Nevada DRIVE Research Assistants

Nevada DRIVE recipients

Jump to a featured scholar:

Additional scholars:

  • Sivasankar Balakrishnan, Public Health doctoral student
  • Alex Hoinville, Geological Science and Engineering doctoral student
  • Monica Minter, Counselor Education and Supervision doctoral student
  • Rogelio "Chris" Petras, Social Psychology doctoral student
  • Casey White, Animal & Rangeland Science doctoral student

Emmanuel K. Addai, Human Development and Family Science doctoral student

AddaiEmmanuel K. Addai is a doctoral student in the HDFS program. He grew up in Ghana and attended Valley View University, where he obtained MBA and BBA in Human Resource Management. He served as Principal Administrative Assistant and Adjunct Lecturer at Valley View University, Ghana. He is an extensively experienced academician noted for authored and co-authored innovative research works.

Currently, Emmanuel works under Professor Bridget A. Walsh on a research interest in First-Generation and Historically Marginalized Doctoral Students and their Families. Being a first-generation student has driven my interest in gaining more knowledge in this area of research.

“Nevada providing funding to further my education was a breakthrough moment where a light spark on, my world opened, and the rest of my life was set in motion. This makes my dreams of getting to a higher level come through. With the help of God and this noble institution, we will create an impact from our studies to extend it to the community and the world through hard work and persistence. Advice to future applicants: The best educational investment available can be discovered at the University of Nevada, Reno. A place to feel at home and part of a community.”


Adea Badivuku, Piano Performance doctoral student

BadivukuAdea Badivuku is a concert pianist from Kosovo. She grew up listening to classical music, while her favorite styles are romantic and contemporary. As a pianist who recently performed in Carnegie Hall and won the first prize in the New York International piano competition, she has the privilege of being the first doctoral piano performance candidate in the U.S. from Kosovo. During her studies, Adea participated in numerous piano competitions, masterclasses, and music workshops. She has performed in many concerts and festivals in the Balkans, Europe, and the U.S. while working with notable artists in the music world.

Badivuku was accepted to Central Michigan University in 2019 as a MM student with a full GA in piano performance. In 2021, she joined the University team as a DMA candidate with a full scholarship in piano performance and a GRA position. Adea is the Vice President of the University Music Teachers National Association and the representative of the Music Graduate Student Council. She is part of the Graduate Student Association and serves on Performing Art and Student Advocacy Committees. Also, she is a co-founder and performer of the ADE DUO ensemble.

Adea Badivuku investigates the diverse colors of contemporary piano music techniques. She analyses multiple new music notations, internalizes contemporary piano notation into her pianistic skills, and teaches to her students and peers while sharing the experience with interdisciplinary colleagues. She is interested in works for piano/midi keyboard with tape music, mainly concerning timbral sound quality. In 2021, She wrote an article named "Moving Beyond the Traditional Piano: A Literature Review of Extended Techniques and Electronic Enhancements" where she investigated several standard new music techniques of piano performance and got accepted to the Michigan Music Conference.

She has recently collaborated with composers and painters to perform in an audio/visual art installation called "Shadows." She is researching John Cage's music in a perspective of technical and contextual manner. Badivuku investigates Cage's prepared piano and landscape approach as well as collaboration with electro-acoustic music.

“Being a DRIVE Scholar was a huge honor for me! This award allowed me to concentrate solely on my academic progression. I was able to work toward the album release of my duo ensemble, managed to collaborate with other artists such as a painter from Istanbul and a composer from UCSB on putting together an audio/visual artwork, and most importantly, helped me focus on creating the proposal for founding an innovative/contemporary art festival in Kosovo, Reno, and Santa Barbara. With all this being said, I believe that working hard always pays off.”


Lindsey Batavia, Disability Studies doctoral student

BataviaLindsey Batavia is currently a doctoral student in the College of Education and Human Development, focusing on Disability Studies. She has been an educator for 20 years, and her experiences are varied. She has taught all age levels from pre-k to post-secondary courses and hopes to give back to the field by pursuing the skills needed for program evaluation and improvement. Lindsey received her undergraduate degree here at the University in dual certification, as well as a dual Master's degree in moderate to profound disabilities and emotional/behavioral disabilities. Additionally, during her studies, she obtained endorsements in Autism and Early Childhood Development.

