What’s GPSAW? Learn more about the Graduate and Professional Student Appreciation Week!


Excellence in Graduate Research

Description: The “Excellence in Graduate Research” award is presented to graduate and professional students who have received national and/or international recognition in their field and show promise in their area of research and/or creative achievement.

Shaghayegh Aslanzadeh
Graduate Research Assistant
Electrical Engineering and Computer Science

She has exemplified excellence in research through her strong publication record. In her time here at UT, she has published 3 peer reviewed conference papers and one peer reviewed journal paper. In addition to all of this she is guiding an undergraduate researcher in developing portable devices and has volunteered to help our lab’s k-12 outreach activities. In short, I believe she has demonstrated the qualities of excellence in graduate research.

Nader Naghavi
Graduate Research Assistant
Mechanical, Aerospace, and Biomedical Engineering

Though it was novel area for him, he quickly established his academic excellence in class and through research activities. This includes but is not limited to: first author on 5 peer-reviewed conference papers, 2 peer-reviewed journal papers; two-time recipient of the Graduate Student Senate Travel Award (2018 and 2019); future recipient of the 2nd Annual David Millhorn Award for Outstanding Young Researcher in the domain of Parkinson’s Disease Research (PJ Parkinson Foundation), and an invited guest talk at the Shirley Ryan Ability Lab, Chicago, IL.

Razieh Kaviani Baghbaderani
Graduate Research Assistant
Electrical Engineering and Computer Science

Although she has only been in the program for less than 2 years, she has managed to publish two first-authored conference papers, both of which are IEEE flagship conferences in the areas of remote sensing and image processing. She also demonstrated a very strong leadership capability in this period, both academically and socially. For example, she serves as the secretary of a very successful student organization, Systers: Women in EECS @ UTK.

Farshid Tamjid
PhD Candidate
Electrical Engineering and Computer Science

So far he has made very good progress with his research objectives and published four conference papers as the first author and he is a co-author in four conference and journal papers, all since joining my research group. Also, one of his journal papers are under review in one of the most prestigious transactions in the RF and Microwave field.

Shikha Singh
Graduate Research Assistant
Biosystems Engineering and Soil Science

Shikha is the best with her professional and personal attributes. Shikha’s dissertation research explores how ecosystem carbon cycling is altered by climatic and environmental changes, which is a collaborative project with ORNL. She possesses excellent skills for managing labs, training students and visiting scientists, and working in group settings. 


Excellence in Graduate Student Teaching

Description: The “Excellence in Graduate Student Teaching” award is presented to graduate teaching assistants and associates for extraordinary performance in teaching.

Amanda Lake Heath

Amanda Lake Heath has implemented research-based teaching practices. During observations, she skillfully engages all students in discussions and commits herself to building relationships, by learning students’ names, majors, and interests. She processes feedback toward improvement, and she seeks ways to formalize this and model this for others.

Chloe Lash
PhD Candidate/Graduate Teaching Assistant
Ecology & Evolutionary Biology

Outside the classroom, she has mentored UT undergraduates in ant and related chemical work in my lab, and spent three summers mentoring several National Science Foundation-sponsored Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) students at the University of Virginia’s Mountain Lake Biological Station (MLBS). In the classroom, Chloe’s rapport with students is unmatched; this has been achieved through her emphasis on inclusivity and by challenging her students. 

Gabriel Jose Fuente-Gomez
PhD Student
Biochemistry & Cellular and Molecular Biology

Biochemistry is, arguably, the most difficult course in the BCMB department, and Gabriel volunteers to teach it. He is an excellent teacher and wants to help his students succeed. Holding extended office hours, by email, or by holding extra review sessions before exams, Gabriel is always available for his students. He provides them additional material, like friendly, practice quizzes for his students to help them learn without the fear of being penalized for making mistakes.



Excellence in Service

Description: The “Excellence in Service” award is presented to graduate and professional students who are extraordinary campus leaders, participate in service learning or other community initiatives, and/or provide service leadership to their academic discipline through service in professional organizations.

