Office for Research & Innovation announces Julie and Rocky Dixon Graduate Innovation Award recipients

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Cecilia Enjuto Rangel, 2014 Excellence Award for Outstanding Mentorship in Graduate Studies recipient, and Mariko Plescia, 2014 Dixon Graduate Innovation Award recipient
Cecilia Enjuto Rangel, 2014 Excellence Award for Outstanding Mentorship in Graduate Studies recipient, and Mariko Plescia, 2014 Dixon Graduate Innovation Award recipient

The Graduate School and the Office for Research & Innovation have announced the six winners of the  new Julie and Rocky Dixon Graduate Innovation Award fellowship.

The award is designed to support doctoral students who are interested in pursuing innovative experiences that will prepare them for careers outside of academia in areas including industry, business, nonprofit and government sectors.

Andy Berglund, interim dean of the Graduate School, said these experiences will not only enhance the students’ doctoral studies and career opportunities, but will also enrich University of Oregon academic departments and units by fostering broader connections and engagement of units with agencies, museums, nonprofits, companies and national laboratories.

“With this award, for which the Dixons have generously provided five years of funding, we are able to encourage our students to innovate within and alongside their chosen fields,” Berglund said. “In today’s world, doctoral students must develop – in addition to their training in academic research and teaching – broader skill sets that will prepare them for a variety of career paths.”

The recipients were each awarded $10,000 and a three-term tuition waiver for their proposed innovative experience.

Leticia Montoya, Chemistry & Biochemistry
Montoya has done pioneering work on the use of small molecules to detect hydrogen sulfide in living systems. One of her publications describing this research was the mostly highly cited paper from the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry in 2012. After completing her doctoral program, Montoya plans to improve people’s lives by engaging in high-impact research in an industrial setting. The Dixon Award will help support her while interning with Abcam, a well-established local biotech company. This experience will provide her the opportunity to interact and collaborate with scientists in an industrial research laboratory and give her insight into executing design and product development – skills essential to her career aspirations. Montoya’s internship will enhance the UO chemistry department’s connections with industry experts to create new potential collaborations for her research group and other groups on campus, as well as create opportunities for other chemistry and biology students to intern with Abcam and other industry partners.

Reza Motamedi, Computer and Information Science (CIS)
Motamedi studies the shortcomings of research that investigates Internet connectivity and reachability, which are essential to making innovative contributions to a wide range of high-impact industrial issues. Currently, his lab collaborates with the Oregon Network Research Group, Duke University and senior scientists in the CIS industry from Niksun Inc. and Akamai. The Dixon Award will facilitate Motamedi’s collaboration with Akamai, a company that runs the largest Content Distribution Network service in the world and works with state of the art tools and data sets crucial to his research. Through this experience, he will gain experience in the industry essential to preparing for his career, while also moving his own lab’s research forward at a faster pace. The partnerships developed through this experience will increase the department’s visibility in the industry, provide opportunities for other students and contribute to the computer science field.

Bryce Peake, Media Studies
Peake’s background in social sciences, anthropology and media studies qualifies him for research positions in the technology and communication industry, but he aspires to work in the private sector, where he can conduct research in technological innovation at companies like Intel Labs, Microsoft Research, Bell Laboratories and other corporations. The Dixon Award will support his mentorship and research experiences in the private sector at Intel Labs. Through this experience, Peake will contribute to Intel’s “Quantified Self” project – a software design project that uses rigorous and intense ethnographic research to guide design and development. Upon completion of his fellowship, Peake plans to organize a UO symposium of top technology industry research scientists to discuss technology and innovation. The symposium will provide a space for researchers to share industry projects and for social science and humanities students to network with researchers whose work exists outside of traditional academic institutions.

Mariko Plescia, Romance Languages
Plescia aspires to work in the production and distribution of films, specifically as a film director and the director of U.S. Latino and Latin American film festivals that celebrate and explore the transnational economic and cultural ties connecting the countries of the Americas. The Dixon Award will support her while she interns with Cinemoria, an Ecuadorian-based, cultural nonprofit organization that assists filmmakers in producing and disseminating their work. This opportunity will further Plescia’s dissertation research by providing access to a breadth of rare Latin American films, and provide invaluable experience toward the production of her own short film about women filmmakers. Her research will contribute to the Department of Romance Languages by furthering dialogue with international film communities. Her own short film, to be presented at film festivals, will showcase and expand the University of Oregon’s body of cinematic work. The film will also serve as a prompt for dialogue about women in cinema and Ecuadorian film, and as a classroom tool for language acquisition.

Andrew Ritenour, Chemistry & Biochemistry
Ritenour’s research goal is to develop a new, low-cost synthesis technique for semiconductors that can be used in high-efficiency solar cells. Further, he seeks to establish a startup company that commercializes this technology. To do this, Ritenour needs to complete his research efforts, fabricate proof-of-concept photovoltaic devices, develop a business model and plan, and write a Small Business Innovation Research proposal for the U.S. Department of Energy or the National Science Foundation for startup funding. With the Dixon Award’s support, he will begin these efforts by working with the Technology Entrepreneurship Program (TEP) at the Lundquist College of Business. This experience will promote collaboration between the academic areas of business and chemistry, enhance the work being done at the intersection of materials science and chemistry, and – if successful – result in a spin-off technology company developed at the University of Oregon.

Alexis Smith, German
By focusing on the tension and inadequacy of music’s relationship to language as it is represented in early German romanticism, Smith seeks to address questions that have been heavily debated for centuries: In what ways can music be compared to language? Is it a universal language? In an ever-changing job market, though, Smith understands the need for more practical experiences and has chosen to also pursue a graduate certificate in nonprofit management. A requirement of this program is to participate in an internship and the Dixon Award will allow her this opportunity. As an intern at the Willamette Jazz Society, she will participate in grant writing, marketing and educational outreach, event planning and art gallery management. This experience ties well to her research and career goals, and provides opportunities for the Department of German and Scandinavian. During her internship, she will locate grants for graduate student research, establish international connections and further the department’s outreach initiatives by planning events for the German community and bolstering the department’s collaborations with the Eugene K-12 school system. 

- by Andrew Stiefel, Office for Research & Innovation