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2013 - 2014 dissertation fellows

  • Paul Anderson, Sociology
  • Michelle Burke, English & Comparative Literature
  • Angelica Graciela Caicedo Casso, Mathematical Sciences
  • Kelli Chapman, Sociology
  • Michael Ducey, Philosophy
  • Jennifer Dye, Political Science
  • Erika Garcia Gonzalez, Political Science
  • Zachary Stuart Garrison, History
  • Ospina Nidia Herrera, Romance Languages & Literature
  • Nicole Lyon, History
  • Jonathan Martin, Philosophy
  • Vanessa Plumly, German Studies
  • Suayip Toprakseven, Mathematical Sciences
  • Katherine Zlabek, English & Comparative Literature


Paul Anderson
Project Title: Rural-Urban Differences in Educational Outcomes: Does Religious Social Capital Matter?

Sociologists have long been interested in the impact of religion on a variety of measures of adolescent well-being. In recent years, researchers have turned to religious social capital in an effort to predict educational outcomes for youth. Despite research indicating that religious social capital improves educational achievement, the mechanisms involved in religious effects on adolescent educational outcomes remain unclear, and this uncertainty has led to contradictory findings in the literature. Using data from The National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, I employ multilevel modeling techniques to examine differences in the effects of religious social capital on educational achievement. The findings of this study will fill the gap in the current body of literature by focusing on the previously neglected influence of community-level factors.


Michelle Burke
Project Title: Animal Purpose

Animal Purpose, my creative dissertation-in-progress, explores the lives of men and women as they stand poised between the desire to love and the compulsion to harm. These poems are both pastoral and feminist. In one poem, a woman teaches a farmhand the proper way to slaughter a truckload of chickens. In another, a couple confronts the recent loss of a loved one when a stranger makes an unexpected confession in a crowded restaurant. Set in both rural and urban spaces, these poems interrogate received ideas about work, gender, and place. The creative portion of my dissertation is also informed by the critical portion—a consideration of the feminist critique implicit in the work of contemporary pastoral poets such as Maxine Kumin and Brigit Pegeen Kelly.

Angelica Graciela Caicedo Casso
Project Title: Mathematical Modeling and Sensitivity of Representative Models of Circadian Rhythms in Neurospora Crassa


Circadian rhythms are daily cycles that occur in numerous species, including humans, and provide temporal information to various biological processes. Recent discoveries indicate that disruptions may result in certain pathologies such as sleep disorders, cancer and diabetes. The mechanistic blue prints of circadian rhythms are similar from Neurospora crassa (filamentous fungus) to mammals. This suggests that findings in Neurospora are translatable to mammalian system. The mechanisms of circadian rhythms involve complex molecular interactions that determine the physiology. Mathematical modeling and sensitivity analysis are sophisticated methods that facilitate detailed simulations and allow changes to be made easier than in the experiments. I am building biologically relevant models of circadian rhythms in Neurospora Crassa, aiming to discover novel molecular insights by means of scientific computing. Understanding the dynamics of circadian rhythms will facilitate development of treatments for some contemporary diseases or disorders.


Kelli Chapman
Project Title: Dating In and Out of the Closet: Negotiating Relationships as an LGBT Teenager

While there is substantial research on the dating practices and sexual decision making of heterosexual teenagers, far less is known about how lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) teenagers negotiate intimate relationships, including dating and sex. Where do you meet other LGBT teens? Where do you go on a date if you are not ‘out’? How do you decide when you are ready for sex? This study is a qualitative exploration of how LGBT teens manage, negotiate, and make sense of their dating and sexual lives. Through a combination of focus groups and interviews, this study investigates how LGBT teens make decisions about forming relationships, disclosing relationships, engaging in sexual activity, and how school environments and participation in LGBT youth groups impact their decisions.


Michael Ducey
Project Title: On the Possibility of Objective Interpretation of Literature

I propose an account of meaning determination in literature, and more specifically, novels, which can ideally expand to explain how the meaning of many types of artworks can be determined. There exists an objective, correct meaning to a work of art. This objective, true interpretation exists as a theoretical entity—the verified, true interpretation might be impossible to determine in its entirety. However, the correct meaning of the work can be determined without consulting the intentions of the author, real or hypothesized. The argument proceeds by proposing a new version of “utterance meaning,” a type of meaning determination model. It is generally held that utterance meaning is an intentionalist model, relying on speaker intentions to determine what has been said. I propose an anti-intentionalist model of utterance meaning that will be used to determine the meaning of a novel.


Jennifer Dye
Project Title: Food Security and Entitlements

Food security is often misunderstood as an issue of not enough food, but at its core food security rests on underlying social and political questions of power and entitlement over food. This project seeks to address this by examining how large-scale land acquisitions affect food security and property rights, both on the local and national levels, of the developing African state. Using the cases of Tanzania and Zimbabwe, I hypothesize that these types of large-scale land acquisitions in developing states in Africa have a primarily negative impact on both food security and property rights at the local and national levels in the host state, thus maintaining a system of social and political entitlements that maintain low levels of food security in these states.


Erika Garcia Gonzalez
Project Title: The role of external factors in genocide and politicide

The inclusion of external factors in the analysis of cause of genocide and political mass killings (politicide) provides new variables to explain and predict these events as well as to contribute to more comprehensive prevention policy. A mixed-method approach will refine Barbara Harff’s model of geno-/politicide, which is heavily weighted on internal variables. First, a brief case-study approach will be used to extract the external factors present in different cases of genocide and politicides. Second, the study will replicate Harff’s model, including the additional external variables. This will determine if external variables improve Harff’s statistical model to more accurately explain the onset of these crimes.