Lindsey is currently studying components of teacher preparation programs for future teachers, including an examination of components of programs, methodology, students' feelings of self-efficacy, and how all of the above are related. During this research, Lindsey developed and implemented a new teacher coaching/mentoring technique positioned in adult learning theories and is currently looking into how high levels of support with decreasing assistance might improve feelings of self-efficacy. The long-term goal of the evaluation of programs for pre and early-service teachers is to increase rates of teacher retention and decrease rates of early-service teacher attrition due to feelings of inadequacy.

“There is no greater gift than the gift of education! The funding provided through the DRIVE Scholarship made it possible for me to continue to pursue my curiosities, and for that, I am beyond grateful.”


Luis Chavez, Public Health doctoral student

ChavezLuis Chavez is a second-year Social Behavioral Public Health Ph.D. student at the University of Nevada, Reno. Luis is interested in researching issues related to Latinx health, specifically how some determinants can impact the mental health of the population. He uses mixed methods to investigate these issues with both qualitative and quantitative approaches. Before entering the University of Nevada, Reno Luis obtained his Master of Public Health Degree at California State University, San Bernardino where he also worked as a teaching associate. He obtained his Bachelor of Science degree in Sociology at the University of California, Riverside. Currently, Luis is working as a graduate research assistant with the Larson Institute assisting with research projects related to Latinx health in Nevada.

Luis is currently researching the impact identifying as Hispanic may have on sexual minorities' experience of being bullied and the impact the lingering social effects of COVID-19 may have on college students' stress. As part of his graduate student assistantship Luis has also helped research the impact opioids have had on the Latinx populations in Nevada and how the population perceives advertised interventions. This will help the state of Nevada addresses these issues on a broader level. Luis has presented his research at the 2022 Society for Public Health Education's (SOPHE) Annual Conference and is scheduled to present at the American Public Health Association's (APHA) 2022 Annual Meeting in November 2022. He also has a first-authored manuscript based on his thesis project currently under review at a peer-reviewed journal.

"For future applicants, I would say to apply even if you doubt yourself. Sometimes you view your work and experience as being subpar, but others may see it differently."


Emmanuel Cobbinah, Hydrogeology doctoral student

CobinnahEmmanuel earned a B.S. in Geological Engineering from Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST) in Ghana and an M.S. in Geology from Bowling Green State University, Ohio. During both periods, he worked on groundwater resources research. He worked on a comparative study of different geophysical arrays in the ER method to locate aquifers during his undergraduate studies. Afterward, he worked as Teaching Assistant at KNUST, and also as a hydrogeologist with a consultancy firm to provide water through borehole abstraction for private and public institutions. During his M.S., he worked on a Harmful Algae Bloom Research Initiative (HABRI) project in Ohio to study cyanotoxin transport from Lake Erie to coastal aquifers. Following his interest in contaminant hydrogeology, he is now a Ph.D. student in Hydrogeology working with Dr. Rishi Parashar at the Desert Research Institute (DRI) to assess the transport behavior of enteric viruses in water reclamation systems. In his free time, he plays soccer and video games.

Emmanuel's research seeks to determine all the properties between human enteric viruses regarding their transport in the porous media domain, how different kinds of porous media formations would respond to this viral transport and quantify the differences in influent and effluent concentrations. The effect of human enteric viruses when present in drinking water cannot be overemphasized and as such a good quantification of the number of viruses present in water would subject it to appropriate treatments to enhance the health standards of drinking water and economic developments as well.

“The privileges the DRIVE scholarship has given me are enormous. I am particularly excited about how DRIVE manages the students and provides all kinds of resources to scholars for them to be successful. I have met an exciting group of researchers through this program who have widened my interest in research. I am hoping to contribute to the world of research and provide clean and healthy drinking water worldwide.”