Miranda Chen Musgrove
Ph.D. Candidate
Ecology and Evolutionary Biology

Miranda excels in many areas of service, but has a special passion for helping early career scholars in our disciplinary professional field. Indeed, Miranda is poised to be a leader in both research and service in biology education. Miranda co-founded (in 2017) the Scholars-in-Training group (called DBER-SiT) of our national organization (SABER) as part of an effort to help new researchers in the field.

Jenny Patel
Graduate Research Assistant
Mechanical, Aerospace, and Biomedical Engineering

Jenny designed and implemented the first mentoring program for female graduate students in STEM at the University of Tennessee. Jenny developed a Mentoring Action Plan for mentees and mentors to establish career, academic, and/or personal goals to be met at the end of the semester, and eighty percent of the participants were able to meet their goals during this past Fall semester. As part of the programming, she organizes events including Speed Networking for Graduate Students and STEM Professionals and Exploring Careers with a Graduate STEM Degree to network and have engaging conversations on graduate student related topics. As part of her efforts, she secured $10,000 in departmental funding for her mentoring initiative.

Cara Sulyok
Graduate Teaching Associate

During her time as a UT Math Graduate Student, she has served in many roles. To mention a few, Cara has been the Mathematics Department Senator on the Graduate Student Senate (GSS) as well as being the chair of the GSS Programming and Events Committee and a member of the UTK Chancellor’s Search Committee; Secretary of the Mathematics Graduate Student Council (MGSC); Founder and President of the UTK Chapter of the Association for Women in Mathematics; and Vice President of the UTK Chapter of the Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics. Cara is currently serving in the last three roles listed above, two of which are organizations with international reach.


Graduate Student Organization of the Year

Description: The “Graduate Student Organization of the Year” award recognizes graduate and/or professional student organizations or councils for their extraordinary contributions to graduate student life or to their respective academic department or program.


Math Graduate Student Senate (MGSC)
Officers: Jack Ryan (President), Cara Sulyok (Secretary), Alex Lacy (Treasurer)

I can sincerely say that our department is better because the MGSC exists and cares. The contributions from the three voting members go above and beyond what I could ever expect which is why I knew that I wanted to give back by serving as one of the voting members. The MGSC is highly deserving of this award.


Graduate Professor of the Year

Description: The “Graduate Professor of the Year” award recognizes faculty and staff members who have shown outstanding commitment to teaching graduate and professional students.

Cristian D. Batista
Willis Lincoln Chair of Excellence and professor of physics

Dr. Batista is one of the great professors I ever had in Physics. He not only teaches Physics but also encourages the students to think differently. On top of all that he is the nicest person, one can meet. He always welcomes students in his office and replies to emails on time with detailed explanations. Sometimes the graduate students jokingly call him the ‘LEGEND’ in the department. 

Dr. Matthew Pittman
Assistant Professor
School of Advertising and Public Relations, College of Communication

His office is always open to graduate students for not only academic help but also life advice. I find myself intrigued and interested in every class that I have with him. He teaches not because it’s his job, but because he actually loves it and it shows. I look forward to every class that I have with him because I know I will walk away from it having learned something important and immediately knowing how to apply it to my future career path.


Graduate Research Mentor of the Year

Description: The “Graduate Research Mentor of the Year” award recognizes faculty and staff members who have shown outstanding commitment to mentoring graduate research students.

Joan Lind
Associate Professor

She always makes time to meet with me and answers any questions that I have. She encourages me to make progress on my research but also understands that I have a life outside of school and helps me to navigate an appropriate work-life balance. I have learned so much from her, and I am so lucky to have the honor of working with her. She really is an exceptional advisor and deserves to be recognized for her work.

Dr. Raph Hix
Joint Faculty Professor
Physics and Astronomy

Raph is an excellent leader and mentor. He provides opportunities to do world class research, while caring about the climate of the research group and about the well-being of his students. Although getting research done is of the utmost importance, if Raph sees something being a detriment to one’s mental/physical health he will reinforce that one’s personal well-being comes first.

