College of Sciences Students, Future Faculty Recognized with Annual Awards

April 23, 2023

Each spring, the Georgia Tech community gathers to recognize the academic achievements and excellence of undergraduate and graduate students across the Institute. Dozens of College of Sciences students were honored during Tech’s Student Honors Celebration, held on April 19 at the Academy of Medicine.

Teaching excellence was also honored through Georgia Tech Teaching Assistant Awards and special certificates during the Institute’s Teaching Assistant (TA) and Future Faculty Award ceremonies, also held on April 19, at the Exhibition Hall Midtown Ballroom.

Please join us in congratulating these special recipients across our College of Sciences community:

Provost’s Academic Excellence Award

Established in 2021, the Provost’s Academic Excellence Award was created to recognize the remaining finalists of the Love Family Foundation Award (awarded this year to College of Design student Karis Wang). Each student is a graduating senior and represents the most outstanding scholastic record from their college. Finalists receive a $2,000 award, generously sponsored by the Love Family Foundation, and recognition at the annual Student Honors program.

One of this year’s recipients of the Provost’s Academic Excellence Award is Elena Cabrera, who is graduating from the School of Psychology. Cabrera conducted three years of research in the Adult Cognition Lab, earning her the College of Sciences Dean’s Scholarship and Early Research Award. She has also served as Psychology Association president and received two Tower Awards from the Office of Minority Educational Development. After graduation, Cabrera plans to pursue social and cultural psychological research on her path to becoming a psychology professor.

Other recipients include Arul Gupta from the Scheller College of Business, Kevin Li from the College of Computing, Jacob Young from the Ivan Allen College of Liberal Arts, and Peter Lais from the College of Engineering. Read more.

Honors Program Outstanding Student Award

This award was established in fall 2022 to honor one graduating student who best exemplifies the Honors Program during their time at Georgia Tech.

The first ever recipient of this award is Sarah Sorme, a graduating neuroscience major who has been active in the Honors Program. Sorme has had many leadership roles within the Honors Program during her time at Georgia Tech, including serving on two committees — the New Student Committee and the Community Outreach Committee — acting as a first-year retreat guide, and serving as editor of the Honors Program newsletter (The HyPe). She also served as co-director of the Honors Leadership Council and was instrumental in guiding the Program through the Covid-19 pandemic.

After graduation, Sarah wants to use her cognitive science knowledge and leadership experiences to develop human-centered technology to improve society.

Read more about Sorme.

Roger M. Wartell and Stephen E. Brossette Award for Multidisciplinary Studies in Biology, Physics, and Mathematics

This award is presented to an undergraduate student with demonstrated accomplishments at the interface of biology with either physics or mathematics. The award was established by a generous donation from alumnus Stephen E. Brossette in recognition of the many contributions of Roger M. Wartell to the Georgia Institute of Technology.

The 2023 winner, Julianne Tijani, is a physics major who has conducted research on the evolution of yeast, antibiotic-resistant infections, and cystic fibrosis. She has participated in the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) program, and was recognized as a Petit Scholar. Julianne has also served as a teaching assistant in the School of Physics, a student assistant for the EXPLORE living learning community, and a medical scribe at Emory University Hospital.

A. Joyce Nickelson and John C. Sutherland Undergraduate Research Award

This award was created by the endowment gift of Joyce E. Nickelson and John C. Sutherland to honor Joyce’s late mother, alumna A. Joyce Nickelson, and Sutherland. The scholarship, which recognizes excellence at the interface of mathematics and physics, is awarded to an undergraduate student who has jointly studied mathematics and physics, and who has engaged in scientific research.

Nickelson-Sutherland award winner Lance Lampert is completing degrees in physics and mathematics. He has been a research assistant at the Georgia Tech Research Institute, has taken part in the University of Michigan NSF Research Experience for Undergraduates program, and will be conducting research at the CERN particle accelerator facility in Switzerland this summer. He is also a leader in the Quantum Computing Association, maintains the web infrastructure for Georgia Tech’s student radio station WREK, and hosts a show on the channel.

Cynthia L. Bossart and James Efron Scholarship

This honor was created by alumna Cindy Bossart to recognize high academic achievement by a student in the College of Sciences who is a non-Georgia resident.

Veronika Vessigault is the 2022-3 recipient of this award and is a mathematics major with a minor in computational data analysis. She is currently taking graduate-level numerical linear algebra, and she studied in Hungary as part of the Budapest Semester in Mathematics. She plans to pursue a Ph.D. in mathematics and an academic career. While at Tech, she volunteered close to 100 hours teaching high school and community college students and served as a teaching assistant in both the School of Mathematics and the College of Computing.

Metha Phingbodhipakkiya Memorial Scholarship

This honor was established by Maranee Phingbodhipakkiya to honor her father, his love for physics, and the sacrifices he made to assure that she would have the finest education. This award is made to a junior or senior in the College of Sciences based on academic merit.

The recipient of this award, Saima Firoj, is a biochemistry major who is also completing minors in Spanish and health and medical sciences. She has conducted research on the structure and aggregation patterns of membranes through cryo-electron microscopy to aid in drug development and delivery, and on the biochemical origins of life. She has also volunteered extensively in the medical field.

Robert A. Pierotti Memorial Scholarship

The College of Sciences presents this scholarship in honor of Robert “Bob” Pierotti, past dean of the College and founder of the Center for Education Integrating Science, Mathematics, and Computing (CEISMC). The award is made to top graduating seniors in the College who have excelled both academically and in research.

The three recipients of the 2022 Pierotti Award are Thiago Esslinger, Andrew Ji, and Lila Nassar.