Stephanie Coronado, Ecology, Evolution & Conservation Biology doctoral student

CoronadoStephanie Coronado (she/her or they/them) is a sixth-year doctoral candidate in the Ecology, Evolution & Conservation Biology Program at the University. Stephanie's dissertation research focuses on understanding patterns of species diversity in tropical ecosystems. Specifically, she studies how changes in rainfall and/or water stress affect species interactions and community diversity. Her research systems include tropical trees, arboreal ants, and many species of caterpillars. Stephanie's field sites are in Jalisco, Mexico and Guanacaste, Costa Rica and, prior to becoming a Nevada DRIVE Scholar, they were a 2021-2022 Fulbright Student Fellow in Costa Rica. They are from Oxnard, California and earned their Bachelor of Science in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology from the University of California, Santa Cruz. Stephanie loves Oxnard, painting, lazy mornings, and frijoles de todo tipo.

Global change is forecasted to alter precipitation and temperature regimes throughout the tropics, potentially leading to unprecedented losses in biodiversity. Currently, however, we still lack a fundamental understanding of how global change will affect the species interactions that underpin tropical diversity. To understand how future changes in rainfall may affect food-web diversity, Stephanie is investigating the impacts of water availability on ant-plant mutualisms and caterpillar herbivory. She utilizes experimental garden plots, plant hydrology and leaf chemistry, soil greenhouse studies, insect-rearing data, and many collaborations. As a Mexican-American tropical ecologist, her research is also designed to facilitate more international collaborations between Latin American institutions and those here in the United States. During field research, she proudly served as a mentor to several Mexican and Costa Rican undergraduate students and was a 2020 American Association of Hispanics in Higher Education (AAHHE) Graduate Scholar and 2021-2022 US Fulbright Grant recipient.

“Never forget where you came from. In an insular and all-consuming place like professional academia, I try to make that my mantra. It both soothes and motivates me.”


Elena Cox, Natural Resources & Environmental Science doctoral student

CoxElena Cox is a Ph.D. student in the NRES program working with Dr. Erin Hanan. She is studying soil heating during wildfire and fire effects on soil health and microbial processes. She got her BA in Biology and studied soil bacterial assemblage before and after fire in native and non-native habitat types of southern California, and spent several years working in fire management. 

She hopes to combine fire ecology research and fire management and recovery.

Heinrich di Santo, Environmental Science doctoral student

di SantoHeinrich is doing a Ph.D. program at the Sustainable Horticulture Lab at the University of Nevada, Reno. He did his BSc and MSc at the University of Tuscia located in the old medieval town of Viterbo, Italy, studying environmental science and agricultural biotechnology.

His main research interest is to better understand the correlation between physiological plant traits involved in crop performance and stress responses and the genes that are controlling those traits. His Ph.D. project is focused on improving crop water management and finding melon rootstocks that can guarantee good crop performances in the high desert environments of Northern Nevada.

“The Nevada Drive scholarship has been, for me, very helpful in managing my expenses as an international student and carrying on my research at the same time. I'm very thankful to all the people in the Nevada Drive Program that have contributed to awarding me with this scholarship.”


Jennifer Heppner, Ecology, Evolution, and Conservation Biology doctoral student

HeppnerJennifer (Jen) is a Ph.D. Candidate in an integrative urban ecology and physiology lab at the University. She is originally from the east coast where she received a BS from the Schreyer Honors College at Pennsylvania State University. Jen loves working and speaking with the public in scientific outreach to make STEM and research in academia more attainable and attractive to the public. Most recently, Jennifer has won the University's 3 Minute Thesis competition in which students present their research to a public audience in a compelling and widely understandable way. Involving her passion for working with kids and school-age students, Jen organizes and participates in public outreach events at the University Natural History Museum where she is the Vice President of the EECB Outreach Committee

