MAGS/ProQuest Distinguished Master’s Thesis Awards

The Executive Committee of the Midwestern Association of Graduate Schools (MAGS) solicits nominations for the 2022 MAGS/ProQuest Distinguished Master’s Thesis Awards. The awards are to recognize and reward distinguished scholarship and research at the master’s level.

The Guidelines for the 2022 MAGS Distinguished Master’s Thesis Awards are as follows (download PDF here):

1. Each member institution may submit one nomination for the award in each of the two categories (i.e., each institution can nominate a total of 2 theses). Each nomination requires the written endorsement of the Dean of the Graduate School or equivalent official. The institution selection process is the responsibility of that individual.

2. To be considered, a thesis must contain original work that makes an unusually significant contribution to the discipline. It must be in a format that conforms to accepted disciplinary standards, and it must have been accepted as final by the degree-granting institution. Theses submitted electronically will normally be in PDF format; hyperlinks to additional materials may be included but must be verified prior to submission. Any institution wishing to submit a thesis in another electronic format should consult with the chair of the MAGS Distinguished Thesis Committee prior to doing so.

3. Nominations will be accepted in the disciplines of Biological/Life Sciences and Humanities in which the institution offers a master’s degree. (For purposes of this competition, fine arts and history are considered with the humanities.) Original works accepted by an institution “in lieu of thesis” (such as musical compositions, published books, works of art, computer software, etc.) may not be nominated.

  • Biological Sciences/Life Sciences: biology; botany; zoology; ecology; embryology; entomology; genetics; nutrition; plant pathology; plant physiology; anatomy; biochemistry; biophysics; microbiology; pathology; pharmacology; physiology; and related fields (health sciences). Also included are agriculture, forestry, zoology; and related fields.
  • Humanities and Fine Arts: history; philosophy; language; linguistics; literature; archaeology; jurisprudence; the history, theory and criticism of the arts; ethics; comparative religion; and those aspects of the social sciences that employ historical or philosophical approaches.

4. The effective date of degree award, or the completion of master’s degree requirements, must fall in the period of July 1, 2019 to June 30, 2021, inclusive, for each nominee selected. Such degree award or completion is to be confirmed by the institution’s graduate dean or other administrative officer responsible for master’s degree programs. Since the intent of the competition is to recognize scholarship by students who are pursuing their first graduate research degree, individuals who received a Ph.D. (or comparable research degree) in any discipline prior to the writing of the master’s thesis are not eligible. However, recipients of a first professional degree awarded prior to the writing of the thesis may be nominated.

5. The nomination consists of the following electronic submissions:

  • The nomination form, the abstract of the nominated thesis, and the thesis must be submitted electronically no later than November 1, 2021 at this link.
  • Letters from the faculty mentor and (or) the Dean of the Graduate School or equivalent may accompany the nomination.
  • Those institutions unable to submit their nominated thesis electronically may send one photocopy of the thesis to the review committee by surface mail carrier. This document will NOT be returned to the institution. The deadline for receipt of the photocopied thesis will be November 1, 2021.

Materials submitted by surface mail should be sent to:
Denise Collins, Ph.D.
Indiana State University
College of Graduate and Professional Studies
455 N. 5th Street
Terre Haute, IN 47809

Each recipient of a MAGS Distinguished Master’s Thesis Award will receive a $750 honorarium. In addition, up to $500 will be available to each recipient for travel expenses to attend the MAGS 77th Annual Meeting in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. It is expected that the winner’s institution will cover any travel expenses which exceed the $500 provided by MAGS for the awardee to attend the meeting to receive the award. The faculty mentor or thesis advisor will also be invited to attend the presentation ceremony, but their expenses will not be covered.

Proposals for the MAGS/ProQuest thesis awards are accepted from all MAGS member institutions. However, all award winners must submit their thesis to ProQuest, regardless of their university’s use of ProQuest’s services.

Questions may be directed to Dr. Denise Collins by email at or by telephone at 812-237-3087.

