TAMS' Named Scholarships 2020

The James E. Miller Texas Scholarship rewards students from small towns and rural high schools who might not have the same advantages as do their peers from larger school districts. James E. Miller was a Dean of the College of education at a time when TAMS was merely a concept. He enthusiastically helped to turn a great idea into the reality we now cherish.

2020 winner of the Miller Scholarship comes from Sunnyvale, Texas, which has a high school that houses only 528 students, now 527. Wanting more than his hometown could offer, Andrew Beard decided to come to TAMS for greater depth and breadth of educational opportunity. He yearned for an environment in which college professors would lecture, but still encourage him to devise his own learning methods. At his high school, Andrew was the only student to sign up for UIL science. Lacking teacher guidance to prepare, he hit the books and rose through the ranks, garnering 1st place in district and regional meets, and becoming the only science competitor from his school to make “state” that year. He earned 11th place overall, and 2nd place in the Biology category. Andrew now looks forward to conducting research at TAMS, to learning as much as he can, and to making new friends. Congratulations, Andrew, our new James E. Miller scholar.

The Jannon Fuchs Scholarship rewards a student who has excelled in the physical sciences while experiencing the kind of extraordinary mentorship for which Dr. Jannon Fuchs, UNT neuroscientist, is known, and for which she has had a scholarship endowed in her honor by grateful TAMS parents. This year’s winner of that scholarship is Sai Sarnala. The award, by implication, also honors the inspiring mentorship of Dr. Richard Dixon.

Admitted to TAMS in 2019, as an Early Summer Researcher, Sai began working with UNT’s acclaimed Dr. Richard Dixon and a postdoctoral assistant, Dr. Ji Hyung, on the genetic modification of forage crops. During the past two years, in long-semester commitment, Sai averaged 15-20 hours per week of research, and then 40+ hours during the past two summer sessions.

Sai worked with alfalfa to upregulate flavonoid pathway genes. He is uniquely responsible for having identified three specific promoters that increase the expression of certain transcription factors. He has also generalized his findings to decrease the need for genetic modification of varied plants. In recognition of his contributions, Sai has been named co-author, with Dixon et al., of a publication that has appeared in a 2020 number of the prestigious journal Plant Physiology.

Congratulations Sai; and congratulations Dr. Dixon.

The Julian C. Stanley Award for Mathematical Aptitude goes to Dave Banerjee. After placing in the top 2.5% of the American Mathematics Competition, Dave qualified for the American Invitational Mathematics Examination, in which he competed against the brightest young mathematicians in the country. Closer to home, he was also the only student to place into Calculus III without any prior instruction, as he self-studied all the material and ended the semester with a perfect 100.

As for his related physics research, Dave worked in the lab of Dr. Jose Perez and discovered a novel phenomenon in which atomically thin layers of MoS2 degrade at an accelerated rate when exposed to humid conditions. He theorized that water molecules suspended in humid air react with MoS2, thus accelerating the degradation process. Dave ultimately proved his hypothesis and became co-author of a 2020 article in the journal MRS Advances. His discovery stands to facilitate the development of nanoscopic devices to increase the efficiency of solar cells, biosensors, and transistors.

As a Summer Research Scholar, Dave then sought to develop an application to analyze data collected from Raman Spectroscopy. He used curve-fitting algorithms to characterize materials based on their chemical identity, thickness, stress, impurities, and degradation. This work will potentially help scientists, globally, extract more characterization information from their data. Congratulations Dave.

The Newman Foundation Endowment supports outstanding work by Early-Research, first-year TAMS students. This year’s winner is Angelina Xu.

This past summer, Angelina worked productively in the chemistry the lab of Dr. Bill Acree, focusing on properties of organic solvents.

Her original contribution involved utilization of the Abraham model to predict the heat required for the vaporization and sublimation of numerous alkanes lacking information in the current database. Angelina’s work can help determine how the molecules will interact productively or otherwise with the environment.

Angelina’s research veered into the terrain of linear regression equations. In ten short weeks, Angelina was so productive as to have produced results that merited co-authorship in two separate publications in the European Chemical Bulletin. Stated otherwise, Angelina has now published in international venues.

In weekly Zoom meetings with the other early researchers, Angelina was among those who made the most progress in the art of conversational ease and good-natured give-and-take. Congratulations Angelina.

The Nipul Foundation Award recognizes early-research students pursuing neuroscience. Neel Shanmugam is this year’s winner.

Neel has worked in the lab of Dr. Nicoladie Tam on research directed toward identifying neural processing of decision-making and emotions. Neel sought to quantify the cognitive interaction between emotion and decision-making by studying the Ultimatum Game experimental paradigm and its probability factors.

He likewise excelled in the use of brain imaging, optical imaging, and the investigation of oxygen-delivery to neural tissues.

Dr. Tam has praised Neel for being among the few students who initiates scientific inquiry, who is at the forefront of group dialogue, who has original ideas, and who is not intimidated by statistical analysis. Nor, from a grammatical outlook, did it hinder Neel’s prospects to refer, in his application essay, to “these data” rather than to “this data.” Congratulations Neel on your splendid Early-Research accomplishments.