Jen has studied how the urban environment affects the physiology, behavior, and ecology of birds. In the face of human-modified landscapes, urban wildlife encounters countless challenges that require them to either plastically modify their phenotypes, rapidly adapt, or leave cities altogether. She has discovered the modification of an essential parental care behavior in which urban house wrens are spending less time incubating their eggs. This behavioral shift could be a result of several aspects of urban areas, specifically the urban heat island effect or limited food availability. She has also investigated the hormone, corticosterone (Cort), for its role in the physiological stress response and has found that Cort is elevated in urban eggs, chicks, and adults compared to rural ones, which can have negative effects on the fitness of urban birds. Jen is also interested in how reduced food in cities affects the behavior and physiology of urban birds. Through an intensive food manipulation field experiment, her results may give insight into how cities could be made more hospitable for birds, increasing the abundance of trees to produce a sufficient amount of food for our urban birds.

“This fellowship will allow me to focus on the extensive lab work needed to complete my hormone analyses, write up the manuscripts for my last chapters, allow me the freedom to research non-academic jobs a Ph.D. in Biology is qualified for, and continue my participation in public outreach events.”


Jaleesa Houle, Mechanical Engineering doctoral student

HouleJaleesa is a first-year Ph.D. student in the Mechanical Engineering department. She is returning to school after a five-year gap, prior to which she earned her bachelor's degree in Environmental Science from Southern New Hampshire University (2016). Over those five years, Jaleesa spent time working in various ecology and conservation-based positions, including a Conservation Corps service term as a field leader. Her time in industry and passion for the outdoors sparked an interest in bio-inspired engineering innovations that have the potential to impact our interactions with the natural world.

Currently, Jaleesa is investigating the impact of wind variability in natural environments on insect odor plume tracking processes. Her work seeks to expand current knowledge of plume tracking processes from wind tunnel experiments to more complex real-world scenarios. To begin addressing this knowledge gap, Jaleesa intends to develop a series of outdoor experiments across three distinct environments (desert, forest, and urban areas) to quantify the ideal ranges of wind variability and environmental complexity that lead to the highest rates of insect odor plume tracking success.

“It's ok for your educational trajectory to be non-linear; pursue the research you're passionate about even if the pathway is more challenging.”


Kenda Isable, Anthropology doctoral student

Kendra IsableKendra Isable is a second-year Ph.D. student in the department of Anthropology. Kendra earned her master's degree in August of 2021 from California State University, Northridge. Before that, she earned her BS degree from the University of California, Riverside. Her research interests utilize human skeletal remains to highlight the impact that childhood stressors have on a person's overall quality of life, survivability and overall resilience to environmental stressors. Her research, right along with her desire to pursue a Ph.D. in general speaks to her passion for learning, discovering, and making an impact in any way she can. As a first-generation college student, Kendra has inspired her younger siblings to pursue college degrees and she continues to provide help and support for those of underrepresented communities by showing them that it is possible to achieve such grand academic and professional accomplishments. One of her goals with this program and her research is to participate in outreach to underserved communities and provide information and resources to help them achieve their goals.

Kendra's research in the department of Anthropology uses human skeletal remains and assesses the presence of childhood stressors to see if there is a correlation between these traumatic episodes and the presence of fractures in the long bones of the body. She studies African American populations in the United States. Her research stems from her desire to learn more about herself, which was initiated during her master's program. Her work is meant to highlight the contributions and sacrifices that African American people have made throughout American history. Kendra's approach to this is to give a voice to the voiceless and reinstate respect and humanity to those who had it taken from them in life. Her research provides an unbiased and scientific life course reconstruction of African American individuals through the assessment of their human skeletal remains. Her research is personal to her as a Black woman and a scholar. She hopes that her research will have an impact on the community and provide more insight into the incomplete past of her and other's African American ancestors.

"Receiving a scholarship opportunity of this magnitude has truly been a blessing. Being able to conduct my own research that is personal to me has really shown me that with the right resources, students can achieve anything. I feel extremely lucky to be a part of such an amazing program, and I can only hope that I make them as proud as they make me feel."


