2015-16 Notebaert Fellows


Nicholas Ames, Anthropology
Undergraduate Institution

University of California, Berkeley

Nicholas Ames comes to Notre Dame via the University of California, Berkeley. While there, he received the McCown Prize, awarded to the most outstanding graduating senior in anthropology. Here, he continues his research in anthropological archaeology, studying issues of marginalization and inequality in the past to better inform contemporary issues of structural inequality, community identity, and social marginalization. Nicholas works with Professors Ian Kujit and Meredith Chesson.

Nicholas has traveled far and wide in his archeological studies. For eight weeks he participated in a bioarcheological excavation at the Nubian settlement of el-Ginefab, Sudan. In Jordan, he worked on the Neolithic site of Shubayqa 6, and elsewhere at the Iron Age sites of Busayra and Dhiban. In Ireland, he worked on projects at the 19th century prison of Spike Island, outside Cork, and also in western Ireland, in Connemara. Additionally he has researched and worked on sites in Calabria, southern Italy; the American-Japanese Archeology project in Bat, Oman; and several archeological excavations in North America.

Nicholas chose Notre Dame for its community. “Coming to visit the campus, department and students prior to accepting was an incredible experience,” he says. “The cohesion and solidarity between the staff, faculty, students and peers was unlike anything I had experienced. The intellectual community that is being fostered here at Notre Dame provides an open forum to explore new ideas and engage in critical debate fearlessly, resulting in a creative, comfortable atmosphere that is quickly becoming my second home.”


Kirsten Anderson, Theology
Undergraduate Institution

Hillsdale College

Kirsten is especially interested in the relationship of early Christian theology and Classical philosophy, particularly of the Neoplatonic and Stoic traditions. She notes: “I want to explore ways in which Christian thinkers appropriated, developed, and revised principles from these philosophical traditions in their reflection on the fundamental God-world relationship, and the theological topics connected with it, such as Creation, nature and grace, the origin of evil, and participation in God.”

Coming to Notre Dame, for Kirsten, was both a matter of its scholarly reputation and resources, but also its Catholic heritage. Of the former, Kirsten notes, “The number and quality of faculty working on topics related to my interests were unparalleled elsewhere.” And of the latter, Kirsten observes, “I wanted to study in a place firmly rooted in the Catholic theological tradition, where I could learn how, as an academic theologian, I could think with the Church.”


Meaghan Boyd, Biological Sciences
Undergraduate Institution

Providence College

When asked what she hopes to achieve in graduate school, Meaghan Boyd answered: “By coming to graduate school I hope to continue my formation as a full human person and as a Catholic scientist in the pursuit of Truth.”

At Notre Dame, Meaghan joined the lab of Prof. Zachary Schafer, where she studies cancer biology. She is specifically interested in understanding how cells die, and how the various means of cell death contribute to cancer’s metastasizing.

Meaghan chose Notre Dame for its standout cancer biology research opportunities. Additionally, notes Meaghan, “the Catholic identity of Notre Dame, and the supportive community that defines the University were very large draws for me. After my interview weekend I left the campus with a sure knowledge that the support and excitement that I experienced in my interviews and conversations were not simply an act. I experienced a genuine spirit here that guides the students and faculty and pushes them to learn and work hard so that they can make a positive impact on the world. Seeing and experiencing this community and this support made my decision to choose Notre Dame an easy one.”


Jeremiah Coogan, Theology
Undergraduate Institution

Wheaton College
Graduate Institution
Oxford University

Proficient in Greek, Hebrew, and Latin, with competencies in Coptic, Syriac, and Aramaic, Jeremiah comes to Notre Dame’s Christianity and Judaism in Antiquity program in Theology via Oxford, where he completed his M.Phil.

Jeremiah studies early biblical interpretation from both Christian and Jewish traditions, focusing especially on the physical nature of biblical texts and its significance for ancient reading and interpretation. He hopes to work with Notre Dame professors David Lincicum and Tzvi Novick. He explains his decision to attend Notre Dame thus: “With its unique emphasis on the entire biblical tradition, Notre Dame offers particularly vibrant support for examining trajectories of biblical interpretation which resist easy divisions into the fields of Hebrew Bible, New Testament, and early Christianity. Further, Notre Dame offers an impressive—perhaps even unparalleled—constellation of experts in the area of early biblical interpretation. Finally, since I aspire to teach, Notre Dame’s strength in pedagogy was a crucial factor in my decision to come here.”


Justin DeBenedetto, Computer Science and Engineering
Undergraduate Institution

Wake Forest University
Graduate Institution
Wake Forest University

Prior to arriving at Notre Dame, Justin completed his MA in Mathematics at Wake Forest University. His research focus was in number theory, an extension of his undergraduate thesis on quadratic forms. At Notre Dame he looks forward to combining his mathematical background with his interest in computer science, and exploring research in that overlap. He works with Prof. David Chiang in natural language processing.

Justin chose Notre Dame for its unique combination of high quality research and teaching, combined with its Catholic environment. “Education extends far beyond the classroom,” he says, “and the University of Notre Dame provides a great environment to grow intellectually and spiritually.” While at Wake Forest, Justin served as a lector and peer minister.


Robert Devine, Civil and Environmental Engineering and Earth Sciences
Undergraduate Institution

University of Notre Dame

Robert, who completed his undergraduate education at Notre Dame, was a leader inside and outside of the classroom. He served as a teaching assistant for an introductory course in civil engineering software (a position generally reserved for experienced graduate students); he tutored student athletes in intensive one-on-one and group study sessions; he captained his team in the Big Beam Contest, a national student competition organized by Precast/Prestressed Concrete Institute; and Robert competed in the Bengal Bouts, and as a middle distance runner for the university’s track team.

