Graduate Student Appreciation Week 2017

  • Graduate Student Appreciation Week

It's Graduate Student Appreciation Week, and we just want to take a moment to thank you students for all that you do and all that you are. Each of you bring a unique light into our community, and we greatly appreciate each student for what you bring here, and the lives you touch once you move on into your lives and careers. We wouldn't be BYU without "U"!

After careful thought and deliberation, departments across campus have come together and decided to feature five students that represent our best and our brightest. These are people that have gone above and beyond in their academic work and research, and have been outstanding members of their community. Meet them below!

Jaclyn Eckersley, College of Family, Home, and Social Sciences

Meet Jaclyn Eckersley – one of BYU’s current graduate students pursuing her MA in Anthropology. Jaclyn started her graduate program in 2014 and completed her course work in 2016 with a perfect 4.0 GPA. After taking six months off to travel to England with her husband, she is now engaged full time in her MA thesis research.

What is Anthropology? Anthropology is a study of peoples, cultures, and their development through time.

How Jaclyn stands apart: Jaclyn’s committee member describes her as ". . . a very good student, largely self-motivated, who is doing interesting research and is far enough along in the program to be deeply into her thesis research.” Since her research involves trying to understand why people did things in the distant past through a combination of roughing it in the desert looking at archaeological sites, and using data you need a nuclear reactor to obtain, I think it really does embody the sort of graduate experience we want to convey to prospective graduate students, and others. . .”

Description of research: Jaclyn is studying the Ancestral Pueblo occupation of Beef Basin, a remote area in San Juan County, Utah, north of the Abajo Mountains and within the newly declared (and controversial) Bear’s Ears National Monument. The area is peripheral to areas south of the Abajo Mountains that were densely occupied by Ancestral Pueblo people from the AD 500s through the late 1200s. Beef Basin itself was unoccupied until the 1100s, when a relatively large number of people moved into the area. Her thesis research involves a combination of field work to document archaeological sites in Beef Basin and analysis of ceramic collections from previous archaeological research in the project area.

Research Impact: Jaclyn is trying to understand the timing, scale, and reasons why people moved into the area, and the relationships that people living in Beef Basin had with other people who resided in surrounding areas.

Research Techniques: One part of her thesis research (not yet completed) will use data from a high-tech analysis of Beef Basin ceramics using neutron activation analysis (which will be outsourced to the Archaeometry lab at the University of Missouri research reactor). Neutron activation analysis involves irradiating pieces of pottery to make them radioactive, then measuring the radioactive decay to determine their chemical composition. The compositional data from Beef Basin ceramics will then be compared to local clays and to ceramics from surrounding areas to determine where the pottery used in Beef Basin was made and whether people living in Beef Basin maintained trade connections with people living south of the Abajo Mountains."

Courtney Banks, College of Physical and Mathematical Sciences

When it comes to Chemistry at BYU, everyone knows how challenging Chemistry courses can be. However, the rigor and recognition of the Chemistry program has facilitated amazing research led by some outstanding students on campus. Meet Courtney Banks, a 4th year graduate student pursuing a PhD in Biochemistry. Courtney is revered among the brightest and best of the Chemistry student body. To prove it, here is a little of what her committee member has to say about her research: “Courtney . . . is exceptional—the best graduate student I’ve worked with at BYU or elsewhere. She has tackled the most difficult and ambitious project in my lab and, in the process, uncovered a novel mechanism of metabolic control in cells. Her discoveries apply to the etiology of familial (SOD1-driven) Lou Gehrig’s disease and cancer. After years of tenacious work spanning basic biochemistry, CRISPR, proteomics and metabolism, she has an impressive final manuscript that will be ready to submit within the next two weeks. Her work is also the sole source of data for my recently scored NIH R01.”

Perseverance: “Courtney has proven to be a dynamo in the lab. She has aggressively pioneered new technologies with her group (e.g., CRISPR, biotin ligase proteomics tools) and is not fazed by negative data or difficult procedures. Along the course of her project, she has run into numerous dead ends, but with each one she immediately turns around, plots a new course and forges forward. Perhaps this quality, more than any other, is the key determinant of success for any researcher, a rare trait!”