Masoud Kalantar, Chemical Engineering doctoral student

KalantarMasoud Kalantar is a first-year Ph.D. student at the University of Nevada, Reno Graduate School of Chemical Engineering. His work focuses on protein engineering to create designer scaffolds and protein assemblies with applications in biomedicine, bioimaging, biomaterials and biocatalysis. As a part of Dr. Sarmazdeh's lab, He is particularly interested in site-specific protein immobilization on surfaces and protein engineering using yeast surface display and directed evolution. Masoud is a graduate of the University of Tehran with an MSc in Biotechnology (2019) and a BSc in Chemical Engineering (2015).

Masoud's research for his Ph.D. is focused on designing proteins with improved characteristics, such as increased binding affinity, stability, and catalytic activity. In his recent work which has been submitted to a journal, he has explored Engineering antibodies to develop more efficient therapeutics.

Overexpression of metalloproteinases (MPs), zinc-dependent endopeptidases in the extracellular matrix, plays a key role in several diseases including neurological disorders, cancer, fibrosis, and cardiovascular disease. Thus, targeting MPs to develop protein therapeutics has great importance. He is taking advantage of the directed evolution method to create an engineered synthetic library of single-chain antibodies displayed on the yeast surface with enhanced properties, such as increased binding affinity and stability, targeting ADAM-17 (A disintegrin and metalloproteinase 17 is a transmembrane MP that plays a vital role in various cellular functions) using FACS (fluorescent-activated cell sorting).

“Undoubtedly, scholarships have unique benefits and are the most desirable form of financial aid. A scholarship that pays for my education and living expenses can reduce my risk of dropping out and not getting the degree I want. By reducing financial concerns, scholarships can also mean more time for studying and learning, leading to better grades and retention of knowledge and increasing my chances of continuing to graduate school. Therefore, I am thankful for the support from the University because this support has encouraged me to apply the protein engineering technique to find potential therapeutics.”


Serena Lee, Cellular Molecular Pharmacology Physiology doctoral student

LeeSerena is a first-year Ph.D. student in the cellular and molecular pharmacology and physiology program. She completed her Bachelor of Science degree in biology from the University of Nevada, Reno prior to working as a research assistant in the pharmaceutical research industry. There, she worked in flow cytometry and bioanalysis labs and was a clinical study lead for over four years. While working, she also completed her Master of Science degree in drug discovery and development from Drexel University with an academic excellence award.

After her mom was diagnosed with Parkinson's Disease in 2012, she was inspired to research this disease to better understand the pathology. She is currently rotating in Dr. Ruben Dagda's Lab and is researching the role of the PINK1 gene on learning and memory consolidation in Parkinson's Disease.

Serena hopes to one day work toward a more efficacious therapeutic approach to the disease.


Amber Marshowsky, Human Development and Family Science doctoral student

MarshowskyAmber graduated with a B.S. in Human Development and Family Science (HDFS) and a B.A. in Criminal Justice from the University of Nevada, Reno and was the first student in the history of our doctoral program to be actively recruited from our undergraduate program and admitted as a Ph.D. student without completing a master's degree first. Amber was awarded a DRIVE scholarship, a state-funded GTA appointment (.25 in semester one), and taught a summer course as an LOA, while also completing 27 credits and maintaining a 4.0 GPA. As a Black mother and emerging scholar, Amber has demonstrated a commitment to de-centering the white, middle-class experience as the exemplar of "typical" human development and family relations and her primary research interest at this point in her career is to examine the impact of weaponized research on minoritized families and children. Over this past year, she has begun a critical examination of seminal studies in HDFS and how many of these studies have contributed to the pathologizing of People of Color in the education and social service sectors.

Amber has been actively involved in research since her first week in her Ph.D. program, with the bulk of her experience occurring between two projects. The goal of the first project is to examine how professional development on topics of diversity, equity, inclusion, and justice are related to changes in early childhood educators' knowledge, beliefs, and classroom practices. In her role as a DRIVE scholar, Amber has worked with Dr. DeFlorio and Dr. Burnham to select, adapt, and administer pre- and post-intervention measures for the teachers, and to develop and implement a year-long professional development series for use with early childhood professionals. To date, this project has resulted in one national conference presentation, on which Amber was a co-author and presenter. This work has continued this year, and Amber will gain experience with instrument development, child assessment, analyses, and the publishing process. The second project she has been assisting with is a 15 million dollar grant from the U.S. Department of Education, in which the impact of a preschool math curriculum on children from low-income, and often non-white, families is examined nationally.