Within Civil Engineering, Robert plans to study high strength materials for application in earthquake-resistant reinforced concrete walls. He will also investigate the feasibility of prefabricating reinforcement cages to cut down labor costs on large-scale projects. He works with Professors Yahya Kuruma and Ashley Thrall.

“I chose Notre Dame,” says Robert, “because of the environment it offered me. Since I was an undergraduate here and worked extensively with Dr. Kurama already, I felt the transition to graduate student would be swift here. I also felt confident in the research Dr. Kurama & Dr. Thrall have been doing, as it aligns well with my own interests in analytical structural research and experimental validation.”


Domenic DiGiovanni, Electrical Engineering
Undergraduate Institution

Hillsdale College

As a physics major at Hillsdale College, Domenic DiGiovanni performed research in two dimensional materials synthesis at Vanderbilt University. In addition, he penned an interdisciplinary honors program thesis discussing “the common good and what it entails for politics and economics,” a synthesis of his readings across history, economics, and political philosophy. He wrote the paper in response to Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium and its reception in popular media.

Domenic studies electronic materials and devices, specifically fabrication processes and device design. “I chose Notre Dame,” he notes, “because it best represented an opportunity to attend a ‘university’ in the fullest sense. I would be coming to specialize, but at the same time, the resources on campus would be available for my growth not only as a student of engineering, but also as an intellectually motivated seeker of truth. To study in a community dedicated to those goals and to pursuing its aims in the context of the Catholic faith is a tremendous gift.”


Rachel Hanks, English
Undergraduate Institutions

University of Lethbridge
Red Deer College

Rachel was the first in her family to attend university, transferring to the University of Lethbridge after two years at Red Deer College, a community college in Alberta, Canada. In her two years at Lethbridge, Rachel learned Old English, and applied it to her studies in philology and linguistics.

Rachel studies Old English poetry and multilingualism, asking such questions as: why do poets of Anglo-Saxon England combine Old English and Latin? Why do these poets choose the composition strategies they do? And, what sorts of hybrid genres emerge from the attempt to merge two languages or poetic cultures?

Rachel chose to attend Notre Dame for a variety of reasons, not least for her sense that current faculty research resonated closely with her own, and that, under the aegis of their expertise, she will continue to grow as a scholar—refining her language skills in Latin and North seas dialects, and enhancing her interpretive skills in in philology and linguistics. Rachel also noted the importance of her peer researchers as a factor in choosing to attend Notre Dame. “There was a strong sense of community among the graduate students,” she writes, “one which seemed to fuel rather than hinder their research.”


Amanda Holland, Chemistry
Undergraduate Institution

Auburn University

While an undergraduate, Amanda Holland engaged in a number of research projects that continue to inform her graduate work. She studied the genes responsible for novel enzyme modifications, towards producing methane as a biofuel; and, at a National Science Foundation-sponsored summer program at Ohio State University, she had the opportunity to study emergent materials for use in bioimaging technology.

Amanda chose Notre Dame because she is interested in the research done at our institution; she perceives that the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry sets students up for successful careers. She also notes her significant consideration of finances when she writes, “The Notebaert Fellowship’s generous stipend makes it much easier for me to just focus on my studies instead of having to worry about my living expenses as well.”


Brianna McCaslin, Sociology
Undergraduate Institution

Marian University
Graduate Institution
Indiana University–Purdue University Indianapolis

While at IUPUI, Brianna McCaslin chose to conduct in-depth quantitative interviews for her MA thesis, a feat many students early in their graduate educations choose not to tackle, opting to complete qualitative analyses instead. (She completed this fieldwork and her thesis while working two outside jobs!)

Brianna’s research closely aligns with the concerns of the Sociology department’s: she focuses on the intersections of gender, religion, sexuality, and culture. Her interest in these topics grew out of a “struggle to negotiate an authentic life as a young, educated Catholic woman.” Indeed, Brianna has been actively involved in the Church, working for five years in Indianapolis as a religious education catechist, and as a legislative intern for the Indiana Catholic Conference.

Brianna notes that she chose Notre Dame for two main reasons: “One was the Catholic identity of the institution. As a practicing Catholic and a researcher who wants to study Catholics, this is the perfect place for me to grow personally and professionally. The other reason was that I believe the culture of the Notre Dame Sociology department is the best place for me. I will receive rigorous academic training, but it is also a community where I can ask for help and receive guidance and support.”


Jessica Schiltz, Bioengineering
Undergraduate Institution

Arizona State University

Jessica’s initial interest in research was inspired by her volunteer work with disabled teens, a passion that drew her attention from the care of people with disabilities, to seek an understanding of disabilities’ underlying causes, be they genetic or environmental. At Arizona State University she worked for four years in a neural engineering laboratory, where she studied Parkinson’s disease in an animal model. Here, at Notre Dame, she works with Prof. Steven Schmid in the Department of Bioengineering, with an eye toward creating medical devices and advancing medical technologies.

In today’s academic climate, it’s tempting to pursue industry opportunities rather than an advanced degree. Jessica received two lucrative job offers her senior year, declining both to study at Notre Dame. Of this decision, she notes, “I felt that the University of Notre Dame clearly created an environment where its graduate students can be productive in their research and in their professional development. I chose graduate school over industry so I could make tangible contributions to the body of knowledge that is changing the landscape of health care.”