Meet the Winners of the UGSA Award for Conferences

UGSA Winners
From left to right: Stephanie Archer, HeeSun Choi, Don Warren, Liara Gonzalez, Terrie Belliesen, and Sriyanka Lahiri.

In the Spring of 2013, the University Graduate Student Association (UGSA) implemented a pilot of a highly-competitive travel award intended to provide funds to a selective group of outstanding NCSU graduate students who are attending professional conferences in their respective fields. This new award, named the UGSA Award for Conferences, requires students to complete an extensive application which is then reviewed by a Committee of graduate students from different research fields. The UGSA currently offers two deadlines for application submission: one in the Spring and one in the Fall semester. Our overall goals are to help graduate students with the costly expenses of attending a conference (up to $1,500 per awardee), as well as contribute to the dissemination of authentic NCSU research in different research focus groups. Any NCSU graduate student that is currently performing original research is encouraged to apply to this prestigious award. After a strenuous and rigorous review process, the winners of the Spring 2014 UGSA Award for Conferences have been selected. Meet them here!

Stephanie Archer – Department of Applied Ecology
Stephanie Archer is a Ph.D. Candidate working with Dr. Craig Layman in the Zoology Program based in the Department of Applied Ecology. Before coming to NCSU, Stephanie received her B.S. in Ecology from the University of Georgia and her M.S. in Ecology from Utah State University. Her dissertation work focuses on how marine sponges affect the structure and function of critical tropical near-shore habitats, namely sea-grass beds and coral reefs. After completing her Ph.D., Stephanie hopes to continue on the academic career path, and become a professor at a research university.

HeeSun Choi – Department of Psychology
HeeSun Choi is a PhD student in the Human Factors and Ergonomics Program at the Department of Psychology. Her current research interests are in attention-related failures during driving, impacts of video games and entertainment technology on cognitive abilities, age-related cognitive changes, and technology use by older adults. Her future goal is to pursue an academic career and to study human attention and cognitive aging, with applications of psychological principles to human factors.

Don Warren – Department of Physics
Don Warren is a Ph.D. candidate in the astrophysics group within the Physics Department. He has worked on massively parallel simulations of supernova remnants, and currently focuses on modeling particle acceleration by relativistic shocks. He has presented his work at conferences on both sides of the Pacific Ocean, and this summer plans to visit Moscow to give a talk. When he graduates, he hopes to take a postdoctoral position overseas and become both a productive researcher and mentor to the next generation of scientists.

Liara M. Gonzalez – Department of Clinical Sciences
Liara completed her veterinary degree at Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine in 2006, followed by a one-year internship at an equine tertiary care facility. In 2010, she successfully completed a large animal surgery residency at NCSU and became a Diplomat of the American College of Veterinary Surgery in 2011. She then began her post-doctoral training under the mentorship of Dr. Anthony Blikslager as a graduate scholar in the Initiative for Maximizing Student Diversity (2 years) and has since been an NIH Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service Award (NRSA) Institutional Research Training Grant (T32) recipient in the Comparative Medicine and Translational Research Program. Her post-doctoral training allowed her to investigate diseases afflicting horses with ischemic intestinal injury while simultaneously pursuing the development of the pig as a large animal translational model to study intestinal epithelial stem cell biology. Liara aspires to become an independently funded clinician scientist that applies advanced laboratory techniques to address clinically significant problems.

Terri Belliesen – Department of Entomology
Terri Billeisen has always had a fascination with the insect world and decided to major in entomology while she was enrolled as a pre-vet student at Purdue University. After receiving her Bachelor's, she continued to study in the entomological sciences at Purdue, examining how different strains of insect-parasitic nematodes infect and suppress insect pest populations. In 2011, she started her Ph.D. research at NC State, working with an invasive insect that has been a significant pest of turf-grass in the southeastern United States. She has also been teaching introductory entomology classes to undergraduate students and loves every minute of it! Although still undecided about her future, she would like to explore opportunities in both the industry and academic fields.

Sriyanka Lahiri – Department of Entomology
Sriyanka joined the NCSU Department of Entomology in the Fall of 2010 as a Ph.D. student to work in the BioControl lab under the guidance of Dr. David Orr, and hopes to graduate in the Summer of 2014. She is a Bengali from India, and obtained her B.S., M.S., and M.Phil. degrees from the University of Delhi, India in Zoology, Environmental Studies, and Zoology (Applied Entomology), respectively. Her research focuses on understanding the field carbohydrate and overwintering refuge requirements of the wasp Telenomus podisi (Hymenoptera: Scelionidae), which is a native natural enemy of economic pests of crops namely stink bugs. She has also been a graduate TA at NCSU for courses including BIO 402, BIO 181, and ENT 201. Sriyanka aspires to pursue a research and teaching career in Entomology and Integrated Pest Management.

To learn more about the UGSA, our Award for Conferences, and/or how to get involved with the UGSA, please visit our website (, Facebook page (, and Twitter (@NCSU_UGSA).

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