Eugene McDermott Graduate Fellows Program

Meet the Fellows

The Fellows are distributed among five of UT Dallas’s eight schools, in fields ranging from chemistry to neuroscience and management. Eleven of them hold federally-funded research fellowships — the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship (NSF GRF) and the National Institutes of Health National Research Service Award (NIH NRSA). Collectively the Fellows have achieved to date more than 100 academic publications, numerous patents, and several spin-out companies. Their research collaborations span the globe, and they have mentored dozens of research trainees.

Diana L. Alatalo

Faculty Host: Fatemeh Hassanipour, Ph.D.

Diana Alatalo earned a B.S. in electrical engineering (2015) and M.S. in mechanical engineering (2016) from UT Dallas and is now at work on a Ph.D. in mechanical engineering. A 2017 NSF Graduate Research Fellowship awardee, Diana studies biotransport phenomena in human lactation to improve both short- and long-term health outcomes for mothers and infants.

Candace E. Benjamin

Faculty Host: Jeremiah J. Gassensmith, Ph.D.

Candace Benjamin earned a B.S. in chemistry with a concentration in biochemistry from Saint John Fisher College in 2014. As a 2017 NSF Graduate Research Fellowship winner, Candace is pursuing a Ph.D. in chemistry and investigating the production of more localized drug delivery methods to reduce side effects.

Jennifer M. Boothby

Faculty Host: Taylor H. Ware, Ph.D.

Jenny Boothby graduated from Georgia Tech in 2014 with a B.S. in biomedical engineering (minor in biology). Jenny won an NSF Graduate Research Fellowship in 2017. She is pursuing a Ph.D. in biomedical engineering and develops stimuli-responsive polymers, such as morphing tissue scaffolds or color-changing biosensors, for biomedical applications.

Melanie H. Bowler

Faculty Host: Jason D. Slinker, Ph.D.

Melanie Bowler earned a B.S. in physics at UT Dallas in 2017. A 2018 NSF Graduate Research Fellowship winner, Melanie is pursuing a Ph.D. in physics. She works with light-emitting electrochemical cells to improve their performance as high efficiency emitters.

Avamarie S. Brueggeman

Faculty Host: John H. L. Hansen, Ph.D.

Ava Brueggeman graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Platteville in 2018 with a B.S. in electrical engineering and a minor in computer science. She is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in electrical engineering. A 2018 NSF Graduate Research Fellowship awardee, Ava studies digital signal processing for improving speech recognition in cochlear implant users.

E. Ammon Butcher

Faculty Host: Gil Sadka, Ph.D.

Ammon Butcher earned a B.S. in accounting at Brigham Young University, Idaho, in 2013 and an M.A. in accounting at the Ohio State University in 2015. He is pursuing a Ph.D. in management science, with a concentration in accounting. Ammon is currently interested in analytical research, specifically research that pertains to agency theory, incentives, innovation and disclosure.

Maria G. Castaneda

Faculty Host: Jiyong Lee, Ph.D.

Maria Castaneda earned a B.S. in biochemistry from the University of Tulsa in 2014. She is pursuing a Ph.D. in chemistry. A 2016 NSF Graduate Research Fellowship winner, Maria investigates cancer therapeutics targeting metastasis and relapse.

Gregory T. Ellson

Greg Ellson earned a B.S. in mechanical engineering from Georgia Tech in 2014 and his doctorate in materials science and engineering from UT Dallas in 2017 (mentor: Walter E. Voit, Ph.D.). Greg’s research centers on the development of high-performance photopolymers for 3D printing, bioelectronics, and artificial muscle applications. Currently head of process control at MIT spin-out Inkbit, LLC, Greg works with industrial partners to develop novel 3D-printed products.

Blair A. Flicker

Faculty Host: Elena Katok, Ph.D.

Blair Flicker earned a B.S. in computer science and a B.S. in psychology from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 2006 and an MBA from UT Dallas in 2012. He is pursuing a Ph.D. in management science with a concentration in operations management. In 2017, Blair received an NSF Doctoral Dissertation Research Improvement Grant ($23,287) to support his research into human-computer integration as it relates to economic decision-making. He has been named a Golden Key Graduate Scholar ($10,000) and a Phi Kappa Phi Dissertation Fellow ($10,000).

Alex Garcia Topete

Faculty Host: Roger F. Malina, Ph.D.

Alex Garcia Topete earned a B.A. in arts and performance in 2011 and a M.A. in arts & technology in 2017, both from UT Dallas. He is pursuing a Ph.D. in arts, technology, and emerging communication focusing on multidisciplinary collaboration methods that foster innovation and creativity, spanning media studios, design firms, business incubators, and research labs.

David M. Heidtman

Faculty Host: Michael J. Rebello, Ph.D.

David Heidtman earned a B.S. in molecular biology and chemistry at UT Dallas in 2010, and an MBA in finance at the University of Michigan-Flint in 2016. Pursuing a Ph.D. in finance, he researches fraud and corruption, contract design, and game theory.

