The University Record, May 7, 2001

Rackham honors 9 with Distinguished Dissertation Awards

By Britt Halvorson

Award recipients honored at the April 26 ceremony include (from left to right) Kurt DeGoede, Jeremy Taylor, Dennis Keeler, Daniel Michele, Edward Hinchman, Maria Mercedes Castillo-Uzcanga, Tom Guglielmo and Greta Uehling. Karen Parker was unable to attend. Photo by Martin Vloet, U-M Photo Services
Nine recent graduates were honored April 26 with Distinguished Dissertation Awards for outstanding original scholarship. Maria Mercedes Castillo-Uzcanga, Kurt DeGoede, Thomas Guglielmo, Edward Hinchman, Dennis Keeler, Daniel Michele, Karen Parker, Jeremy Taylor and Greta Uehling each received a $1,000 honorarium and award certificate at the Rackham Auditorium ceremony, sponsored by the Horace H. Rackham School of Graduate Studies and Bell & Howell Information and Learning.

The award recipients, who completed their dissertations in 2000, were nominated by faculty members and selected by members of the Michigan Society of Fellows and Graduate School associate deans. Award criteria include the innovation, creativity and insight shown by the author; the scope and importance of the work to the department and to the field; and the effectiveness of the dissertation’s writing.

For her dissertation in the School of Natural Resources and Environment, Castillo-Uzcanga examined “The Dynamics of Bacterial Production and Abundance of Tropical Lowland Rivers in the Orinoco Basin.” While conducting research, she navigated portions of Venezuela’s Orinoco River, gathering data on nutrients, river flow characteristics, seasonal effects, and the abundance and growth of bacteria in four Orinoco tributaries.

Besides increasing the understanding of how tropical river systems function, Castillo-Uzcanga’s research has set a baseline by which these undisturbed rivers can be measured if they are affected by agriculture, urbanization or industry. According to the selection committee, Castillo-Uzcanga’s conclusions, “of fundamental scientific value on first principles, raise important questions for future study.”

DeGoede’s thesis addressed the causes of forward falls in people, attempting to mitigate the injuries caused by such falls. Completed in mechanical engineering, his dissertation research focused on the impact forces on the hands, shoulders and arms upon breaking a fall.

Using mathematical models and experiments exploring the biomechanical factors associated with a forward fall, DeGoede found that neuromuscular reflexes are never fast enough to protect the wrist or elbow and often are unable to protect the shoulder soft tissues. The importance of arm strength in protecting the torso or head also was examined. “The insights he has achieved in this research carry great potential for reducing upper extremity and head injury risk in the human population,” the committee noted. “These insights will guide future therapeutic programs aimed at building arm strength in the elderly.”

Guglielmo’s dissertation, “White on Arrival: Italians, Race, Color and Power in Chicago, 1890–1945,” looked at how Italian immigrants were incorporated into the racial social structure of the United States. Completed in the Department of History, Guglielmo’s work drew upon multiple perspectives, current debates, and scholarship on immigration and race in America. Guglielmo asserts that race is distinct from color and that these two sociopolitical constructions worked differently for Italians than for African Americans and Chicano/Latino Americans.

Through accounts of a riot, changing immigration policy, the history of racial science, organized crime, industrial and craft unionism, and housing, Guglielmo tells the story of Chicago’s Italian immigrant population. While “white on arrival,” Italian immigrants learned race by positioning themselves against African Americans, especially with regard to public housing, Guglielmo argues. The selection committee writes: “Guglielmo’s fine-grained social history has tremendously important intellectual and policy implications in detailing how the American racial social structure confers very different opportunities bolstered through exclusionary practices based on color.”

“Trust and Reason” is the title of Hinchman’s dissertation in philosophy. Hinchman brought together epistemology and ethics to examine what it means for humans to trust; how trust relates to reason; and how trust impacts knowledge, meaning and action within reason-based communication. Trust, he argues, allows people to rely on others for reasons that affect understandings of reality and practical action.