MAGS/ProQuest Distinguished Thesis Award Recipients


Social and Behavioral Sciences

Benny Witkovsky


University of Wisconsin-Madison

“The Local Periphery: Small Cities and The Politics of Exclusion”

Benny Witkovsky is a doctoral student in Sociology at University of Wisconsin-Madison. He received his BA from Vassar College in 2012 and completed his MS in Sociology at UW in 2019. Focusing on political life in one small city in Wisconsin, Benny’s Master’s Thesis examines how recent partisan swings build on longstanding patterns of inequality and exclusion in local government. His dissertation, currently in progress, expands this research, deploying ethnographic and historical methods to explore how nonpartisan local politics and partisan state and federal politics interact in small cities across Wisconsin. Other research projects include an examination of the politics of prison proliferation in rural America with the Justice Lab at UW, a study of elder activists in rural Wisconsin, and an analysis of the growing political divide between adjacent rural and urban communities. Additionally, Benny has worked as an evaluator on community based research projects with the Madison Police Department and the Legacy Community Alliance for Health.
Mathematics, Physical Sciences, and Engineering

Richard Gross

Software Engineering

Grand Valley State University

“Algorithm for Geodetic Positioning Based on Angle-Of-Arrival of Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcasts”

Richard Gross served eight years in the United States Marine Corps as an avionics technician, responsible for the repair of communication and navigation equipment on various military aircraft. After separating from the Marine Corps, he accepted a field service position at Smiths Aerospace (now GE Aviation Systems), and simultaneously began his professional and academic career. As a non-traditional student balancing the demands of raising a family, increasing career responsibilities, and academic goals, Richard received his Associate in Science degree from Grand Rapids Community College, and both a Bachelor of Science in Engineering and Master of Science in Engineering from Grand Valley State University. Richard is now a Senior Embedded Software Development Engineer at GE Aviation Systems where his primary focus is aircraft navigation and guidance.


Biological/Life Sciences

Alicia Heil

Integrated Biosciences

University of Minnesota – Duluth

“Defining a model for anterior neural tube closure in the developing zebrafish embryo”

Alicia Heil received her Bachelors of Science in Cell and Molecular Biology at the University of Minnesota Duluth in 2013. After working as a research technician for a short period of time, she enrolled in the Integrated Biosciences program at the University of Minnesota and joined the lab of Dr. Jennifer Liang. Her research focused using microscopy and molecular techniques to define a model for neural tube development in zebrafish. Currently, Alicia is a laboratory manager in the Biology Department at the University of Minnesota Duluth, specializing in molecular, genetics, and developmental biology.

Tais Xavier Carvalho

Portuguese and Comparative Literature

Indiana University

“We Can Use Them to Create a Braid. And Dream of a Change” – Politics, Identity, and Culture in Ana Maria Machado’s and Ondjaki’s Children’s Literature

Tais Xavier Carvalho
Tais Xavier Carvalho, born and raised in Brasília, Brazil, received her Bachelor of Arts degree in English Language and Literature from Universidade de Brasília (UnB) in 2016 and her M.A. in Lusophone Literature from Indiana University in 2018. She is currently a Ph.D. student in the Portuguese Program in Indiana University pursuing a minor in Comparative Literature. During her studies at IU she developed an interest in children’s literature and wrote her master’s thesis, “We Can Use Them to Create a Braid. And Dream of a Change” – Politics, Identity, and Culture in Ana Maria Machado’s and Ondjaki’s Children’s Literature, under the supervision of Dr. Luciana Namorato. The work analyzes the connection between Brazilian and Angolan political issues and children’s books written by Ana Maria Machado and Ondjaki and was selected for the University Graduate School Distinguished Master’s Thesis Award. For her Ph.D., Taís intends to keep doing research related to children’s literature written in Brazil during the military dictatorship.


Social Sciences

Miji Um

Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis

“Resting-State Neural Circuit Correlates of Negative Urgency: A Comparison Between Tobacco Users and Non-Tobacco Users”

Miji Um is a doctoral student in Clinical Psychology at the Indiana University – Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI) under the mentorship of Dr. Melissa Cyders. Miji’s career goal is to become an independent academic researcher, investigating the behavioral and neuroscientific evidence underlying emotion-based impulsivity, and leveraging this evidence to develop intervention strategies for substance use disorders that directly target emotion-based impulsivity.

