Meet the First Class of Powers Graduate Fellows
Renewable energy. Politics. Indigenous languages. Cardiovascular health.
See a pattern? The Graduate School does.
This year, four graduate students from very different fields of study became connected when they were selected as the first recipients of the William C. Powers Graduate Fellowship.
Julia O’Rourke (Mechanical Engineering), Jacob Maguire, (American Studies), Simeon Floyd (Linguistic Anthropology) and Allison E. DeVan (Kinesiology and Health Education) were the first University of Texas at Austin graduate students to be honored with this prestigious fellowship.
This is the inaugural year for the award, which was established by a $1 million gift from Dr. Steven Ungerleider, a renowned sports psychologist and 1970 UT graduate. The Powers fellowship provides recipients with financial funding, as well as covering their tuition and contributing to insurance costs.
The gift was facilitated by Ungerleider through the Foundation for Global Sports Development, an outreach and mentorship educational fund, where Ungerleider is a trustee. Ungerleider chose to establish this fellowship program for graduate students to help support the President’s goal of becoming the top public research institution in the nation. He recognizes that attracting and retaining outstanding graduate students is a key component of that goal.
For Simeon Floyd, who is currently writing his dissertation on Cha’palaa, the largely-undocumented language of the Ecuadorian Chachi people, the fellowship could not have come at a more perfect time.
"I’m trying to write a real grammar for the first time ever for this language," says Floyd, who hopes to eventually teach in Ecuador. “(And) you really can't focus on your own studies if you don’t have some sort of scholarship support for the (dissertation’s) write-up period; it really slows down your progress.”
“It’s really important that this kind of support exists,” he says.
The other Powers fellows agree. After the four recently met with Dean Victoria Rodriguez for coffee, Jacob Maguire says he left the meeting feeling very excited about the program and the opportunities it affords University of Texas graduate students.
“There seems to be a lot of excitement about this program,” Maguire says. “The university’s commitment (to funding) is exciting and palpable. I can tell that this is an authentic commitment and I’m grateful for that kind of support.”
Maguire, who is a first-year master’s student in American Studies, spent time doing speechwriting and political consulting in New York after graduating from Amherst College in 2007. He worked for many prominent political figures, but decided that his passion lay in researching, writing and teaching politics. He chose to return to academia, and began his studies in politics and race at UT this fall.
“I think teaching is really important,” says Maguire. “I hope to someday be a teacher who can use the classroom to have really meaningful interactions with students that will also enhance my own research.”
Julia O’Rourke, another first-year graduate student, also hit the ground running from the moment she arrived at UT. With interests in alternative energy and sustainable design, O’Rourke (who graduated from the University of Pittsburgh with a triple major) says she chose UT for graduate school because of the excellent research happening here.
“I was really impressed by the breadth of research related to alternative energy and sustainability (at UT),” she says.
O’Rourke is currently doing research on biomimicry, the concept of using systems in nature as a model for human design. To O’Rourke, a simple termite mound in Africa is much more than a pile of dirt: these termites have the ability to cool themselves, and O’Rourke is studying how to apply the principles of termite-mound design to human building design in an effort to create sustainable, self-cooling buildings.
O’Rourke, who is pursuing her PhD, says that because of the Powers fellowship, she has been able to start researching from the moment she arrived at UT, instead of waiting to get started.
For Allison E. DeVan, a doctoral student in Kinesiology and Health Education, this fellowship allows her to continue the research interests she has been pursuing for years.
DeVan, who received her bachelor’s degree from the University of Georgia, came to UT seven years ago to pursue her interest in cardiovascular physiology; an interest that began because of a personal medical condition.
“I was diagnosed with a heart problem when I was a sophomore in college,” says DeVan. “(I) was a patient at a cardiac rehab center, and that got me very interested (in cardiovascular physiology). I saw firsthand how research and medicine can help people.”
DeVan earned her master’s in Exercise Physiology at UT and continues her research on exercise and the heart. Currently, she is focusing on her dissertation, which explores the mechanisms behind a heart attack; specifically, if exercise can prevent a heart attack from ever occurring.
“Getting this fellowship allows me to concentrate on my research,” she says.
Though the research interests of this year’s Powers fellows vary, their ultimate goal is the same: to make a positive difference in the lives of others. Whether documenting a Latin American language for the first time, designing an energy-efficient building of the future, educating others about racial and political issues or saving a life through health education, these graduate students are certain to leave their mark on the world. And they all agree that it is opportunities like this fellowship that allow them to pursue their passions.
“When you don’t know where the money is going to come from, it can influence what you study and how much time and freedom you have in that effort,” says Maguire. “But when you know the funding is there, you can study things that you think are interesting and important…you can make a commitment to the things you really care about.”
For more information about the Powers Graduate Fellowship, visit http://www.utexas.edu/news/2009/06/01/powers_graduate_fellowship/
To learn more about financing graduate education, visit, http://www.utexas.edu/ogs/funding/
By Lauren Edwards, October 2009
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