Jeffrey A. Hullfish

Faculty Host: Sven Vanneste, Ph.D.

Jeffrey Hullfish earned his B.S.E. in acoustical engineering and music from the University of Hartford in 2013 and his M.Sc. in engineering acoustics from the Technical University of Denmark in 2015. He is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in cognition and neuroscience. Jeffrey uses noninvasive neuroimaging in tandem with computational methods to investigate the mechanisms of normal and disordered perception in humans.

Mai T. Huynh

Faculty Hosts: Paul Pantano, Ph.D. and Rockford K. Draper, Ph. D.

Mai Huynh, a 2018 NSF Graduate Research Fellowship winner, graduated from UT Dallas in 2016 with a B.S. in chemistry as a Terry Foundation Scholar. Now pursuing a Ph.D. in chemistry, she studies the interactions of various carbon nanotubes with mammalian macrophage cells in order to inform the design of safer nanomaterials.

Taek Kang

Faculty Host: Leonidas Bleris, Ph.D.

Taek Kang earned a B.S. in chemical and biomolecular engineering from the Johns Hopkins University in 2009. He is pursuing a Ph.D. in biomedical engineering. Taek’s research focuses on building and studying biological circuits in mammalian cells to decipher the underlying principles that guide their function.

Eric J. Kildebeck

Eric Kildebeck earned a B.S. in biology from UT Dallas in 2005 as part of the inaugural cohort of Eugene McDermott Scholars. He earned an M.D./Ph.D. in cancer biology and gene therapeutics from the University of Texas Southwestern Medical School (Ph.D. mentor: Matthew Porteus, M.D./Ph.D. Stanford University) in 2016. His research centers on therapeutic applications of CRISPR/Cas9 for neurologic and autoimmune diseases.

Allycen R. Kurup

Faculty Host: Marion K. Underwood, Ph.D.

Allycen Kurup earned a B.S. in psychology with a minor in gender, women and sexuality studies from the University of Washington in 2015. She is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in psychological sciences, and investigates social aggression and digital communication with a focus on gender development.

Yingdong Mao

Faculty Host: Vikram K. Nanda, Ph.D.

Mao earned a B.S. in applied mathematics and economics from Yunnan University of Finance and Economics in 2015, and an M.S. in mathematical finance from Bentley University in 2017. He is pursuing a Ph.D. in management science, with a concentration in finance. He focuses on asset pricing and risk management.

Eric “Shad” Miller

Faculty Host: Monica J. Evans, Ph.D.

Eric “Shad” Miller holds a B.A. in creative writing and literature from Illinois College (2007), an M.F.A. in creative writing from Temple University (2011), and a diploma in game design from Vancouver Film School (2013). A writer and game designer, he has worked in places as diverse as Vancouver and Switzerland. Pursuing a Ph.D. in arts, technology, and emerging communication, he studies education, artificial intelligence, narrative, and game design.

Salvador Moreno

Faculty Host: Majid Minary-Jolandan, Ph.D.

Salvador Moreno earned a B.S. (2014) and M.S. (2015) in mechanical engineering from UT Dallas and is now at work on a mechanical engineering Ph.D. A 2015 NSF Graduate Research Fellowship awardee, Salvador studies biomaterials, particularly collagen, for flexible electronics applications.

Benjamin R. Perez

Faculty Host: Walter E. Voit, Ph.D.

Ben Perez graduated from Coe College in 2016 with a B.A. in physics. He is pursuing a Ph.D. in materials science and investigates novel materials for additive manufacturing for a variety of applications.

Aarron J. Phensy

Faculty Host: Sven Kroener, Ph.D.

Aarron graduated from UT Dallas with a B.S. in computer science in 2014; he is now pursuing a Ph.D. in systems neuroscience. His research on the role of mitochondrial-induced oxidative stress in schizophrenia was recognized in 2018 with an NIH Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service Award Individual Predoctoral Fellowship (F31).

Jonathan T. Reeder

Jonathan Reeder earned a B.S. in mechanical engineering (2012) and a doctorate in materials science and engineering (2016) from UT Dallas (mentor: Walter E. Voit, Ph.D.). A 2013 NSF Graduate Research Fellowship winner, he researches flexible and stretchable electronics for biomedical applications. After a stint running tech startup Pascalor, Inc., Jonathan is now a postdoctoral fellow with the John A. Rogers group at Northwestern University.

Radu Reit

Radu Reit earned his B.S. in biomedical engineering at Georgia Tech in 2012 and his doctorate in biomedical engineering at UT Dallas in 2016 (mentor: Walter E. Voit, Ph.D.). He won an NSF Graduate Research Fellowship in 2013 for his work developing novel polymers for electronic device applications. Radu is currently the CTO of materials research firm Ares Materials.

Peter D. Reyntjens

Faculty Host: William G. Vandenberghe, Ph.D.