The Patel Foundation Scholarship rewards summer research in Biology.

Danny Zhang is the 2020 winner of this award. His remote research occurred at Northwestern University, in the Hepatology lab of Dr. Richard Green. Danny used bioinformatics techniques to analyze a host of datasets related to liver diseases, thereby becoming versed in exploratory analyses that measure gene expressions. He also enrolled in online courses pertinent to statistical accountability. Danny applied that knowledge to his work on the knock-out of a gene that can cause liver failure in children. The point, as Danny explains, is “that with the number of liver transplants rising each year in the United States, there’s a great need to discover how genes play a role in the progression and development in tissue scarring and cancers.” The fact that Danny is on the forefront of pioneering that research more than justifies his achievement in becoming the 2020 recipient of the Patel Foundation Scholarship. Congratulations Danny.

The Steve and Kathy Weiner Research Scholarship recognizes research in Engineering and Computer Science. Pranathi Pilla is this year’s winner. For the past three years, she has worked to develop a project that combines a portable microscope on a cellphone with microbial fuel cells to detect harmful bacteria. Her hybrid design, featuring chemical additives and new protocols, has a cost of less than one dollar to advance the field of microbial-disease diagnostics. Her findings are forthcoming in the journal Basic & Clinical Pharmacology & Toxicology.

During the 2019-2020 school year Pranathi also conducted research under the guidance of Dr. Denise Perry Simmons and Dr. Tae-Youl Choi to develop a 3D Cell Culture model for an ovarian cancer cell line (OvCar3). The bio-thermal cancer-detection tool to which she contributed stands to affect more efficient diagnoses and treatment of ovarian cancer.

But there is more. This past summer, working 20+ hours per week on the Computer Science research team of Dr. Mark Albert, Pranathi engaged in remote research to diagnose Parkinson’s disease via pupil tracking. These and other distinctions suggest that Pranathi more than merits the distinction of being our 2020 Steve and Kathy Weiner Research Scholarship Winner. Congratulations Pranathi.

Tom Weiner Academic Scholarship honors incoming TAMS students for leadership, superior academic accomplishment, and research prior to the start of TAMS.

This year we have three winners.

Our first winner of the Tom Weiner Academic Scholarship is Joonghyun Kim

Before arriving at TAMS, Joonghyun was number 3 out of 556 other students in his high school class. He invested significant time to study computational learning and was at the forefront of advanced mathematics in UIL competitions. Indeed, he and his teammates achieved second place in the early 2020 UIL invitational meet. He then participated in the National Mathematics Examination, for which he achieved an impressive score.

Joonghyun also conducted research to classify heartbeats from ECG recordings. He did so via machine learning to facilitate automated diagnosis of arrhythmia. To that end, he taught himself aspects of Python and Tensor-flow. He is thus learning how to analyze real-world datasets and convert them into meaningful inputs for machine learning. In these and other ways, Joonghyun has admirably prepared himself for the challenges of a TAMS education. Congratulations Joonghyun.

Our second winner of the Tom Weiner Academic Scholarship is Shreyas Shridharan.

Shreyas co-led his high school’s Robotics Team to the FTC regional championship by learning, beyond engineering, the art of leadership. He did so by joining the year-long Young Entrepreneurs Academy program, which taught him discipline, planning, and management skills. He also helped initiate an NGO to help fund purchases for his school’s robotics needs.

Shreyas then turned his attention to researching the use of viruses to fight multidrug-resistant infections caused by bacteria. He personally initiated remote research with a leading authority on bacteriophages and ended up exploring a multidrug-resistant bacterium. He also worked on a team to develop programs to analyze the genomic data of the bacteria, and that team finally discovered a protein critical to combatting drug resistance. We are therefore pleased to recognize Shreyas as a Tom Weiner Scholarship recipient.

Our third winner of the Tom Weiner Academic Scholarship is Ajeong Kim.

Ajeong Kim admirably meets all of the Academic Scholarship standards, as a Straight-A student at Shepton High School, as woodwind captain in her band, and as a leader whose job and pleasure it was to make sure that everyone in band felt included and respected. She spent many hours engaging new band members in conversation, over lunch and in the band hall. She further takes pride in having worked with others to make marching band a fun activity rather than an obligation. That communication skill and that kind of leadership played a large part in leading the Shepton Marching Band to grade-1 at the UIL Contest, and that for the first time in five years of effort at her high school. 