Esslinger is majoring in both biochemistry and earth and atmospheric sciences. During his time as an undergraduate, Esslinger conducted research with Kim Cobb, former professor in the School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences who now serves as the director of the Institute at Brown for Environment and Society. His research aimed to investigate the influence of symbiont community composition on coral geochemical proxy records in the central equatorial Pacific. In addition, he has worked as a study abroad teaching assistant, and has received a President’s Undergraduate Research Award as well as the Sustainability Student Champions Award.

Ji is a biology major with a minor in computing and intelligence. He is a researcher in the School of Biological Sciences, where he works with Francesca Storici — professor and associate chair for Graduate Education in the School — to sequence the genome of a species of yeast. He also serves as a teaching assistant for the Bioethics and Integrative Genetics course, for which he was recognized as the School of Biological Sciences Undergraduate Teaching Assistant of the Year. Ji has also done considerable volunteer work in clinics and hospitals.

Nassar is a physics major with a concentration in the physics of living systems. Nassar has a broad set of research experiences with faculty Martin Mourigal and Jennifer Curtis in the School of Physics. Nassar has also served as the secretary and president of the Georgia Tech Society of Women in Physics. In summer 2021, Nassar also participated in the NSF REU program at Vanderbilt University.

College of Sciences Undergraduate Research Awards

Undergraduate research awards are made to students in the College of Sciences who have made strong contributions to research over a number of semesters. This year’s winners were Chelsea Bekemeier, Lydia Kenney, Dimitrios Kidonakis, and Evelyn Gardolinski.

Bekemeier is graduating from the School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences with a concentration in meteorology. Bekemeier conducts research with Greg Huey, professor and chair of the School, and has contributed to controlled burning experiments in Fort Columbus, GA, as well as the Asian Summer Monsoon Chemical and CLimate Impact Project (ACCLIP) based in South Korea. She has also been dedicated to outreach endeavors, serving as a STEM educator for iFLY Indoor Skydiving and a Superheroes Club Educator at Awaken Education LLC.

Kenney is a biochemistry major who began working with Raquel Lieberman, professor and Sepcic-Pfiel Endowed Chair in the School of Chemistry and Biochemistry in 2020. She was named a Beckman Scholar — a 15-month mentored research experience for exceptional undergraduate students in chemistry and biological sciences — in 2021, conducting metagenomics research on deep sea sediments to identify novel binding proteins. Throughout her work with Lieberman, Kenney has won the best poster competition at the 36th Annual Protein Society Symposium in San Francisco, CA, and co-authored a manuscript.

Kidonakis is a mathematics major who began research as a high schooler in 2018. Working with Joseph Rabinoff, associate professor at Duke University formerly in Georgia Tech’s the School of Mathematics, Kidonakis conducted a research project on arithmetic geometry which won the award for best project in mathematics at the Georgia Science and Engineering Fair. During his time at Tech, Kidonakis has also worked with School of Mathematics professors Igor Belegradek and Matt Baker.

Gardolinski is graduating from the Undergraduate Program in Neuroscience, and began doing research with Tim Cope, professor in the School of Biological Sciences, in 2020. Gardolinski conducted her research thesis with Cope, which aimed to develop a large data base on molecular mechanisms underlying signaling by specialized sensory receptors responsible for movement perception. She has also served as a teaching assistant, a peer advisor, and as the vice president of finance for Georgia Tech’s Red Cross Club.

Larry O’Hara Graduate Scholarship

This honor is provided by an endowment bequeathed by alumnus Larry O’Hara. It is presented to outstanding graduate students in the College of Sciences.

All of the 2023 winners have established a strong record of research with multiple publications in peer-reviewed journals, as well as multiple conference presentations:

  • Xiaonan Liu, Ph.D. candidate, Mathematics
  • Aaron Pfennig, Ph.D. candidate, Quantitative Biosciences program, Biological Sciences

Liu is currently studying structural graph theory, extremal combinatorics, and graph coloring with Xingxing Yu, a professor in the School of Mathematics and the director of Graduate Studies.

Pfennig’s research interests include theoretical and empirical population genetics of admixed populations. He currently works with Joseph Lachance, an associate professor in the School of Biological Sciences, to examine admixture of modern humans with archaic hominins.

Teaching Assistant Awards

The College of Science had several winners among the 2023 Georgia Tech Teaching Assistant Awardees. The awards are presented annually by the Center for Teaching and Learning to celebrate the contributions to teaching excellence at Georgia Tech made by graduate and undergraduate teaching assistants:

Several students also won Teaching Assistant Awards at the school level:

Tech to Teaching Certificates

Tech to Teaching Certificates are designed to prepare Georgia Tech graduate and postdoctoral associates for college teaching positions.

Through this certificate program, participants will develop a thorough understanding of the scholarship of teaching and learning, and will demonstrate their ability to apply these skills in the classroom.

The following College of Sciences students were awarded Tech to Teaching Certificates:

Center for the Integration of Research, Teaching, and Learning (CIRTL) Certificates

As a member institution in the CIRTL national network, Georgia Tech joins with 39 other universities on a mission to improve undergraduate education through the preparation of future faculty.

Participants in these certificate programs learn about how students learn, how differences among students affect their learning, evidence-based teaching and assessment practices, and teaching with technology.

Participants who complete these foundation-level learning outcomes through a combination of coursework, workshops, or online learning, receive the CIRTL Associate certificate.

The following College of Sciences students were awarded CIRTL Certificates:

For More Information Contact

Writer: Audra Davidson
Communications Officer II, College of Sciences

Editor: Jess Hunt-Ralston
Director of Communications, College of Sciences