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Grad Students Feel Spark from McKinley Scholarship

The Jim and Sändra McKinley Scholarship is awarded to outstanding graduate students who show a high degree of effort and hard work in their studies. The three most recent recipients exemplify these qualities and appreciate the incentive to maintain their pace.

Hadi Sefiddashti.Hadi Sefiddashti received the McKinley award in 2017 for his contributions to understanding the strange behavior of entangled liquids. Unlike the constant viscosity of an ordinary liquid like water, more complex liquids’ viscosity can change with the strength of their flow. It’s important to know how these will act in industrial devices like an extruder.

“I’m focused on understanding the flow behavior of these on a molecular level,” said Sefiddashti. “We need to understand molecular mechanisms in flow in order to understand the strange phenomena that we see in polymeric liquids.”

His earlier research background was not directly in this area, and Sefiddashti thanks his advisor Brian Edwards and co-advisor Bamin Khomami for guiding him in the right direction.

“They have helpful and deep input,” he said. “They tell you where to start to understand a problem.”

The McKinley award recognizes Sefiddashti’s ongoing achievement in examining these liquids.

“I’m honored and very grateful to receive this award,” he said, adding that the resources offered by the CBE department are geared for success. “I had good coworkers in my research group, and facilities that we needed for research were available for us.”

Nelly Cantillo.Nelly Cantillo, PhD student and 2018 McKinley recipient, stays motivated with the knowledge that her work adds to the development of the next wave of renewable electrochemical energy-storage and generation devices.

“My dissertation examines the interaction between the electrode components in proton-exchange membrane fuel cells (PEMFCs) and the impact that these interactions can have on the electrode structure and ultimately, on the overall PEMFC performance,” Cantillo explained.

The award recognition invigorates her academic spirit.

“As an international student and first-generation college graduate, pursuing my PhD degree has been a challenge for me,” said Canitllo, who earned her master’s and bachelor’s degrees in her native Colombia. “Receiving this award motivates me to keep working hard for my goals and set an example for the next generation in my family and my home country.”

Cantillo credits her research advisor Thomas Zawodzinki as her mentor, and has worked closely with faculty like Gabriel Goenaga, Stephen Paddison, and Joshua Sangoro.

“These interactions inside and outside the classroom have contributed to my professional and personal development,” said Cantillo. “Working in a diverse and dynamic environment have made a difference in my experience as an international student in the US.”

Cantillo is active in the Pipeline: Vols for Women in STEM student organization, leading the creation and coordination of a program to promote early-career mentorships between graduate students and postdocs or faculty in STEM. She also served as tutor and mentor to middle school and high school students in different outreach programs.

Said Cantillo, “I am passionate about encouraging and inspiring women to pursue careers and higher education in STEM fields.”

Tyler Cosby.McKinley winner Tyler Cosby joined the CBE graduate family in 2013 as the first PhD student in Sangoro’s newly established research group. He investigates the development of structure-property relationships in soft matter.

“In hydrogen-bonding and ionic liquids, I have discovered new experimental signatures of the slow motion of these extended structures,” he said. “This provides new insight into these important materials and will allow us to better design them for application in emerging technologies such as batteries, fuel cells, and super-capacitors.”

Cosby appreciates the company this award puts him in.

“I have an immense amount of respect for the students selected in past years and am honored to be among them,” he said. “I’m especially thankful for all of the effort that Professor Sangoro has expended on my behalf and the faith he has shown in my ability to grow and achieve my goals.”

Cosby has participated in two other CBE department research groups and has worked with the college’s HITES12 summer pre-college.

“As part of that program, I worked with other students in my lab to develop and lead high school seniors in a week-long lab-based introduction to soft matter research,” he said.

Cosby maintains a keen interest in the teaching and learning aspects of his UT journey. The department chose him to receive a GAANN fellowship for teaching and research in an area of national need.

“As part of this program, I have been a teaching assistant for four semesters and participated in several programs offered by the graduate school and the Teaching & Learning center at UT,” he said. “The department is home to an excellent graduate-student cohort, whom I have always found to be extremely supportive and open. The staff is similarly excellent and has been a great support in setting up and maintaining our new lab and helping me navigate to the right resources.”

Recently, Tyler was recognized as the best poster presenter at the Gordon Research Conferences meeting on molecular structure elucidation held in mid-August in Sunday River, Maine.