Creativity: Courtney’s resilience and creativity is likewise coupled with a curious mind. Her committee member continues: “She reads the literature more than any student I’ve worked with, which has allowed her to pull knowledge from diverse areas to find creative solutions. She is the go-to authority (even for me) on all things related to metabolism and SOD1 (the focus of her project).  With this curious mind comes creative ideas—it’s been a joy to receive her emails (at all hours of the day and on weekends!) with new experimental ideas, many of which I would have never come up with on my own and these were key to her success.”

Mentoring: An important part of a PhD candidate’s study time is being a mentor to other students and undergraduate students. Courtney has been described as a “wonderful mentor to younger students” and “gives incredibly mature and insightful comments/critiques to other student projects in her group.”

Along the way, Courtney has been active in pursuing fellowships and opportunities to present her work. She won a best presentation award at the CPMS Student Research Conference and was awarded the Christina Birely Oliver Simmons Cancer Center year-round fellowship and a Roland Robbins award. She also recently presented her work at the Experimental Biology Conference in San Diego. Altogether, Courtney possesses a rare combination of traits that make her an outstanding scientist and a role model for aspiring graduate students.

Ryan Wood, College of Engineering and Technology

Meet Ryan Wood, a PhD student, who was recently nominated as an outstanding graduate student by one of his professors, Dr. William G. Pitt, who describes him as “. . . the epitome of a hard-working and talented graduate student.” 

Ryan completed his BS and MS in Chemical Engineering in 2016. For his MS thesis research, he helped organize and begin a new area of research for Dr. Cook working on nerve regeneration. While working on this project, he learned how to maximize a limited budget and old equipment to be able to test and obtain the data that he needed for his research project. He spent a great deal of time training and organizing a large undergraduate work force of 12-15 students each semester. In one semester he had 24 students working on the project at one time. In all, he mentored about 30 students while working on his MS degree. About 10 of these students have gone on to graduate or medical school.

Once he defended his master’s thesis, he immediately started working toward his PhD under Dr. William Pitt’s direction. As soon as he entered Dr. Pitt’s lab, he picked up where he left off and immediately trained and organized about 10 undergraduates to collect a lot of very good data on the parameters by which bacterial cells could be efficiently lysed (opened) to collect their DNA in a very small volume.  Ryan also jumped right in to deriving some very difficult equations and then solving those equations—equations relating to the recovery of bacteria from fluids in spinning disks.  Ryan is making excellent progress in both of these research areas, and he just recently got a paper published about his work and also previously published a paper relating to his MS research. He has two papers submitted for review, and is working on three others. In addition to his papers, he also has made a couple of conference presentations.

Ryan has unbound energy.  He voraciously consumes published literature and can quickly sift through data to find the most important and relevant aspects of the data.  Ryan also does excellently in his class work, having received “A” grades in 3 classes taken from Dr. Pitt.  His GPA in his master work was excellent.  He is very well-rounded in his education, having taken at least one graduate class from the following departments: Chemical Engineering, Mechanical Engineering, Biology, Molecular Biology, Chemistry and Biochemistry, Statistics and Mathematics.

Ryan expresses in his humble way that his most impressive accomplishment at BYU is that he has won two intramural champion tee-shirts as a graduate student. (It goes to show that graduate students, although busy, can still have fun and be involved in campus activities!) But more important than that, he and his wife are first-time parents to a baby boy born in November of 2016. 

Needless to say, Ryan is a very impressive and hardworking graduate student.  He is a good mentor to other students; he is an excellent analytical thinker and problem solver as well as an outstanding role model for BYU graduate students.

Yvonne Allsop, College of Life Sciences

Yvonne Allsop was chosen from the College of Life Sciences to be recognized as an outstanding graduate student for BYU’s Graduate Student Appreciation Week. “Yvonne is a second-year MPH student and doing exceptionally well in our program,” says Dr. Gordon B. Lindsay, Director of the MPH program. “She is nearing the completion of her graduate studies at BYU and has a near perfect grade point average."