Gary Uzonyi
Assistant Professor
Political Science

Although early in his career at UT, Dr. Uzonyi has taken the initiative in fostering research opportunities for both Undergraduates and Graduate students, regularly encouraging them to present work with him at top conferences in our field. He has also created a reading group for those students interested in Civil War, which is wonderful opportunity for any and all students interested in continuing their involvement in the subject outside of the classroom.

Vasileios Maroulas
Professor, Mathematics

Dr. Maroulas ensures that all his advisees are successful. By involving us throughout the writing process at all stages, he has taught us how to write, edit, and submit papers, so that we are prepared to undertake research on our own. He has emphasized and created opportunities for us to present our research both within our group and outside UTK. While searching for jobs, he reviewed our application materials and helped us prepare for job interviews. All of his students have found excellent jobs, with some attaining competitive postdoctoral positions.

Dr. Jennifer Ann Morrow
Associate Professor

Educational Psychology & Counseling Dept.

Dr. Morrow provides “one push further” for me to reach higher with my academic goals while supporting me in my endeavors. This encouragement to keep achieving provides me confidence that Dr. Morrow supports me in my endeavors and that I can achieve more by her side. I believe this truly marks a great mentor.


Graduate Director of the Year

Description: The “Graduate Director of the Year” award recognizes Directors of Graduate Studies who have shown outstanding commitment to mentoring and leading graduate students in their department.


Ian Down
Director of Graduate Studies
Political Science

Dr. Down does a great job dealing with our issues, helping to solve them, and making sure we are on track with our progress. Given that he does that for every graduate student, it is very impressive. He frequently informs us about opportunities to improve our teaching and research skills. In addition, he also lets us know about awards and fellowships that we can apply to. His emails helped me participate in workshops and receive awards.


GSS Staff of the Year

Description: The “GSS Staff of the Year” award recognizes UT staff members who goes beyond their required duties to ensure that graduate and professional students feel welcome and matriculate successfully.


Chrisanne Romeo
Graduate Program Assistant/Student Success Coordinator
Physics and Astronomy

I do not think there is a more suitable person at the University of Tennessee for this award than Chrisanne Romeo. Each graduate student, before they even start at UT are welcomed by her emails and assured that if they have any issues she is a source of information. She is a welcoming face to all issues, both big and small and an invaluable source of knowledge for the department. Needless to say, without Chrisanne the department would not have as many graduate students continuing as they do. I personally know that part of my decision to attend UTK was because of the experience I had had when visiting the department and meeting Chrisanne.


Dianna Beeler
Business Manager
Political Science


Leslie Tolman
Administrative Specialist/Graduate Secretary
Political Science

Dianna Beeler and Leslie Tolman, in their roles as Business Manager and Administrative Specialist (respectively) at the Department of Political Science, are fully deserving of an award. While they juggle the day-to-day bureaucratic business, they are also one of the major reasons graduate student succeed at the department: First, they help graduate students navigate the jungle of rules and regulations. Second, when issues for students arise, they will stop short of nothing to see those through, thereby taking extensive pressure of our shoulders. Most importantly: even though they are extremely busy, they always have an open ear for any and all issues that plague graduate students.They truly are our “moms away from home” and the heart and soul of the department.


Graduate Student Senate Outstanding Contribution

Description: The “Graduate Student Senate Outstanding Contribution” award recognizes graduate student senators and/or members of the GSS executive board who go above and beyond their regular duties to serve and promote the mission of the Graduate Student Senate.


Chloe Sandoval
Graduate Research Assistant

Chloe has taken much initiative this year as a Graduate Student Senator. She initiated the development of the mental health sub-committee. Her determination has been inspiring, as she has partnered with the Counseling Center in this role. She has facilitated the submission of an external grant to aim her mission of building a community for graduate students, providing activities to increase awareness and utilization for on campus resources related to mental health, and is working on an evaluation of graduate student well-being. Chloe’s efforts demonstrate that of a true leader who is determined to make a change in the culture of higher education. Chloe has demonstrated true bravery to utilize her vulnerability through personal stories to embark a change.


GSS Person of the Year Award

Description: This award recognizes the person who has shown the highest
level of commitment to graduate students.

Dr. Donde Plowman 
Chancellor, University of Tennessee, Knoxville