Rice Awards Wagoner Scholarships to nine graduate students

Award amounts range from $2,000 - $15,000 and will support research abroad

Hands hold a telephone and a compass on a table topped by a map. A croissant and a cup of coffee are on the table nearby.

The Rice University Office of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies (GPS) is proud to announce that nine Rice University graduate students have been awarded Wagoner Foreign Study Scholarships to continue their research abroad.

“We had an incredible cohort of applicants this year, and the decision was exceptionally difficult for the committee. We look forward to seeing the great work these students will accomplish,” said Kim Gonzalez Hohlt, Director of Student Advancement and Career Development in the GPS Office.

The Wagoner Scholarship is named for James T. Wagoner ‘29. His love of travel spurred him to establish this scholarship for students and alumni in memory of his parents and late wife. The Rice Graduate Council grants the awards to students who have demonstrated outstanding achievement and promise in their research.

You can read about each of the award winners and their projects below. Applications typically open in early February; graduate students interested in applying for the next cycle can find more information here. For questions, email Dr. Gonzalez Hohlt.

Anton Banta, Electrical and Computer Engineering

The human brain is one of the most complex systems on Earth - and one of the least understood. Furthering our understanding of the brain and how it works could allow us to solve some of the most critical health issues facing humanity. Banta’s work in machine learning seeks to solve problems around the issue of memory. With his Wagoner award, he will travel to Denmark to build a product to measure brain signals and stimulate the brain to improve memory, focus and learning.

Lupe Flores, Anthropology

The Universe contains five times more cold dark matter than normal matter, but its particle nature is still unknown. This has sparked a global race for the development of next-generation particle physics detectors. Li will spend Les Houches Dark Matter Summer School in France to further her understanding of particle physics and expand her academic network. The summer school sessions are aimed primarily towards advanced students and young postdoctoral researchers, willing to deepen their knowledge or to start in a new field.

Daniel Gorczynski, Ecology & Evolutionary Biology

Tropical rainforests are being cut down at a rate of approximately 6 million hectares each year. As tropical rainforest species are lost through this destruction, benefits to human society are lost as well. To understand the relationship between mammals and understory vegetation in rainforests, Gorczynski will travel to a protected rainforest site in Madagascar, working with local scientists and field technicians to make observations and utilize novel methods of measurement.

Carsten Grupstra, Ecology & Evolutionary Biology

Nearly all animals harbor resident beneficial microbiota that support the animal's health and survival. For example, corals rely on microscopic algae and bacteria for nutrition, nutrient cycling, and protection from pathogens. However, transfer of these microbiota between animals has not been studied in depth. With his second Wagoner award, Grupstra will continue his research on the role of coral reef fish feces in the dispersal of coral microbiota. These feces may act as a probiotic, helping corals survive ocean warming.

Lauren Howe-Kerr, Ecology & Evolutionary Biology

Microbial symbionts, such as the single-celled algae that reside inside of corals, can enhance the capacity of their hosts to tolerate environmental change. As the planet warms and coral bleaching becomes more common, there is an urgent need to facilitate the assisted evolution of these symbionts to prevent more widespread coral mortality. Howe-Kerr will visit the Mo’orea Coral Reef, an NSF Long Term Ecological Research site in the Pacific, to conduct experiments and generate baseline data to ultimately help develop heat tolerant coral symbionts.

Rachel Mohl, Art History

During the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Argentina and Brazil became home to 200,000 Jewish immigrants, constituting approximately 1-2% of the various ethnic groups entering the region. This community established itself as a major contributor to the modernization of their new nations by promoting and advancing the avant-garde. Mohl will access local archival resources in the two countries to examine the overlapping political, economic, and social motivations of Jewish involvement in the visual arts in Argentina and Brazil between 1930 and 1960. Her research will contribute to a better understanding of capitalist globalization in Latin America and how a marginalized immigrant community can profoundly impact the construction of a nation through the arts.

Kyle James Myers, History

Societies in Africa underwent dramatic shifts because of integration into the Atlantic system, and Africans effected significant changes within that larger world. Myers will use this Wagoner fellowship to access U.K. archives to further his dissertation on these shifts as related to subsistence and provisioning systems. He will explore how African foodways evolved over three spatiotemporal zones and show how Africans and their descendants confronted new subsistence problems in each of these zones. The solutions that they subsequently sought evolved out of pre-existing practices. Ultimately, these efforts to master hunger were central to the making of the Atlantic World.

Adrienne Rooney, Art History

Rooney will visit Barbados, Trinidad, and Guyana to consult materials held in university and national archives of each country on the early history of the Caribbean Festival of Arts (Carifesta). At its start, poet and historian Kamau Brathwaite considered this monumental festival one of the most crucial events to have occurred in the region since Emancipation. Its architects “voiced a resounding faith that the arts, when rooted in the local land and its histories, held the potential to catalyze, across linguistic divides, nothing short of a decolonized Caribbean,” according to Rooney. Rooney’s work contributes to a growing, trans-disciplinary field interrogating connections between the visual and racialization.

Claire Spadafora Baes, Art History

Spadafora Baes will spend time at Oxford, and in London, researching the drawings and archival materials of English artist and designer William Kent (1685-1748). Spadafora Baes notes there is much to be discovered about Kent’s training and development as a young artist, and she will study his journal and correspondence kept during a trip through Italy, his early sketches and drawings, and documents relating to his work as an agent to further inform her dissertation, “The Early Work of a ‘Raphael secundus’: William Kent in Italy and England, 1709-1724.”