April 13, 2009

SIUC to honor two graduate students for research

by Andrea Hahn

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- Southern Illinois University Carbondale will honor two graduate students with Outstanding Graduate Student Research Awards at this year’s Excellence Through Commitment Awards dinner. The dinner, hosted by Chancellor Samuel Goldman, is set for April 21 in the Student Center. The Excellence Through Commitment Awards recognize ongoing contributions by tenured and term faculty, staff and graduate students. This year’s award recipients are Ali Sepehri, a doctoral student in the College of Engineering, and Becky Nastally, a doctoral student in the Rehabilitation Institute. Both will receive a monetary award and a certificate. Sepehri joined SIUC in January 2006 to pursue a doctoral degree in mechanical engineering and energy processes. He completed his previous academic work as a top student in Iran, earning an award for the Best University Thesis of the Year at Sharif University of Technology. Sepehri’s research involves vibration modeling and control of 3-DOF rigid-body robots. In addition, he has practical experience in automotive design and in failure analysis. He also has practical experience already with scholarly publication, having 28 papers to his credit to date -- including one published in January 2008 in the ASME Journal of Tribology, a leading journal in the field. “It is in the span of only three years that Ali’s research has resulted in the submission of 28 manuscripts (10 papers to journals and 18 to conference proceedings). By any standards, Ali’s achievements are truly exceptional,” Kambiz Farhang, a professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering and Energy Processes, wrote in a letter nominating Sepehri for the award, noting that Sepehri has been a top student since arriving at SIUC. All of the several letters of recommendation nominating Sepehri for this award note that he is a top student and stress his work ethic, his attention to detail, and his eager-to-learn attitude. Serge Abrate, a professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering and Energy Processes, said Sepehri was “clearly the best student in the class.” Kathleen Pericak-Spector, professor of mathematics, said she “was impressed with Mr. Sepehri from the beginning” and believes that “SIUC will be proud to call him a graduate.” And Dubravka Ban, associate professor of mathematics, praised Sepehri’s “superior knowledge and understanding of the material… and willingness to work hard and to complete all assignments.” Sepehri’s dissertation is “Multi-Scale Dynamics of Mechanical Systems with Friction.” He expects to graduate in August 2009. Nastally joined the Graduate School at SIUC in August 2006 to pursue a master’s degree in behavior analysis and theory. She is now a doctoral student in rehabilitation, with an emphasis in applied behavior analysis. She completed her undergraduate degree in psychology at Western Michigan University. Nastally’s practical research experience includes working closely with a behavioral health project addressing the psychological needs of persons who are overweight or obese. She was assistant director on the project, and co-designed many of the interventions used in the program. She also helped train new students on protocols and worked one-on-one with some of the most challenging clients. She has extensive experience with several other programs in Southern Illinois as well, and in Michigan, where she served as an undergraduate intern. Mark R. Dixon, professor and coordinator of the behavior analysis and therapy program, developed the weight-loss program and worked with Nastally on it. He said Nastally’s contributions are always meaningful and thoughtful, and that her dedication to teaching, research and service projects is exceptional. “Becky will be one of those rare students who perform above the rest time after time,” he wrote in a nomination letter for this award. Nastally’s dedication to service learning and research is noted in all her letters of recommendation. John J. Benshoff, professor and interim director of the Rehabilitation Institute, noted that Nastally “takes her work beyond the laboratory and has included teaching, clinical service and other service in her skill set.” Ruth Anne Rehfeldt, associate professor and coordinator of the Rehabilitation Services program, noted that Nastally’s oral defense of her master’s thesis was particularly strong. “Her professionalism and organization rivaled the work of doctoral student dissertations,” she wrote. Nastally expects to earn her doctoral degree in August 2010.