In 2013, Miji earned her Bachelor of Science degree in Psychology from the University of Maryland. While studying at UMD, she worked with Dr. Carl Lejuez and completed the honors thesis examining factors contributing to adolescent treatment dropouts in the residential substance use treatment, which inspired her to pursue substance use research. After graduating from UMD, she received a prestigious two-year post-baccalaureate fellowship at the National Institute of Drug Abuse and worked at the Neuroimaging Research Branch where she developed interests in neuroimaging research. During her time as a fellow, she worked with Dr. Betty Jo Salmeron in neuroimaging research examining cue-reward associative learning among cocaine users as well as delay discounting related resting-state circuits among smokers. In 2017, she earned a Master of Science in Clinical Psychology from IUPUI.During her graduate training at IUPUI under the mentorship of Dr. Melissa Cyders, Miji has received a competitive F31 predoctoral research training fellowship from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism to support her dissertation research. Her dissertation examines the relationship between positive urgency (a tendency to act rashly under extreme positive emotions) and alcohol-related risk-taking using alcohol administration and emotion induction methods as well as complex whole-brain connectomic analyses using resting-state fMRI data.

Mathematics, Physical Sciences, and Engineering

Najam Kahn

South Dakota State University

“Location Optimization of a Coal Power Plant to Balance Costs against Plant’s Emission Exposure”

Najam Khan received his Bachelor of Science in Operations Management from South Dakota State University in 2016, with subsequent Master of Science in Operations Management with emphasis in Operations Research in 2018. Currently Khan is enrolled in Agriculture, Biosystems and Mechanical Engineering, PhD program at South Dakota State University. Planned Ph.D. research mainly emphasizes on profitability of an industrial unit as a direct consequence of location choice under environmental constraints.

Khan currently works as an operations research analyst/project management oversight at CSW; a custom manufacturing firm located in Olympia, WA. Khan past work experiences include project management at Daktronics in Brookings SD, chemistry assistant at Intertek Inc in Valdez AK and industrial technologies intern (oil spill response and safety management emphasis) at Chadux Corp in Anchorage, AK. Khan is very interested in fields of project management, operations management, strategic planning, statistical process control, decision analysis, graph theory and fair-market value analysis. Khan recent honors include, SDSU Jerome J. Lohr College of Engineering Academic Recognition List, Associate Degree Academic Honor -Magna cum laude (Board of Regents, Alaska), Baccalaureate Academic Honor-Magna cum laude (Board of Regents, South Dakota) and 2018 Distinguished Master’s Thesis Award (Grad School, South Dakota State University).



Hilo Sugita

Indiana University

“Uncovering the Dead: An Extensive Study of the Late-Period Coffin Lid of Qnw-pw-s in the Eskenazi Museum, Indiana University.”

Hilo Sugita, born and raised in Tokyo, Japan, received her Bachelor of Arts degree in Anthropology with a minor in Near Eastern Languages and Cultures from University of California Los Angeles in 2014. While studying at UCLA, she volunteered at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, where she encountered two ancient Egyptian non-royal coffins from the Middle Kingdom. She conducted independent research on these coffins under the advisement of Dr. Kara Cooney. She wrote her paper, The Case Studies of Two Non-Royal Coffins from the Middle Kingdom, which was submitted to the UCLA Library Prize for Undergraduate Research, and she received the Judges’ Prize for Overall Excellence. Upon completion of her B.A., she subsequently enrolled in the Masters of Arts Egyptology program at Indiana University Bloomington, where she had an intensive training in ancient Egyptian language. While taking the Virtual Heritage course with Dr. Bernard Frischer at IU, she became increasingly interested in applying 3D technologies to the field of Egyptology. She wrote her M.A. thesis, Uncovering the Dead: An Extensive Study of the Late Period Coffin Lid of Qnw-pw-s at the Eskenazi Museum of Art – Indiana University, under the supervision of Dr. Steve Vinson, which was selected for the 2018 University Graduate School Distinguished Master’s Thesis Award. She graduated from IU Bloomington in 2016, and continued to pursue her interests in ancient Egyptian coffins, funerary customs and rituals, and religion.
Biological and Life Sciences