“His work is of great significance in that it bridges the classic divide between internalists, who claim that reasons for action come from personal motive, and externalists, who claim that reasons for action come from outside the individual,” the committee asserts. “Hinchman shows how trust is both reasonable and necessary for understanding how people know about the world, evaluate belief and justify action.”

For his dissertation in the Department of Mathematics, Keeler examined ample divisors in ordinary commutative algebraic geometry. The ample divisor is used to represent the variety in a particularly useful form and can be used as an analytical starting point. Keeler tackled two questions that have been raised regarding ample divisors: Under what conditions can an algebraic variety be expected to have a divisor? Are “left-handed” and “right-handed” noncommutative ample divisors different?

Keeler proved that there are no differences between these two types of noncommutative ample divisors. He also outlined criteria for an ample divisor. With many of his results already published in the Journal of the American Mathematical Society, Keeler has “completely mastered” the often complicated language of algebraic geometry. The committee commends, “This is an exceptional thesis in every way, a work that is already having influence in the worldwide mathematical research arena.”

Michele’s dissertation, “Physiological Consequences of Tropomyosin Mutations Associated with Skeletal and Cardiac Myopathies,” investigated the mechanisms that lead to such clinical disorders as hypertrophic cardiomyopathy and nemaline myopathy. He looked at whether the structural change or mutation of a protein called alpha-tropomyosin was responsible for the manifestation of myopathies.

Michele concluded that protein mutations associated with myopathies are correctable, and he has developed tools to study mutant proteins in myopathy. Michele is among a group of biomedical researchers who have “aggressively embraced the potential of cutting-edge advances and significantly moved discovery forward still further,” according to the committee.

In her psychology dissertation, Parker focused on the biology of social behavior, examining why certain mammals are polygamous and others monogamous. She studied captive populations of the typically polygamous meadow vole and found that voles form pairs marked by aggression against strangers and paternal care after 24 hours of cohabitation. Next, Parker looked at two hormones that have been associated with pair formation in a monogamous sister species. After numerous experiments, Parker concluded that varying social organization in mammals may not be due to genetically fixed differences but to the combination of social and environmental conditions and the neurobiology of the individual.

“This research certainly opens the door to a new arena of research on the effects of social interactions and hormones on behavior,” the selection committee emphasized. “More important, it shows that the diversity of social interactions reflects the diversity of environmental conditions, with natural selection forever holding the mirror.”

Taylor’s research in classical studies focused on ancient Greek chronology. In his dissertation, Taylor analyzed sources on Greek chronology before 400 B.C., compared Greek lists to earlier ones from west Asia and evaluated several key texts. He argues that diachronic lists begin only in the 5th century B.C. and not earlier, as previously had been thought.

Taylor also addressed three issues surrounding chronology: what it meant for Greeks to think with lists, the impact of literacy in a society still dominated by oral communication and the emergence of the intellectual in this process. “Taylor’s contribution is to bring together some of the most pressing issues into a well-written, original and penetrating study,” the committee notes.

Uehling completed her dissertation on the significance of recollection, ideas and beliefs bound to the feeling of homeland among Crimean Tartars. A sense of homeland, Uehling shows, is central to understanding the mass repatriation of more than 275,000 Crimea Tartars in the post-Soviet era from distant places where they had been forced to resettle. Based on extensive, multi-site interviews and oral testimony, combined with analysis of archival sources, Uehling’s research methods reflect her dissertation’s anthropological focus.

“Uehling conveys deep concern for the people she has worked with and an honest and refreshing fascination with the complex tensions of their struggles regarding homeland and identity,” the committee notes. Her work “represents an important contribution to complex issues of global significance, both as regards post-Soviet social reality and attempts to understand the political impact of ethnic identity influenced and imagined through the experience of trauma and dislocation.”

Dissertation information provided by the Michigan Society of Fellows