Kansas State University


Graduate School

Student successes

MAGS Excellence in Teaching Award Winners

Whether you want to design buildings or write stories for a living, it is always nice to know that you are pursing the right career. Two graduate students with a passion for educating others recently received confirmation that teaching was the right choice for them.

Tammy Sonnentag, doctoral candidate in psychological sciences, and Jarred Pfeiffer, master’s student in fine arts-ceramics, both received the 2013 Midwestern Association of Graduate Schools Excellence in Teaching Award. Sonnentag received the award at the doctoral level and Pfeiffer received the award at the master’s level.

“It is an honor to be recognized for the Midwestern Association of Graduate School’s Award for Teaching Excellence,” Sonnentag said. “I am very humbled to have been nominated for, and selected to receive, this prestigious award.”

The award honors two graduate student teaching assistants each year who exemplify excellence in the teaching and learning missions of universities. As recipients, Sonnentag and Pfeiffer will each receive a $750 honorarium and will represent K-State at the awards luncheon on Thursday, April 11, in Minneapolis as part of the Midwestern Association of Graduate Schools Conference.

“Growing up in a household with a combined 65 years of teaching experience, I have always admired the qualities that make a great educator,” Pfeiffer said. “Throughout my career in education I strive to be the most effective teacher possible. This award confirms that I am on the right path, and I look forward to continuing to inspiring students.”

2013 Lindau Nobel Laureate

Elizabeth Ploetz analyzing data collected from Dr. Paul Smith’s lab.

A K-State graduate student will have the opportunity to interact with leading scientists and young researchers from around the world this summer.

Elizabeth Ploetz, doctoral candidate in chemistry, was selected to participate in the 63rd Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting in Lindau, Germany. The meeting, June 30 to July 5, is dedicated to chemistry.

“I am thrilled, but also very humbled, to be selected to participate in the Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting,” said Ploetz. “I applied two years ago and was not selected, so it was incredibly exciting to find out the news.”

Established in 1951 as an initiative for the reconciliation of leading scientists after World War II, the Lindau Meetings have evolved into a unique scientific dialogue platform that fosters the exchange of knowledge across generations, cultures and nationalities. The meetings are designed to make encounters between the scientific elite of today and tomorrow possible and to positively encourage and inspire future research. Young researchers have the opportunity to meet the luminaries of their discipline, seek their advice in special technical issues or personal matters, exchange thoughts and views and discuss current developments in science and the world.

“I am looking forward to building my international network of ‘science friends’ and I am excited to see what kind of fruit these relationships naturally produce in due course,” said Ploetz.

She will have the chance to interact with 36 Nobel Laureates and 624 of the world’s most outstanding undergraduate and postgraduate students through lectures and informal meetings.

“I am blown away that the Laureates would pour out this much of their time and energy into students’ lives, but I do believe that it is vital,” said Ploetz. “Young people desperately need the advice of their elders and scientists are no exception. I’m going to soak up everything I can.”

Ploetz was selected to participate in the meeting after passing a multi-stage international selection procedure. Taking into account the national selection procedures, in excess of 20,000 young researchers applied to attend this year’s meeting.

“Elizabeth is a gifted scientist, a superb instructor and a warm human being,” said Eric Maatta, chemistry department head. “Her selection to attend the Lindau meeting recognizes her as being among the finest young scholars of her generation.”

Ploetz is a National Science Foundation Fellow and a National Science Foundation GK-12 Fellow. Her current research draws on the fields of computational chemistry and biophysics, solution thermodynamics and statistical mechanics. She works with Paul E. Smith, professor of chemistry, to understand how molecular interactions making up a system give rise to the system’s thermodynamic properties.

“It has been my privilege to watch Elizabeth grow as a researcher. She has an extremely bright future ahead of her,” said Smith.

Ploetz is only the fourth K-State student to be selected to participate in the meetings. Previous Nobel Laureates from the university are: Mark Smith, physics (2006); Jayne Christen, biochemistry (2009); and Nora Johnson, physics (2012).

Capitol Graduate Research Summit

Kelly Foster, master’s student in biomedical sciences, and Feraidon Ataie, doctoral student in civil engineering, were named KansasBio winners for their research presentations at the 10th annual Capitol Graduate Research Summit. Both received a $500 scholarship from KansasBio and will present their research at the Kansas City Area Life Sciences Institute’s annual dinner on May 7.

“The summit provides our students with the opportunity to present their research and to demonstrate to legislators, the Kansas Board of Regents and community members how their work is making a difference in Kansas,” said Carol Shanklin, dean of the Graduate School.

Kelly Foster discusses her research with judges during the Capitol Graduate Research Summit. Foster was one of two KansasBio winners from K-State.

Foster’s research focuses on understanding how bovine viral diarrhea virus is passed from persistently infected cattle to naive cattle on farms where these animals are commingled. Nearly 1 percent of all cattle are born persistently infected with the virus and serve as a virus reservoir in cow herds and feedlots in the U.S.

“Bovine viral diarrhea virus is a biologically and economically important disease that impacts cattle in Kansas,” Foster said. “The virus causes compromising of the immune system, leading to other diseases, such as bovine respiratory disease complex. These diseases cause economic losses because of decreased cattle performance and mortality losses in the beef industry. Our research will provide insight on bovine viral diarrhea virus prevention and biosecurity management to improve cattle health and producer profitability.”

Ataie’s research focuses on concrete, the most used material after water. Concrete is made from three major components: portland cement, water and aggregate. Because portland cement is a highly energy intensive material, the cement industry is responsible for about 5 to 8 percent of global carbon dioxide emission. His research focuses on developing a new generation of supplementary cementitious material–from byproducts of the bioenergy industry–that are highly reactive, environmentally friendly and can be widely available at low cost to replace some of the portland cement used in concrete.

“The state of Kansas is a large producer of corn stover, a great resource for bioenergy production,” Ataie said. “My research could contribute in lowering the cost of bioenergy production as well as producing environmentally friendly and high quality concrete materials for use in Kansas and throughout the nation.”