2017 Presidential Scholars

The UB Presidential Fellowship Program is aimed at enhancing UB’s competitiveness in recruiting outstanding graduate students. Students chosen for this award exemplify academic excellence and are some of UB’s best and brightest.

2017 Recipients

Meet the 16 exemplary students that were selected as the 2017 Presidential scholars.

Ridwan Al Aziz.

Name: Ridwan Al Aziz

Major: Operations Research

Hometown: Dinajpur, Bangladesh

Biography: Ridwan Al Aziz, originally from Bangladesh, is pursuing his PhD in operations research in the department of industrial and systems engineering. He earned his BSc and MSc from the department of industrial and production engineering at Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (BUET) and has been a faculty member of BUET since 2014. His research interest includes optimization, applied operations research and risk analysis. Aziz's hobbies include reading books, watching movies, cricket and football. In the future, Aziz aspires to work as a university professor.

Rebecca Biermann.

Name: Rebecca (Beccy) Biermann

Major: Physical Anthropology

Hometown: Bonn, Germany

Biography: Rebecca (Beccy) Biermann is a German-American PhD candidate in physical anthropology. She completed a five-year BA/MA program in anthropology at the George Washington University before coming to UB. Her research focuses on tools from the Stone Ages, and what their manufacture and use can tell us about their hominin users. Her research intersects with both physical anthropology and archaeology. Her goal is to understand the interactions between hominin behavior and hominin evolution, tracing our human history back to its beginnings. In her scarce free time, Biermann enjoys hiking, reading and spending time with her family and friends. After her PhD, Biermann plans to pursue a career in academia.

Heather Campbell.

Name: Heather Campbell

Major: Immunology

Hometown: Roseville, MN

Biography: Heather Campbell is a PhD candidate in the immunology department at Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center. She is interested in pursuing cancer immunology research with the goal of creating bench top to bedside therapies that will directly benefit patients’ lives. In addition to research Campbell enjoys baking, craft projects and playing percussion. After graduation she plans to work in academia so that she can continue to pursue her research interests while also influencing the next generation of scientists through education.

Allison Drake.

Name: Allison Drake

Major: Counseling Psychology

Hometown: Buffalo, NY

Biography: Allison Drake is pursuing her PhD in counseling psychology through the department of counseling, school and educational psychology. She holds a bachelor's degree in biology/psychology from Union College and a master's degree in natural sciences/immunology from UB. Drake has been actively involved in clinical research in the areas of neurology and neuropsychology with UB's Department of Neurology. Her current interests within the field of counseling psychology include: personality, emotion regulation and stress response. In addition, she is interested in exploring interpersonal interactions/styles in the work setting. Drake is an active member of the Albright Knox Art Gallery's Convergence Council and a board member for Advancing Research in Multiple Sclerosis (ARMS).

Derick Evans.

Name: Derick Evans

Major: Composition

Hometown: Clinton, NY

Biography: Derick Evans is a PhD candidate in composition, in the department of music. His artistic output often seeks to highlight the interactions involved in specific social environments (e.g., music for an ensemble about the drama of rehearsing in an ensemble); and, further, to compose environments of performance where the dynamic between audience and performer becomes an identifiable expression of community. His compositions, which adopt both experimental and popular styles and, more recently, embrace elements of performance art, have been performed by groups such as the Cleveland Chamber Symphony, Wooster Symphony Orchestra, Verb Ballets, the Rivertown Duo and Norway's Bifrost Ensemble. In 2017, he premiered his one-person musical, "Through The Night," at Buffalo's Sugar City, which he later brought to Oberlin College. Evans frequently performs music and art pieces as both a solo act and a collaborator with artists around Buffalo.

Patrick Fernandez.

Name: Patrick Fernandez

Major: Chemistry

Hometown: Lucena City, Philippines

Biography: Originally from the Philippines, Patrick Fernandez is a PhD candidate in the department of chemistry. He holds both bachelor's and master’s degrees in chemistry from the University of the Philippines - Diliman, where he did research on natural products chemistry and organic synthesis in ionic liquids. His current work on the mechanistic enzymology of tuberculosis targets will aid in designing potent drugs to combat antibiotic-resistant pathogens. He aspires to be a medicinal chemist either in the pharmaceutical industry or in the academe. Outside of the lab, he enjoys playing the violin, listening to classical pop and training for half-marathons.

Francesco Franda.

Name: Francesco Franda

Major: Philosophy

Hometown: Carpi, Italy

Biography: Francesco Franda, originally from Italy, is a PhD candidate in the department of philosophy. After having pursued his joint degree in France and Italy, he obtained his master's degree in philosophy from the University of Bologna. His main research interest lies in the field of social ontology, the study of the nature of social reality. Within this field, his interests concern in particular answering questions such as: What distinguishes an organization from a mere group of people? How do we define 'terrorism'? Which roles formal and informal institutions play in a political system? These questions guide his research, together with the assumption that, although there is something arbitrary and conventional about the nature of social entities, we can still seek an accurate and rigorous theory of the social world. In addition to his research and teaching activities, he enjoys playing the electric guitar, swimming and traveling. In the future, Franda aspires to become a faculty member at a university.

Brandon Graham.

Name: Brandon Graham

Major: Geology

Hometown: Bradford, PA

Biography: Brandon Graham is a PhD student in the department of geology. His research is to quantify the extent and timing of the Greenland Ice Sheet during the last 20,000 years. Graham's research focuses on cosmogenic radionuclide exposure dating, erosion quantification, geophysical measurements and modeling complex exposure/erosion events to constrain ice sheet models to predict the Greenland Ice Sheet's response to future climate change. Graham enjoys spending time with his family, amateur radio, model warship combat, and various shooting sports. Graham plans to enter a research field as a professor or with a geologic survey.