Rafael Martinez-Feria

Iowa State University

“Suitability of winter canola (Brassica napus) for enhancing summer annual crop rotations in Iowa”

Rafael earned his Bachelor of Science degree in Agronomy from the Instituto Tecnológico y de Estudios Superiores de Monterrey, in Querétaro, México in 2012. During his undergraduate studies, he attended Iowa State University (ISU) as an exchange student where he met Dr. Mary Wiedenhoeft, his future graduate student advisor. He enrolled in ISU’s Graduate Program for Sustainable Agriculture, where he conducted research on the agronomic and economic feasibility of including winter canola and other alternative crops into corn-soybean cropping systems in Iowa. This earned him his Master of Science degree in 2015.

Currently, Rafael is a doctoral candidate of Crop Production and Physiology in the Department of Agronomy at ISU. He is broadly interested in the study and modeling of biophysical controls on agroecosystem function and dynamics, with particular emphasis on water, carbon, and nitrogen cycling and resource-use efficiency. His research interests are shaped by the growing need to develop robust methodologies for predicting and evaluating cropping system performance from both production and environmental quality perspectives. Ultimately, he seeks to contribute to addressing the challenges of producing food, fuel, and fiber in a crowded, hungry and warming planet.


Social Sciences

Andra Raisa Ray

Ohio University

“Factors Associated with Healthy and Impaired Social Functioning in Middle-School Adolescents with ADHD.”

Raisa Ray is a doctoral candidate in Clinical Psychology (Child Psychology specialization) at Ohio University. Her research interests pertain to the examination of multifinality related to social functioning in adolescents and young adults. Her studies involve the investigation of risk factors and developmental assets which can be used to enhance case conceptualization and intervention design.

In 2009, Raisa obtained a B.A. in Integrated Social and Cognitive Psychology from Jacobs University Bremen, Germany.  In 2010, she earned a Master’s of Science in Issues in Applied Psychology from University of Worcester, UK. Before coming to Ohio University in 2012, she completed a postgraduate certificate in Advanced Practice Interventions in Primary Mental Health Care at University of Manchester, UK and conducted brief CBT interventions with adults with anxiety and depression. In 2015, Raisa earned a Master’s of Science in Clinical Psychology from Ohio University.

During her graduate studies at Ohio University, Raisa has gained a diverse clinical experience working with children, adolescents, and parents in a variety of clinical settings and schools. She is currently the project coordinator for a randomized control trial of a school-based intervention for high school students with ADHD. Raisa is also highly involved in mentoring undergraduate research assistants and teaches undergraduate psychology classes.

Raisa is excited about her upcoming pre-doctoral psychology internship at Nationwide Children’s Hospital and is looking forward to a career in which she can integrate clinical work with teaching/supervision and research.

Mathematics, Physical Sciences, and Engineering

George A. Van Den Driessche

Illinois State University

“Computational Investigations of Oxygen-Containing Donor-Acceptor Complexes Involving Sulfur Dioxide or Sulfur Trioxide”

