Each year, the Graduate School honors doctoral students for outstanding dissertations. Winners receive one of two awards: one for the science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields; and one for social sciences, business, education and humanities (SSBEH) fields. The Graduate School also recognizes master’s degree students with the William Preston Master’s Thesis Award. Like the dissertation awards, there are two William Preston awards: one for the STEM fields and one for the SSBEH fields.

Outstanding Dissertation award winners

Aidin Ferdowsi smiling at the camera
Aidin Ferdowsi, Outstanding Dissertation award winner, Science, Technology, Engineering and Math

Science, Technology, Engineering and Math: Aidin Ferdowsi, Electrical and Computer Engineering, College of Engineering. Ferdowsi’s dissertation is entitled, “Distributed machine learning for autonomous and secure cyber-physical systems.” His advisor, Walid Saad, professor of electrical and computer engineering, said Ferdowsi’s dissertation “is undoubtedly one of the most important research works that emerged in the autonomous cyber-physical systems community over the past three years.” Saad said the Ferdowsi’s work had many firsts, and “was the very first research work that developed rigorous machine learning (ML)-based frameworks that allow us to design autonomous and secure cyber-physical systems.” Ferdowsi graduated in July 2020. He is currently with Hughes Network Systems.

Paige Whitlock smiling at the camera
Paige Whitlock, winner of the Outstanding Dissertation award, Social Sciences, Business, Education, and Humanities

Social Sciences, Business, Education, and Humanities: Paige Whitlock, Education Leadership, School of Education, College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences. Whitlock’s dissertation is entitled, “Principal leadership in building a culture of disciplinary literacy.” Doctoral committee member Walt Mallory, professor of practice in the School of Education and a member of Whitlock’s committee, said her “experience as a leader at the school and district level is apparent in her understanding of the complexity of instructional and cultural change in a school.” He further stated that her work would “be invaluable in developing a literacy culture.” Whitlock completed her studies at the Northern Virginia Center in Falls Church and currently works in the Fairfax County Public Schools district.

William Preston Master’s Thesis award winners

Image of Stephanie Spence, smiling
Stephanie Spence, winner of the William Preston Master's Thesis award, Science, Technology, Engineering and Math

Science, Technology, Engineering and Math: Stephanie Spence, Department of Chemistry, College of Science. Spence’s thesis is entitled, “Tuning the morphology and electronic properties of single-crystal LiNi0.5Mn1.5O4-8 (LNMO).” The work makes a major contribution to the battery field, particularly lithium ion batteries, said Feng Lin, assistant professor in Chemistry. Lin said Spence’s research and resulting thesis focused on a key question in the field: “How do we store more energy in sustainable batteries at faster rates and lower cost?” Spence is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in Chemistry at Virginia Tech and is continuing her research.

John Legg smiling at the camera
John Legg, William Preston Master's Thesis award winner, Social Sciences, Business, Education, and Humanities

Social Sciences, Business, Education, and Humanities: John R. Legg, Department of History, College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences. Legg’s thesis is entitled, “Unforgetting the Dakota 30: Settler colonialism, Indigenous resurgence, and the competing narratives of the U.S.-Dakota War, 1862-2012.” His thesis advisor, Paul Quigley, associate professor of Civil War studies, said Legg’s work was “timely, important, and creative,” and “makes a significant contribution to scholarship on Native American history, western history, Civil War era history, and theoretical and comparative works on collective memory.” Legg is currently pursuing a Ph.D. at George Mason University.