What stands Yvonne apart? Dr. Lindsay writes: “She is a thoughtful and frequent contributor to class discussions and her comments always reflect wisdom and great insights into public health issues. She has very good presentation skills and is an excellent writer. These attributes are balanced by her superior quantitative skills that she demonstrated in her Biostatistics and Epidemiology classes.

Research: “Yvonne is also an excellent researcher. She has co-published a number of articles with professors in refereed journals. Her publications and fieldwork have focused on fitness issues in the public schools and rheumatic heart disease in the Samoan islands. Her applied work is thoughtful and always theoretically driven by the latest models of health promotion theory.”

Leadership: Much of Yvonne’s graduate work has consisted of group projects. She is described as a consummate team player who always did more than her share of the work. “I am impressed that her fellow student selected her as the department’s representative to the University Graduate Student Council. In this position she has excelled. I have particularly appreciated her insights into ways to improve the MPH curriculum and improve our operations. . .” says Dr. Lindsay. “Yvonne has well-defined career goals and aspirations. She has applied to three very prestigious universities to begin doctoral studies in curriculum design and learning psychology. She will be a leader in the field and make major contributions to society in her chosen profession. She is a caring compassionate individual who has a genuine desire to serve.

"Yvonne has accomplished all of this in the midst of major family tragedies. A few years ago Yvonne’s mother passed away from cancer, after a long and heroic struggle. Last year, while she was in class, Yvonne was informed that her father had suffered a fatal heart attack. She served as a rallying point to pull the family together including younger siblings who were serving on missions. She is a very impressive woman because of her resiliency, courage and ability to move on despite the challenges. Dr. Lindsay explains that Yvonne "... is one of the most remarkable students he has ever known."

Mari Oto, McKay School of Education

Meet Mari Oto, a graduate student pursuing her master’s degree in the Teacher Education program in the McKay School of Education.  In her first year, Mari is  excelling in graduate school, achieving high marks in all of her classes and making excellent progress in identifying and articulating an important and relevant area of research for her thesis project. At this early date, she has already written her thesis prospectus and is looking to defend it soon so she can get started on data collection in the Provo School District this fall.  

Research: Mari’s research centers on determining how ethnic identity contributes to self-esteem and feelings of belonging among Pacific Islander high school students in Utah. In Mari’s career as a middle school history teacher, she had the opportunity to work with a variety of Pacific Islander students through classes and extracurricular activities. As one who comes from a multicultural background (Mari is Chinese, Japanese, Hawaiian and Portuguese) she understands the struggles and challenges of being a minority, but also the joy that comes from understanding, exploring and embracing one’s heritage. The personal connection she developed with her students has transferred to her thesis research and one of her biggest strengths is the passion she feels towards her project. Her research on the relationships between ethnic identity, self-esteem, and feelings of belonging in school for Pacific Islander students may shed some light on some of the challenges facing these students in predominantly white communities to help find solutions to better serve them. 

Mari’s life as a BYU grad: The area that really sets Mari apart from other students, however, is how well she balances all the many aspects of her life and still excels as a top student in her program.  Mari began the program in June 2016 at 30 weeks pregnant with her second child. Because the program caters to school teachers, it involved a heavy Summer course load that required Mari to be in classes four days a week up until she had her baby.  Mari was proactive in preparing for her daughter to come, arranging with her professors ahead of time to make up missed work and to complete all of her assignments on time.  Mari’s daughter was born in the small break between the end of the Summer term and the beginning of the Fall Semester (talk about good timing!) and stayed on top of her scholarly work while tending to her newborn and her three-year old toddler. 

Mari is self-motivated and driven in her thesis work and exceptionally well-organized, resourceful, and personable in all that she does.  Her classmates can attest that she works to make her graduate cohort a family, and is a wonderful support to those around her.  She is an exemplary person, a promising scholar and an excellent representative of the McKay School of Education as an outstanding graduate student.