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Ph.D. Candidates Recognized for Outstanding Academic Careers

Ph.D. Achievement Award Reception. Photo by Steve Cohn © 2019

Six outstanding Ph.D. candidates at the University of Southern California have been selected to receive the 2019 Ph.D. Achievement Award. The annual award recognizes students from across the University who have exceptional academic profiles and have excelled in their field. Each recipient’s faculty advisor is also recognized with a Graduate School Ph.D. Mentoring Award.

“When I think about the Ph.D. Achievement Awards, I think, Yes! This is what we do here,” said Vice Provost for Graduate Programs Sally Pratt. “The Ph.D. Achievement Awards are a beacon. This really shows what a USC Ph.D. can be. It is very special.”

Ph.D. award winners at the Ph.D. Achievement Awards reception. (From left: Shanyuan Niu, Rebecca Peer, Aroussiak Gabrielian, Pragya Goel, Maria Francesca Piazzoni and Jennifer Candipan.) Photo by Steve Cohn © 2019.

This year’s Achievement Award recipients are Jennifer Candipan, Aroussiak Gabrielian, Pragya Goel, Shanyuan Niu, Rebecca Peer and Maria Francesca Piazzoni.

Ph.D. Achievement Award recipient Jennifer Candipan. Photo by Steve Cohn © 2019.

Jennifer Candipan is part of the Department of Sociology at USC’s Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences. Her research explores the link between neighborhoods and schools and how that can contribute to inequality in children’s education. Specifically, Candipan explores how gentrification simultaneously segregates schools and integrates neighborhoods and the problems that arise from this new paradigm. Candipan’s primary faculty advisor is Ann Owens, Associate Professor of Sociology.

Candipan’s work has been published in top sociology and urban studies journals. She will receive her degree in May and will start a two-year postdoctoral fellowship at Harvard University in the fall.

Arroussiak Gabrielian with Vice Provost for Graduate Programs Sally Pratt. Photo by Steve Cohn © 2019.

Arroussiak Gabrielian is a Ph.D. candidate in the Media Arts & Practice Ph.D. Program at the School of Cinematic Arts. Over the past five years, her work has focused on questions of environmental justice, health and ethics. Her dissertation project is called “Encounters in the Anthropocene: Synthetic Geologies, Diegetic Ecologies and other Landscape Imaginaries.”

“My work aims to torque our imaginaries to get us to rethink our interactions with both human and non-human agents on the planet,” said Gabrielian. “I use technology to amplify the energies of the living world using various different creative projects.”

Holly Willis, the Associate Dean of Research in the Media Arts & Practice Division is Gabrielian’s primary faculty advisor. Upon completion of her Ph.D, Gabrielian will stay in the Trojan family and teach in the landscape program at the USC School of Architecture.

Ph.D. Achievement Award recipient Pragya Goel. Photo by Steve Cohn © 2019.

Pragya Goel is a Ph.D. candidate in Molecular and Computational Biology at USC Dornsife. She says she is broadly interested in neuroplasticity and how remodeling specialized connections between neurons can influence memory, behavior and cognitions. Specifically, her research focuses on how neurons in the brain communicate with each other and what can go wrong in neurological diseases. Goel has been a key member of her faculty adviser, Dr. Dion Dickman’s, laboratory.

Goel has published and co-authored multiple papers throughout her time at USC. By the time she completes her degree, she is expected to have at least nine first author publications. Goel has accepted a postdoctoral fellowship at Harvard University.

Ph.D. Achievement Award recipient Shanyuan Niu. Photo by Steve Cohn © 2019.

Shanyuan Niu is a Ph.D. candidate in the Materials Science Program at USC Viterbi. Niu says his research focuses on developing new materials to solve problems like renewable energy generation and efficient light emission detection. Niu’s faculty advisor is Jayakanth Ravichandran, Assistant Professor of Chemical Engineering and Materials Science and Electrical and Computer Engineering – Electrophysics. Niu has multiple offers for postdoctoral fellowships and will make a decision on which to accept soon.

Rebecca Peer is a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering. Her research focuses on energy and water systems. Her dissertation looked at cooling water and water requirements for electricity systems across the United States. Peer says she focuses on understanding and quantifying the relationship between the water and electricity sectors by combining elements from computational modeling, data analysis and statistics.

Rebecca Peer with her faculty advisor Kelly Sanders (left) and Vice Provost for Graduate Programs Sally Pratt. Photo by Steve Cohn © 2019.

Kelly Sanders, Assistant Professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering serves as Peer’s faculty advisor. Peer will start a position as a postdoctoral researcher at the Carnegie Institution for Science at Stanford University in June. In 2020, she will join the University of Canterbury as a Lecturer (equivalent to Assistant Professor in the United States).

Ph.D. Achievement Award recipient Maria Francesca Piazzoni. Photo by: Steve Cohn © 2019.

Maria Francesca Piazzoni is a Ph.D. candidate in Urban Planning at the Price School of Public Policy. Piazzoni is about to earn her second Ph.D. She completed her first Ph.D. in Architecture at the University of Venice in 2014. Piazzoni’s research focuses on how planners can make cities more inclusive through urban design.

“I work on issues of immigrants in cities specifically in the built department,” said Piazzoni. “My research was on the immigrant street vendors in Rome, looking at the ways in which transformations of the built environment can help to create cities that welcome everybody.”

Piazzoni’s faculty advisor is Tridib Banerjee, Professor and the James Irvine Chair in Urban and Regional Planning. Piazzoni’s first book, The Real Fake: Authenticity and the Production of Space was published by Fordham University Press last year. Piazzoni will join the University of Liverpool as a Lecturer in Landscape Architecture and Urban Design in the fall.

All six Ph.D. Achievement Award winners and their advisors were honored during a reception hosted by USC Graduate School. Congratulations to all the recipients on their remarkable academic careers.