Peter Reyntjens earned a B.S. in electrical engineering at KU Leuven, Belgium, in 2016, and an Erasmus Mundus dual-degree M.S. in nanoscience and nanotechnology from KU Leuven, Belgium, and Chalmers Technical University, Sweden, in 2018. He is pursuing a joint Ph.D. in materials science at UT Dallas and Imec/KU Leuven. Peter’s research is in the field of spintronics, looking for new materials that can be used for memory storage.

Jonathan R. Riley

Faculty Host: Michael P. Kilgard, Ph.D.

Jonathan Riley graduated from UT Dallas in 2008 with a B.A. in biology. He is pursuing a Ph.D. in cognition and neuroscience and investigates the mechanisms that govern cortical plasticity and their application to treatment of neurological disorders.

Arun Kumar Rout

Faculty Host: Elena Katok, Ph.D.

Arun Kumar Rout earned a B.Tech. in mechanical engineering from Indian Institute of Technology, Kharagpur in 2007, and an MBA from Indian School of Business in 2013. He is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in management science with a concentration in operations management, and has research interests in the renewable energy sector with focus on policy decisions. Arun also has eight years of work experience with Schlumberger, The Boston Consulting Group, and a startup.

Danyal A. Siddiqui

Faculty Host: Danieli B. C. Rodrigues, Ph.D.

Danyal Siddiqui graduated summa cum laude with a B.S. in biomedical engineering from UT Dallas in 2015. He earned an M.S. in 2016 and is pursuing a Ph.D., both in biomedical engineering. A 2017 NSF Graduate Research Fellowship awardee, his research focuses on how bacterial adhesion and mechanical loading influence degradation of the bioceramic zirconia in the context of dental implant systems.

Robert “Joey” J. Steininger

Joey Steininger earned a B.S. in chemical engineering from MIT in 2006 and a Ph.D. in cellular regulation and pharmacology (mentors: Steven J. Altschuler, Ph.D. and Lani F. Wu, Ph.D.) from the University of Texas Southwestern Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences in 2014. Joey’s work focuses on gene editing applications for allergies and autoimmune disease.

Allison M. Stiller

Faculty Host: Joseph J. Pancrazio, Ph.D.

Allison Stiller earned a B.S. in biomedical engineering from the University of Rochester in 2016. She is pursuing a Ph.D. in biomedical engineering with a focus in neural engineering. Her research centers on improving the design of softening intracortical electrodes for mitigating long-term tissue response.

Peng Xie

Peng Xie graduated from Tsinghua University in 2013 with a B.S. in physics and an M.S. in control science and engineering. He earned his doctorate in molecular and cell biology from UT Dallas in 2018 (mentor: Michael Q. Zhang, Ph.D). Peng’s research focuses on computational biology, gene regulation and machine learning.

Jiadi “Kevin” Xu

Faculty Host: Umit Gurun, Ph.D.

Kevin earned a B.S. in material chemistry and a B.Econ. in finance at Nankai University in 2013, and an M.S. in finance at Syracuse University in 2015. Pursuing a Ph.D. in management science (finance concentration), he focuses on asset pricing, investment, and portfolio management.

Hang Yang

Faculty Host: Michael Rebello, Ph.D.

Hang Yang earned a B.S. in mathematics from Gordon College in 2011 and an M.S. in financial mathematics from Worcester Polytechnic Institute in 2014. He is pursuing a Ph.D. in management science with a concentration in finance; his research focuses on risk management and game theory.

Cong Zhang

Faculty Host: Min Chen, Ph.D.

Cong Zhang earned degrees in basic medical science (2013) and pathology (2016) from Peking University; she is pursuing a Ph.D. in statistics at UT Dallas. Cong’s research is centered on integrating pan-omics data to reveal mechanisms driving cancer, translating -omics data to personalized medicine, and modeling pheromone-inducible conjugation in Enterococcus faecalis contributing to antibiotic resistance.

Rui Zhang

Faculty Host: Dong Qian, Ph.D.

Rui Zhang graduated from Northwestern Polytechnical University with a B.S. (2011) and a M.S. (2014) in aerospace engineering; he is pursuing a Ph.D. in mechanical engineering. Rui’s research focuses on computational solid mechanics, multiscale and multiphysics methods for advanced materials, and parallel computing techniques.

Zehan “Allen” Zhao

Faculty Host: Vijay S. Mookerjee, Ph.D.

Allen Zhao earned a B.S. in information management from the University of International Business and Economics in 2015, and an M.S. in management science and engineering from Tsinghua University in 2018. He is pursuing a Ph.D. in management science with a concentrating in information systems. Allen is interested in helping business utilize the power of information technology, and applying state-of-the-art technologies in business environments.

Hanqi “Leon” Zhu

Faculty Host: Robert D. Gregg, Ph.D.

Leon Zhu earned B.S. (2011) and M.S. (2013) degrees in mechanical engineering from the Xi’an Jiaotong University. He is pursuing a second M.S. degree and a Ph.D. in electrical engineering. Recently an electromechanical engineer at Modbot, Inc., he works on advanced mechatronics systems for application in wearable rehabilitation robots.