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Honoring 2022 recipients

Each year, The Graduate School recognizes four doctoral candidates or recent doctoral graduates for creating exceptional dissertations in each of the following fields: biological and life sciences; humanities and fine arts; mathematics, physical sciences and engineering; and social sciences. 

The 2022 recipients of the Dean’s Distinguished Dissertation Award are Rachel E. Bangle (‘21 Ph.D.); Siddhartha Biswas (‘21 Ph.D.); Mark Reeves (‘21 Ph.D.); and Bingxin Zhao (‘21 Ph.D.). Each honoree will receive a cash award; additionally, The Graduate School nominates two awardees each year for the national CGS/ProQuest Distinguished Dissertation Award. 

“Congratulations to these graduate students on their achievements, which have culminated in this award, said Suzanne Barbour, dean of The Graduate School. “From access to higher education to the inner-workings of the human brain, these are standout graduate students in their fields of study. They are well deserving of this notable award.” 

The awards recognize the highest level of graduate student scholarship at UNC-Chapel Hill, based on originality, innovation, scholarly excellence, methodological sophistication, and significance to the field of study. A faculty panel from a broad range of disciplines selected this year’s recipients.  

2022 recipients, in their own words: 

Rachel E. Bangle (‘21 Ph.D.)
A woman with short hair wearing a necklace and a flowered top.
Rachel Bangle

Department of Chemistry
College of Arts & Sciences 

Dissertation: Interfacial electron transfer for solar energy conversion: kinetic and mechanistic insights
Advisor: Jerry Meyer 

“Interfacial electron transfer, the movement of electrons between solid surfaces and nearby molecules, is one of the most important tools we have for converting sunlight into carbon-neutral liquid fuels. In my dissertation, I examined light-induced interfacial electron transfer reactions to gain fundamental insights into the physical parameters that govern their kinetics. I also used this knowledge to develop and study new strategies to control interfacial electron transfer for solar energy conversion.” 

Siddhartha Biswas (‘18 M.S., ‘21 Ph.D.)
A man in a suit and tie and wearing glasses.
Siddhartha Biswas

Department of Economics
College of Arts & Sciences 

Dissertation: Federal student loans, college choice, and student welfare
Advisor: Donna B. Gilleskie 

“My dissertation examines the role of federal student loans in students’ college enrollment decisions. I developed a model to highlight how loans can inform a student’s choice of institution and evaluate the gains associated with each type of college. Lastly, I compare the benefits of raising loan limits with other education subsidies for various student groups.” 

Mark Reeves (‘21 Ph.D.)
A man in a blue suit and tie wearing glasses.
Mark Reeves

Department of History
College of Arts & Sciences 

Dissertation: Lost horizons: Anticolonial internationalism, 1930-1945
Advisor: Susan Dabney Pennybacker

“My dissertation follows the parallel careers of anti-colonial activists from Syria, India, the Philippines and Nigeria during the 1930s and the Second World War, in order to show that anti-colonialists had an ambitious global agenda beyond nationalism. While they sought to gain independence for their countries, they also concentrated on building a new world order free of colonial domination.” 

Bingxin Zhao (‘20 Ph.D.)
A man in a black t-shirt posing for a photo
Bingxin Zhao

Department of Biostatistics
UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health 

Dissertation: Topics in high-dimensional asymptotics of ridge-type estimators
Advisor: Hongtu Zhu 

“How do genetics control the human brain? Using neuroimaging and genetics data from more than 40,000 subjects, we describe the genetic influences on brain structures and functions. More generally, we find that brain conditions are genetically related to a wide range of human behavior variables, mental health traits, and brain disorders. Neuroimaging biomarkers from biobank-scale databases can contribute to understanding the biological pathways of brain-related traits and diseases.” 

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