George Van Den Driessche received his Bachelors of Science degree from Aquinas College in Grand Rapids, MI, where he majored in Chemistry and Mathematics. While at Aquinas, George gained valuable experience with experimental lab techniques through internships with NeurOp Inc. and Amway while also conducting a senior research project with Dr. Jonathan Fritz. When he began to pursue his Master’s in Chemistry at Illinois State University (ISU), George transitioned from experimental chemistry into the field of Theoretical Chemistry by joining Dr. Jean M. Standard’s lab. Working in the Standard Lab, George studied the formation of donor-acceptor complexes between Oxygen-containing donors and Sulfur-containing acceptors using density functional theory to aid the development of new sulfur dioxide removing technologies from flue gas. While at Illinois State, George received an Outstanding Poster Award from the Journal of Physical Chemistry at the 46th annual Midwestern Theoretical Chemistry Conference (MWTCC) in 2014. He was also a very active member in the Illinois State American Chemical Society (ACS) chapter serving as secretary and treasurer. After completing his Master’s degree, George moved to Raleigh, NC, to pursue his Ph. D. in Chemistry at North Carolina State University (NCSU). At North Carolina State, George once again experienced a transition in fields as he moved from the field of quantum chemistry into the field of cheminformatics under the mentorship of Prof. Denis Fourches. As a member of the Fourches Lab, he is working on the development of computer models to forecast a drug’s likelihood of inducing adverse drug reactions (ADR). Those models compute a drug’s ability to bind the human leukocyte antigen (HLA) immune-receptor protein family. Currently at NCSU, George already has one publication in the Journal of Cheminformatics and was also a recipient of the ACS CINF Scholarship in Excellence at the Fall ACS meeting in 2016. Upon completion of his Ph. D. George plans on pursuing a career in industry with a pharmaceutical company. When George manages to get out of the lab he enjoys mountain biking, hiking, and camping with his wife, Michelle, and dog, Athena.


Biological and Life Sciences

Nicholas Borcherding

University of Iowa

“Non-canonical WNT signaling in breast cancer initiation and progression.”

Nick Borcherding is a veteran of the United States Marine Corps. After his service, he attended Iowa State University (Ames, IA) for a Bachelors of Science in nutritional science, graduating summa cum laude in 2012. He enrolled in the Masters of Science Pathology program at the University of Iowa (Iowa City, IA) and joined the lab of Dr. Weizhou Zhang, where he researched the role of noncanonical WNT signaling in breast cancer. After graduating in 2014, Nick entered the combined MD/PhD Medical Scientist Training Program at the University of Iowa and is currently a second year student. He will be entering the graduate phase of his training this summer and will expand on his M.S. work with Dr. Weizhou Zhang on the paracrine regulation of breast cancer initiation and progression. After his training, Nick would like to continue researching through residency and hopes to find a position in academic medicine.

Saul Meyerson-Knox

University of Cincinnati

“African Blues”: The Sound and History of a Transatlantic Discourse”

Saul Meyerson-Knox Bio pic
Saul completed a Master of Music degree with a double major in Music History and Classical Guitar Performance at the University of Cincinnati’s College-Conservatory of Music in 2013. He received a Bachelor of Arts degree from Guilford College (NC) in 2007. At CCM Saul focused on Ethnomusicology and used his thesis to explore connections between the American Blues and West African music. Saul currently teaches guitar through UC’s Communiversity Program as well as various private music studios, and is an active performer throughout the Cincinnati area.


Physical Sciences

Gavin A. D’Souza

University of Cincinnati

“Influence of Serial Coronary Stenoses on Diagnostic Parameters: An In-vitro Study with Numerical Validation

Gavin D’Souza earned his Bachelor of Engineering degree in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Mumbai, India, in 2011. Subsequently, he enrolled into the Master’s program at the University of Cincinnati (UC), OH, in 2011 and graduated with a Master of Science degree in Mechanical Engineering in 2014 under the mentorship of Dr. Rupak Banerjee. Currently, Gavin is a first-year PhD candidate in the Mechanical Engineering program at UC and continues to be a member of Dr. Banerjee’s Transport in Engineering and Medicine lab.While pursuing his Master’s degree at UC, Gavin worked as a Teaching Assistant and Research Assistant in the field of cardiovascular diagnostics. He gained additional experience in medical device research and regulatory science during his appointment to the Research Participation Program at the US Food and Drug Administration, MD, in 2012. Post-graduation, Gavin received the University Research Council’s Graduate Research Fellowship in 2014 to conduct cardiovascular research. His research has led to three peer-reviewed journal publications and three conference presentations. He received two Best Student Paper awards for his presentations at international level conferences. Currently, he is a Graduate Research Assistant at the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center and works on enhancing pediatric patient care using engineering principles and medical imaging techniques. While pursuing his doctoral degree, Gavin also serves as a member of the Verification and Validation in Computational Modeling of Medical Devices (V&V 40) CFD sub-committee, comprising of the FDA, industry and academia.