“A small piece of advice to future applicants is to find a phrase that helps you find your motivation and repeat it as often as needed. I use the phrase "I can do hard things... I have completed and succeeded at doing hard things". It may seem silly, but this phrase is a gentle reminder that I have accomplished hurdles before and will do so again. Grad school does not exempt us from experiencing life, and it is important to find what keeps you motivated early.”


Lauryn Massic, Molecular Biosciences, Cell and Molecular Biology doctoral student

MassicLauryn Massic is a first-year predoctoral student in the Molecular Biosciences program researching under Dr. Mark Pandori at the Nevada State Public Health Laboratory. Here, she conducts research on Candida Auris, an emerging multi-drug resistant yeast and has piloted their infectious disease wastewater surveillance system. Born and raised in Reno herself, she is no stranger to the university. She has previously graduated with her M.S. and B.S. in Biotechnology and was a former long-distance runner who competed on the University's Cross Country and Track & Field teams. Post-Ph.D., she aspires to become a public health laboratory director and aims to protect her community from potential disease outbreaks and other public health threats.

Lauryn has two different projects she is spearheading at the Nevada State Public Health Laboratory. One project pertains to Candida Auris an emerging multidrug-resistant fungus. First identified in 2009, C. Auris is now on six continents causing severe illness in hospitalized patients resulting in death 30-60% of the time. Her research pertains to identifying the rate of mutation for this recently identified yeast and determining its genes that are pertinent to its pathogenicity. This knowledge can be used to develop more effective antifungals and eradicate them from hospital networks. The other project is the establishment of a wastewater surveillance system in northern Nevada for infectious diseases. This system was initially established to act as an early warning system for SARS-CoV-2 outbreaks within northern Nevada but now detects multiple different bacteria, viruses, fungi, and antimicrobial resistance markers. With this early detection, it informs public health decision-making and policy to protect our community as well as which antimicrobials to use based on resistance genes in our community.

“First, I am honored to be a recipient of the Nevada DRIVE fellowship, Graduate Dean's fellowship, and Robert E. Dickenson Scholarship. With this aid, I have the necessary means to focus on my research full-time and have gained my family's support in chasing my career goals. With a Ph.D. I aspire to secure a position eventually as public health laboratory director where I can give back to my community by protecting them from potential disease outbreaks. My advice to future applicants would be to remain true to themselves, work hard at pursuing their goals and produce work that they are proud of.”


Kristen Quigley, Integrative Neuroscience doctoral student

QuigleyKristen is a Ph.D. student in the Integrative Neuroscience program, as well as a Graduate Research Assistant in the Neuromechanics Lab at the University of Nevada, Reno, overseen by Dr. Nicholas Murray. Kristen is an international student from Canada and is a member of the Metis Nation of the Rising Sun, which originates from the Saint-Lawrence region of Quebec, Canada. Prior to the University of Nevada, Reno, Kristen graduated from the University of South Dakota with a BS in Neuroscience in May of 2022, where she was a captain of the Coyote Women's Swim & Dive team for two seasons. At the University of South Dakota, Kristen received multiple research grants to perform electroencephalography (EGG) studies and was involved in numerous on-campus organizations.

Kristen is a Graduate Research Assistant in the Neuromechanics Lab at UNR, where her research focuses primarily on sports-related concussion (SRC). The Neuromechanics Lab serves both as a research lab as well as a concussion clinic, assisting with all SRCs at the University, as well as most high schools in the Reno area. Kristen's work in particular evaluates the efficacy of new SRC diagnostic technology, as well as investigates ways to improve result interpretation from existing SRC testing modalities.

“During my time at the University of Nevada, Reno I hope to learn more about sports-related concussion (SRC) testing modalities and advocate for better SRC care to be available to all athletes, especially at the collegiate level. Upon completion of my Ph.D., I hope to continue in academia by pursuing a career as a professor.”