Abdul Hassaballah.

Name: Abdul Hassaballah

Major: Engineering

Hometown: Buffalo, NY

Biography: Abdul Hassaballah is a PhD candidate in the department of civil, structural and environmental engineering. He holds degrees from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and Stanford University. Hassaballah's research focuses on the inactivation of microorganisms in water resource recovery facilities. He aspires to develop new wastewater disinfection technologies that would protect human and ecosystem health. Hassaballah is the student president of the New York Water Environment Association (NYWEA) - UB Chapter. As an Egyptian born in Chicago and raised in the United Arab Emirates, Hassaballah loves to go on travel adventures and learning about different cultures. After graduation, he plans to work as an engineer and help protect water resources.

Jida Huang.

Name: Jida Huang

Major: Industrial and Systems Engineering

Hometown: China

Biography: Jida Huang, originally from China, is a PhD candidate in the department of industrial and systems engineering. His research focuses on realizing design automation and generative design for 3D printing through the use of geometric deep learning methods. He aspires to use the knowledge gained from his research to develop novel intelligent design and control system in additive manufacturing area. Huang enjoys swimming, hiking and fishing. His future career plan is to become an academic investigator in the field of advanced manufacturing.

Benjamin Kersten.

Name: Benjamin Kersten

Major: Visual Studies

Hometown: Chicago, IL

Biography: Benjamin Kersten is pursuing a PhD in visual studies. Originally from Chicago, he earned a BA in art history from Pomona College before matriculating to UB. His research focuses on how Jewishness figures in constructions of race, paying particular attention to Jewish involvement in efforts for racial and economic justice, issues of inclusion in arts institutions and questions of nationalism. He hopes to tie his research to more recent conversations about anti-Semitism and investigate rifts among Jews that have become more visible amidst recent changes in the political landscape. He enjoys cooking, traveling and going on hikes. In the future, he plans to teach and continue his research.

Igor Marques.

Name: Igor Coelho A. S. Marques

Major: Music

Hometown: Curitiba, Brazil

Biography: Igor Coelho A. S. Marques hails from Curitiba, Brazil. He was a Johannesen scholar at Brigham Young University, graduated cum laude and then spent the next two years with Morris Rosenzweig as the University of Utah's Geersten Glad scholar. Currently, he is a Presidential Fellow at the University at Buffalo, studying under David Felder. As a composer, Marques is particularly curious about the intersection of artifice and organicity and the incorporation of sounds and concepts related to natural phenomena and human industry. Igor has won a call for scores by Rosetta Ensemble (Japan), the second prize in the Alba Rosa Viëtor Competition (Netherlands) and an honorable mention in Paraguay's first International Symphonic Composition Competition. His piece Escenas became a finalist in the seventh Mivos/Kanter Prize as a string quartet and in the fourth Música Hoje National Composition Contest (Brazil) as a piece for chamber orchestra. Most recently, he has been selected to participate in the 2018 edition of Fondation Royaumont's Académie Voix Nouvelles.

Roberto Mondini.

Name: Roberto Mondini

Major: Physics

Hometown: Cremona, Italy

Biography: Roberto Mondini is originally from Italy and is a PhD candidate in the department of physics. His academic research interests lie in the field of theoretical particle physics. More specifically, his studies involve performing high-precision particle physics calculations that are then used to analyze the experimental data obtained at the Large Hadron Collider, the world's largest particle accelerator. With his work, Mondini aspires to further expand our understanding of nature at the subatomic level. In his free time, he enjoys traveling and watching sports. Mondini's career goal is to become a faculty member at a research university.

Sushrugh Muralidharan.

Name: Sushruth Muralidharan

Major: Physics

Hometown: Chennai, Tamil Nadu, India

Biography: After completing his MS in physics at the Indian Institute of Science Education and Research (IISER), Thiruvananthapuram, Sushruth Muralidharan joined the physics department at UB as a PhD student in fall 2016. He is interested in the field of theoretical high energy physics (particle physics). Currently, he is working on developing and applying modern techniques to make high-precision predictions within the theoretical framework of the widely accepted standard model of particle physics. Testing these predictions against observations from proton-proton collisions at the LHC will point us in the direction of new physics. Upon graduation, he hopes to stay in academia, teaching and exploring the boundaries of our understanding of the physical universe.

Ben Rein.

Name: Ben Rein

Major: Neuroscience

Hometown: Buffalo, NY

Biography: Ben Rein is a PhD student in the department of neuroscience. Originally from Buffalo, he obtained his bachelor’s degree in psychology from West Virginia University. Rein's current research investigates how a specific chromosomal abnormality (16p11.2 duplication) confers risk for psychiatric conditions such as autism spectrum disorder and schizophrenia. Through his work, he hopes to improve our understanding of the neurobiology of these disorders, while generating potential for novel intervention strategies. Outside of the lab, he enjoys reading, playing disc golf and producing music. Rein ultimately intends to become an independent investigator in the field of neuroscience.

Jena Walczyk.

Name: Jena Walczyk

Major: Pharmacology and Therapeutics

Hometown: Elma, NY

Biography: Jena Walczyk is a PhD candidate in the department of pharmacology and therapeutics in the Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center. Her research focuses on how different cell populations within prostate tumors produce energy. Her goal is to identify new therapeutic options to target highly drug resistant cell populations. In addition to her research activities, Walczyk enjoys reading and hiking. Her future career plan is to become a professor in the field of biology.