Since music and math are related, it little surprises that a leader in band became the founder and the president of Mu Alpha Theta, the math honors society for which Ajeong coordinated meetings, set up volunteering and tutoring schedules, promoted preparation for competitions, and—perhaps most importantly—stressed the enjoyment of mathematics. Although COVID-19 interfered with the club’s plans, Ajeong created a venue for people who liked math could get together and tutor those who need assistance to develop their potential and confidence.
After participating in “Awesome Math Camp” at Cornell University, Ajeong became deeply interested in number theory and proofs, for which, in the main, she self-studied—even while engaged in a host of difficult AP classes. Those ranged from courses in Human Geography, to Computer Science Principles, to Calculus, to World History, and to European History. She also participated in Science Fair and won third place in the Plano district, thereafter advancing to regionals. 
Her science fair project dealt with actualizing the differences between the three types of heat transfers: radiation, conduction, and convection. She engineered what she describes as doughnut-shaped conduction plates, of different designs, that sit atop a candle and transfer the radiation from the wick to conduction. Her protocol became increasingly complex and resulted in her learning much about the physics of heat-transference and the calculations requisite to understanding these phenomena. This mode of disciplined research and inquiry will certainly serve Ajeong very well in her classes at TAMS and in whatever lab she ultimately secures membership.  
We are therefore delighted to recognize Ajeong Kim as a recipient of a Tom Weiner Academic Scholarship. Congratulations Ajeong.

The Scott & Myra Stoll Scholarship: recognizes the excellence of a student who has taken advantage of all of the opportunities offered by TAMS. This year’s winner is Allison He. Her application describes how, in high school, she was reluctant even to raise her hand for fear of being in the public spotlight. TAMS, on the other hand, provided her with the fresh start she needed to overcome such hurdles. Rather than feeling intimidated, Allison posed questions in class, sought feedback from professors during their office hours, and visited the UNT Writing Lab for extracurricular projects. As for research, Allison helped develop a treatment for anomalous self-experiences under Dr. David Cicero and analyzed images with Dr. Jannon Fuchs to determine the role of primary neuronal cilia in epilepsy.

The supportive community of TAMS furthered Allison’s confidence. She performed a Peppa Pig skit for Coffeehouse and a cello duet for Aid The Cause. She even sponsored a birthday fundraiser for the Mental Health Foundation. Her public service included her being a Driving Tomorrow Junior Coordinator, facilitating her work with very young kids and with the elderly to enhance their quality of life. Such is the well-roundedness and overall excellence of Allison He. Congratulations Allison. (And, by the way, I did Google “Peppa Pig”)

The Tom Weiner Student Life Award recognizes leadership and contributions to TAMS Student Life. This year’s winner is Alexei Ukraintsev. When Alexei entered TAMS in the summer of 2019, he had just lost his dad but remained resilient because of family values pertaining to emotional strength and control. Still, after talking peers and learning their stories, he came to understand the importance of addressing mental-health issues in the TAMS community and of promoting mental-health assistance. He therefore gathered with friends to develop TAMS Active Minds. That organization worked with Associate Dean Eric Gruver and TAMS psychologist Dr. Patrick Turnock to provide the TAMS community with a further mental-health support system that encourages rapport with the always-available Dr. Turnock. Alexei has thereby sought to de-stigmatize mental-health counseling and to cultivate an outlook that values sharing, healing, and optimal personal growth. Congratulations, Alexei, for your exquisite leadership in the area of TAMS Student Life.

The TAMS Dean’s Scholarship recognizes extraordinary research on the part of students entering their second year of TAMS. The scholarship honors a student who has excelled in research and publication in such manner as might otherwise characterize an advanced and productive graduate student. In a very tight field of competition this year, the winner of the TAMS Dean’s Scholarship is Shrika Eddula.

A past early-research scholar, Shrika has worked in the analytical chemistry lab of Dr. William Acree, where she has helped to characterize the physio-kinetic properties of previously unstudied compounds called alkyl carbonates.

Shrika’s research has involved the application of linear free energy to the development of a predictive computational model that aids in identifying environmentally compatible solvents.

This past summer, Shrika also turned her attention to the uptake of pollutants in plants cuticles. The outcome of her contributions are everywhere conspicuous in co-authored publications that have appeared in the journals Physics and Chemistry of Liquids, Journal of Molecular Liquids, and in the European Chemical Bulletin.

I might add that, this past summer, in several TAMS Summer Orientation Sessions, Shrika, along with other officers of the TAMS Research Organization, demonstrated the levels of maturity, authority, and eloquence that come to define TAMS students at their finest. Congratulations Shrika.

We now arrive at our final award—the TAMS CLASS of  2000 Perseverance  Scholarship, which recognizes a student who, in the face of severe obstacles, has displayed perseverance and resilience.

This year’s winner is Tiffany Kumala. When I contemplate the requisite credentials for this award, my mind floats to theories about rare occasions in which trivial existence collides with the unexpectedly momentous—and in such manner as to launch an individual from everyday routine into heroic resolve. Such moments test a person’s integrity and determination in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds, odds that Tiffany has chosen to surmount. Stated otherwise, one can either be whelmed by a massive wave or surf it with skill, grace, and style. Tiffany, for your immense grace in moving forward with enterprises that engage you intellectually and socially, you have our deepest respect and admiration. You embody the best qualities that we associate with winners of The Class of 2000 Perseverance Scholarship. Congratulations.