Swathi Ragulan, Behavior Analysis doctoral student

RagulanSwathi Ragulan earned her Master's degree in Applied Behavior Analysis at Rutgers University and is currently completing her Ph.D. in Behavior Analysis at the University of Nevada, Reno. She has previously volunteered at the Douglass Developmental Disabilities Center at Rutgers and has also worked in company-contracted positions providing services to individuals with autism and other developmental disabilities in public school districts and in home consultation around the Tri-state area. Swathi Ragulan's research areas of interest include improving treatment integrity of skill acquisition procedures related to behavior analytic interventions for young children, teaching safety skills to individuals with developmental disabilities, implementing effective staff and parent training, and enhancing the ethical practice of behavior analysis as a field. Swathi Ragulan is also interested in fostering student interest, education, and participation in behavior analysis and has worked with the New Jersey Association for Behavior Analysis as a student representative from Rutgers University to further this goal.

Swathi Ragulan's research involves early intervention skill acquisition for individuals with disabilities such as autism. Through this research, Swathi hopes to positively impact the quality of life for these individuals by providing them with the skills to be able to live independent and fulfilling lives.

“It's okay to struggle and sometimes fail, but what's most important is that you learn from these failures to move forward instead of letting them hold you back!”


Melanie Schmidt-Wolf, Computer Science & Engineering doctoral student

WolfMelanie is a third-year Ph.D. student in Computer Science and Engineering at the University of Nevada, Reno, with research interests including autonomous driving and robotics. Melanie earned a B.S. degree in Business Administration and Engineering at the University of Bayreuth and an M.S. degree in Mechanical Engineering at the Technical University of Darmstadt in Germany. Further, she worked as a Simulation Engineer focused on advanced driver-assistance systems for about three years. Melanie's Ph.D. research is concentrating on enabling bidirectional nonverbal communication between vulnerable road users and autonomous vehicles.

Melanie's research project "Communication between a vulnerable road user and an autonomous vehicle" will enable bidirectional nonverbal communication between vulnerable road users and autonomous vehicles, leading to improved safety. This research will advance the ultimate objective of reducing traffic accidents and increasing the public acceptance of autonomous vehicles. Autonomous vehicles have an existential communication challenge due to the lack of a human driver who can signal to vulnerable road users nearby about the intentions of the vehicle. This presents an opportunity and a need for a vehicle for vulnerable road users’ communication systems, such as pedestrians or bicyclists. In Melanie's future research project, data is collected to study the hand gestures of pedestrians in detail by conducting a user study in Virtual Reality to ask participants how they would gesture or show when they intend or do not intend to cross the road. This data will be used to implement hand gesture recognition.

“My academic goals and career aspirations are to research communication between an autonomous vehicle and a human being. With this project, researching at the University of Nevada, Reno, will provide me with outstanding knowledge to enable and improve autonomous driving.”


Kiara Steinhorst, Engineering Education doctoral student

SteinhorstWhile earning her Bachelor of Science degree in Chemical Engineering with a minor in Mathematics at the University of Nevada Reno, Kiara became passionate about improving diversity, equity, and inclusion in engineering. It was with these passions in mind that she joined the PRIDE Research group as an undergraduate. After completing her undergraduate degree, she joined the PRIDE group as a graduate student under the mentorship of Dr. Adam Kirn.

Kiara is researching how engineering students utilize social capital provided by a cohort program. The purpose of her research is to identify activities and resources that provide social capital and align historically excluded students with those resources so they may succeed in engineering.

Kiara is grateful for the DRIVE Scholars program and the support it provides and hopes her research will lead to an increase in support for historically excluded undergraduate engineering students.


Andrew Ticzon, Finance doctoral student

TiczonAndrew completed his BA in economics at the University of California, Davis and his MBA at California State University, Sacramento.

He came to the University to investigate how employee satisfaction improves firm value and advance asset pricing momentum studies. He is currently teaching Managerial Finance and would love to work on projects that would bring the campus closer to net zero energy certification.