Zachary Stuart Garrison
Project Title: Fugitives for the Sake of Freedom: German Immigrants, Anti-Slavery, and the Civil War in the Lower Middle West during the American Civil War era


Ospina Nidia Herrera
Project Title: Jose Donoso in Cinema: Perception of Space and Body in Literary and Cinematographic Discourses

My dissertation focuses on José Donoso’s narrative in relation to cinema. By bringing into play the concept of Perception by the French philosopher Maurice Merleau-Ponty, I analyze how this phenomenon takes place around space and body in Donoso’s novels and their cinematographic adaptations, and how it affects readers and spectators. The analysis is on how the novel and the film are aesthetically experienced by an actual interlocutor. I concentrate on the French philosopher Mikel Dufrenne’s theory regarding aesthetic experience which is developed from a phenomenological perspective. My major goals in this research are to contribute to the study of Donoso’s poetics of space and body and his relation to cinematographic discourse, and to broaden the understanding of the bonds between literature and cinema in terms of aesthetic experience.


Nicole Lyon
Project Title: Perception of Calendar Time in Early Modern Germany (1450-1750)

This project sheds light on the perception of time (Zeitwahrnehmung) in 16th- and 17th-century German lands, an epoch in which calendars and "calendar time" underwent some of the most profound changes in the realm of time measurement in western history. I analyze the relationships between individuals, urban communities and calendars in the Holy Roman Empire, especially within the two urban centers of Nuremberg (Protestant after 1525) and Munich (Catholic). In the early modern period, calendar time was experienced through various avenues. The specific focus of this project is on annual liturgical cycles, natural seasons and numerical calendar systems. Historians have explored the early modern German "calendar war" (Kalenderstreit), referring to the conflict of time reckonings engendered by the Gregorian calendar reforms in 1582. This calendar reform was commenced by Pope Gregory XIII in order to reform the flawed Julian calendar that had been in use since before the time of Christ, and had "lost" nearly eleven days in two millennia. The German speaking territories of the Holy Roman Empire adopted the new calendar at different times, such that written sources throughout the early modern period often contain multiple dates simultaneously. The Gregorian calendar is still in use throughout the world today. I suggest that the early modern period was not merely a bridge between "medieval" and "modern" concepts of time, or a point on the linear trajectory towards the systematization of time. It was rather an epoch in which unique and far-reaching perceptions competed for social legitimacy through confessional, regionalized and multivalent systems of time reckoning and experiencing. Many outcomes of these changes continue to shape our own time perceptions in the 21st century.


Jonathan Martin
Project Title: Cognitive Science and the Challenge of Anti-representationalism

Representation is one of the most historically important notion in cognitive science. Models of cognition in which representations of various forms are transformed or manipulated have been dominant in both classical computational psychology, artificial intelligence, and rival approaches such as artificial neural network modeling. Recently, however, there has been a growing distrust of representational approaches – particularly from proponents of dynamical systems theory and embodied-cognition. I investigate the plausibility of eliminating representational posits from models of perception and cognition. Traditional philosophical defenses of the need for representational models underestimate the force of the primary arguments coming from recent anti-representationalist approaches. Instead, representation ought to be justified by identifying the unique explanatory role played by representational structures in existing empirical work. I show that cases from cognitive neuroscience and neuroethology provide the resources for a defense of representational modeling which is equal to the anti-representationalist's challenge.


Vanessa Plumly
Project Title: BLACK-Red-Gold in der bunten Republik: Post-Wende (Black/Afro-) German Cultural Productions

Although the Afro-/Black German population in the Federal Republic of Germany continues to seek national recognition, the volume and diversity of their cultural output has begun to receive its own international attention. What, if anything, makes their cultural texts uniquely (Afro-) German? This project is a multi-genre study exploring the discursive construction and performance of the imagined yet real concepts of nation, Heimat (home), and diaspora, in relation to German cultural identity and national belonging in Afro-/Black German texts that range from theater and literature to spoken word poetry and hip-hop. In these works, Heimat is performed in resistance to a singularly imagined German origin of Whiteness. My analysis situates Heimat as the most imperative of the concepts because Heimat can exist through contradictions, allowing it to be both individual and collective, geographically situated but also an internalized non- space/place, and both inclusive and exclusive; its construction simultaneously encompasses national belonging as well as diasporic ties.


Suayip Toprakseven
Project Title: Error Estimates for an Enriched Finite Element Scheme

This work will develop numerical approximations of solutions to mathematical models of physical processes involving high frequency components and analyze their accuracy. Problems of this sort arise many applications including cancer therapy (Simulation of High-Intensity Focused Ultrasound (HIFU)), Nanomaterials and Quantum Mechanics. We particularly especially interested in a Discontinuous Galerkin Extended Finite Element Method (DG/XFEM) approach that was studied in [CQ]. We have shown error estimates of form for the Babuska-Zlamal and SIPG schemes ([BZ] and [AR]) for a variety of problems. Here, h > 0 ? is a measure of the element domain size, is the frequency while p and q are positive integers. We have thus verified that refining element size (Making h smaller), though this will increase computation time, does improve accuracy even in the more difficult case of high frequencies


Katherine Zlabek
Project Title: Their Apocrypha

Katherine’s novel, Their Apocrypha, is set in the once-forgotten town of Galena, Illinois. In it, I investigate the dangers inherent when a town, its elderly and its children, is abandoned by all except those seeking the thrills and frivolity of a getaway. This novel integrates supernatural elements more fully than my other work, employing the Gothic notion that behind a bucolic façade, a troubling truth often resides. The novel’s landscape is haunted with spiritual anxiety, repressed memories—or memories that characters are desperate to repress, and personal connections that the characters are eager to shuck. Their Apocrypha is interested in the ways that people manipulate fact in order to create an “apocryphal” past, a personal narrative that explains the way a life is spent, justifies bitterness, or accounts for a fallen state.
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