Students Achieve Excellence

Of the thousands of students pursuing their graduate education at UCF each year, four students are selected from a group of nominees in each college as the university winners in the areas of Excellence in Graduate Student Teaching, Excellence by a Graduate Teaching Assistant, Outstanding Master’s Thesis, and Outstanding Dissertation.

Each award recipient is recognized throughout the university community as having shown truly exceptional work and received a commemorative plaque and a cash award for their commendable efforts at UCF.

Award for Excellence in Graduate Student Teaching

Jeremy Townsend is a graduate research assistant and doctoral candidate at UCF’s Institute of Exercise Physiology and Wellness.  Townsend plays an integral role in teaching students in the Sport and Exercise Science program and has taught courses in Introduction to Exercise Science, Exercise Physiology Lab, and Nutrition and Metabolism where his enthusiasm has earned exceptional student ratings.  By integrating his research into teaching, Townsend is able to deliver knowledge to the classroom that has not yet made it into the textbooks. His incorporation of cutting-edge research into the classroom engages students and separates Jeremy from other teachers.

Townsend is described by his mentor, Dr. Fragala, as a student who “displays the highest academic merit and remarkable contributions to teaching our students…He has superior academic drive, ‘attacks’ a topic and is not satisfied until he demonstrates total understanding. It is clear that his deep desire to learn as a student is rooted in his desire to extend his ever-expanding knowledge in the classroom.” Townsend’s passion and commitment to infusing his class material with current and relevant information captivates his students and distinguishes him as an exceptional instructor.

Award for Excellence by a Graduate Teaching Assistant

Alvar Rodriguez Garrigues is a doctoral candidate in the Department of Physics and the leading GTA in a project to completely renovate and modernize the laboratories associated to the calculus-based introductory physics course.  The lab experiments have been completely redesigned from scratch to enhance interaction amongst the students, instructor, and material.  Rodriguez Garrigues helped to conceptualize, design, develop, and implement the new methodology and volunteered to instruct the pilot courses and trained the rest of the GTAs assigned to teach these courses. He is now expanding the project into an algebra-based course.

Rodriguez Garrigues’ tireless commitment to developing these innovations made him integral to the success of this project, for which he was honored as the 2012 Outstanding Physics Teaching Assistant Award by the American Association of Physics Teachers. With a bright teaching future ahead, Rodriguiz Garrigues says, “I know that this is just the beginning of something bigger.”

Award for Outstanding Master’s Thesis

Steven M. Kraft, graduate of the College of Engineering and Computer Science, Mechanical Engineering MS was awarded the Outstanding Master’s Thesis for The Characterization of the Effects of Stress Concentrations on the Mechanical Behavior of Micronic Woven Wire Mesh.

During his career at UCF, Kraft has developed an incredible publication record and served as a Graduate Teaching Assistant in UCF’s MMAE Department and as a Mechanical Engineer at Lockheed Martin’s Missiles and Fire Control Group.  Kraft became involved in research in 2009, where he began to demonstrate his persistence, attention to detail, thorough understanding of mechanics of materials, and high level of creativity in problem-solving.  Kraft says, “I felt like I could be a part of building a reputation of prestige at UCF,” and that is exactly what he has done. As a student, Kraft “has quietly raised the expectation level for research excellence for both undergraduate and graduate level students.” His thesis work for his MS in Mechanical Engineering resulted in the development of a new anisotropic elasticity and plasticity theory for materials used in homeland security and water reclamation applications. His work is described as “topically mutually exclusive from any other written dissertation or thesis work done at UCF” and “a quintessential effort in mechanics of materials combining experimental, computational, and theoretical mechanics.” Kraft’s extraordinary thesis research has already received multiple citations from third party authors. Of receiving his award, Kraft says, “This award really speaks to the excellent researchers involved with Mechanics of Materials Research Group at UCF (and of course the PI Dr. Ali P. Gordon). It is truly a world class research group, and UCF should be proud!”

Award for Outstanding Dissertation

Yuanwei Zhang, PhD, a graduate of the Department of Chemistry, was awarded the Outstanding Dissertation for Squaraine Dyes, Design and Synthesis for Various Functional Materials Applications.

Dr. Zhang demonstrated his intelligence, resourcefulness, and productivity throughout his dissertation research as a doctoral student in the Department of Chemistry. He is an accomplished small molecule and polymer synthetic chemist with substantial experience and aptitude in numerous physical characterization techniques. Throughout his student career, Yuanwei easily grasped concepts and required little guidance as he “identified a number of new directions to explore” in which he was highly successful. His dissertation research focused on the modulation of optical properties of materials through supramolecular assembly, resulting in enhancements in his field and publications and significant contributions to papers in leading journals, such as Langmuir, Biomaterials, Biomedical Optic Express and ACS Applied Materials and Interfaces.