After the completion of his PhD, Gavin plans to pursue a career as a researcher in the medical device industry.

Social Sciences

Christina E. Holbein

Loyola University of Chicago

“Towards Observational Measurement Of Social Competence In Youth With Chronic Health Conditions: Development Of Peer Interaction Scales For Youth With Spina Bifida”


Biological and Life Sciences

 Kaylia Duncan, Department of Pathology

University of Iowa

“Dynamics of Tumor Progression and Therapy Response in IL-6 and MYC-Driven Plasma Cell Malignancy

 A native of the southern Caribbean multi-island territory of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Kaylia Duncan graduated magna cum laude with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Biology from Fisk University (Nashville, TN) in 2010. She subsequently enrolled in the Masters of Science Pathology program at the University of Iowa (Iowa City, IA) and joined the lab of Dr. Siegfried Janz until graduating in May 2013. Currently, Kaylia is a first year Ph.D. student in the Interdisciplinary Graduate Program in Molecular and Cellular Biology at the University of Iowa. She recently joined the lab of Dr. Robert Cornell whose work include developmental genetics utilizing the zebra fish as a model. After her Ph.D. training Kaylia is interested in pursuing a postdoctoral fellowship in either an academic or industrial environment.

Anna Lynch, Department of Religious Studies

University of Iowa

“Early Lutheran Education in the Late Reformation in Mecklenburg”

Anna Lynch MAGS photo
Anna Lynch received her BA in History (2011) from Augustana College in South Dakota and her MA in Religious Studies (2013) from the University of Iowa. Her thesis was titled, Early Lutheran Education in the Late Reformation in Mecklenburg. In January of 2014 she began working as a clerk at a law firm in Iowa City, IA. She hopes to begin a PhD program in the near future. Her long-term academic interests involve the historical account of the Lutheran reformation in Germany from a social and theological perspective.


Master’s Thesis from a Doctoral Institution

Ryan T. Schwier, Public History

Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis

“According to the Custom of the Country”: Indian Marriage, Property Rights, and Legal Testimony in the Jurisdictional Formation of Indiana Settler Society, 1717-1897”

After completing his undergraduate studies in history at Indiana University Bloomington, Ryan earned his master’s degrees in library and information science (2004) and public history (2011) from Indiana University Indianapolis.  In his professional capacity, Ryan served as an academic law librarian from 2006 to 2012, providing research instruction and reference services to students, faculty, and staff at the IU-Robert H. McKinney School of Law. His teaching experience includes presentations on U.S. constitutional history, legal research, and academic ethics. He has published on a broad range of topics including Native American land rights, Indiana Supreme Court justices, historical consulting, and the preservation of Indiana’s historic public libraries. His scholarly interests include the history of Indigenous-settler relations in colonial North America, international and comparative legal history, American Indian law and policy, civil rights and historical justice, and the use of historical narratives in promoting inter-cultural dialogue, conflict resolution, and peace building.Ryan is currently a first-year student at the Indiana University-Robert H. McKinney School of Law. He is the recipient of the Dan and Marilyn Quayle Scholarship and a member of Phi Alpha Delta International. His practice area interests include immigration, civil rights, mediation, and environmental law.
Master’s Thesis from a Master’s Institution

Amirhossein Arzani

Illinois Insitute of Technology

“Validation and Characterization of Turbulence in an Aortic Coarctation”

Amirhossein Arzani received his BS in Mechanical engineering (2010) from Isfahan University of Technology in Iran, and his MS from Illinois Institute of Technology (2012). He is currently a PhD student and a research assistant working with Shawn Shadden. His main research area is cardiovascular fluid mechanics, with emphasis on understanding physics of blood flow by dynamical systems methods.Future: Amirhossein will be transferring to University of California Berkeley with his advisor to pursuit the rest of his PhD. He is looking forward to finding an academic faculty position in the future.