The Graduate School is pleased to announce its annual award winners for the 2022–2023 academic year. These awards include: the Distinguished Graduate Alumni Award; the James A. Burns, C.S.C, Awards; the Dick and Peggy Notebaert Award; the Eli J. and Helen Shaheen Graduate School Awards; and the Social Justice Award. The award winners will be formally recognized for their achievements at the Graduate School Commencement Ceremony to be held at Notre Dame Stadium on May 20.
The following citations have been edited for brevity. For the full award winner profiles, please refer to The Graduate School 2023 Commencement Citation Book. Winners noted below as degree candidates will have their degrees conferred on Saturday, May 20, 2023.
Monica C. Regalbuto '89 Ph.D., is the winner of the Distinguished Graduate Alumni Award, given each year to a graduate alumnus or alumna of the University who has contributed significantly to scholarship, research, or society. Dr. Regalbuto, who earned her Ph.D. in chemical engineering from Notre Dame in 1989, is an Idaho National Laboratory and American Nuclear Society fellow who combines her expertise in chemical separations, modeling and simulation, and proliferation risk reduction to make a difference for our nation and its citizens. She has been a key contributor to the nuclear fuel cycle and nuclear waste management mission by developing and demonstrating innovative nuclear energy technologies that have significantly advanced the scientific, engineering, policy, and regulatory aspects of the nuclear enterprise.
Patricia A. Champion, Ph.D., is the winner of the James A. Burns, C.S.C., Award in recognition of her outstanding work as a sustained mentor of graduate students over the course of her career. Graduate students mentored by Dr. Champion, a professor in the Department of Biological Sciences at Notre Dame, have an exceptional record of success across a number of metrics: first-author publications in leading journals; presentations at international conferences; competitive external and internal awards; and excellent career outcomes with prestigious postdoctoral positions. Alumni of the Champion lab speak of the way that Champion tailored her doctoral mentorship to their specific needs, guiding them toward intellectual independence while still providing support and instilling confidence at every step along the way.
Mark Anthony Caprio, Ph.D., is the winner of the James A. Burns, C.S.C., Award in recognition of his outstanding work as a mentor of graduate students at the midpoint of his career. Dr. Caprio is an associate professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy at Notre Dame, and his mentoring impact is clearly visible through the tremendous success of his doctoral advisees, many of whom have won highly competitive graduate research awards and have gone on to prestigious postdoctoral positions. That post-Notre Dame success is not accidental. Dr. Caprio helps guide his students’ research, making sure they develop thorough knowledge of the computational and mathematical tools of the trade that will prepare them for success in postdoctoral research. His doctoral students are also encouraged to interact with outside researchers through external collaborations and extended collaborative visits to other institutions.
Robert Goulding, Ph.D., is the winner of the Dick and Peggy Notebaert Award, which honors a faculty member or administrator who has had a significant impact on graduate studies at Notre Dame. Since 2016, Goulding has been the director of the Graduate Program in History and Philosophy of Science (HPS), and since 2017 the director of the Reilly Center for Science, Technology, and Values, of which HPS is a part. In those roles, he has demonstrated outstanding thoughtfulness and creativity in meeting program-specific challenges and in innovating new support structures for graduate students. These include: creation of the Reilly Center Fellowship, an award allowing top-tier Ph.D. students the opportunity to pursue additional study or research at outside universities in the early stages of their dissertation; building a new concentration within the HPS curricula; attracting additional faculty to HPS; and revamping a weekly student reading group colloquium into a forum focused on presentations and discussions about the work of HPS scholars.
Laura M. Alderfer, Ph.D. candidate from the Graduate Program in Bioengineering is the recipient of the Shaheen Award in Engineering. A bioengineer focused on translational and precision medicine applications, doctoral candidate Laura Alderfer’s groundbreaking work in tissue engineering and lymphatic biology has been honored with numerous awards and accolades, including the prestigious Fulbright fellowship. Her research — including nine peer-reviewed publications in leading international journals — has made field-altering contributions to the scientific understanding of the lymphatic system and has demonstrated a novel in vitro engineering method that could lead to the first long-term treatment for lymphedema, a debilitating disease often associated with cancer treatment and infections which affects 250 million people globally.
Susanna De Stradis ’22 Ph.D. from the Department of History is the recipient of the Shaheen Award in the Humanities. Dr. Susanna De Stradis is an award-winning historian of religion whose widely published scholarly work has upended and reframed traditional understandings of the complex interplay between American Catholicism, democratic values, notions of religious freedom, and mid-twentieth-century Vatican authorities. De Stradis is currently a postdoctoral research associate at the John C. Danforth Center on Religion and Politics at Washington University in St. Louis. Starting in the fall, she will take up an appointment as assistant professor of history at Mississippi State University.
Megan Vahsen, Ph.D. candidate from the Department of Biological Sciences is the recipient of the Shaheen Award in Science. Doctoral candidate Megan Vahsen is an ecologist whose peer-reviewed publication record — including a recent first-author article in Science, one of the world’s preeminent journals — underscores the exceptional nature of her scholarship. Vahsen’s research scales evolutionary processes across genotypes, populations, communities, and ecosystems in the context of global climate change. She has won numerous nationally competitive grants and is currently a postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Wildland Resources at Utah State University.
Luiz Vilaça, Ph.D. candidate from the Department of Sociology is the recipient of the Shaheen Award in the Social Sciences. Considered a rising star in his field, sociologist and doctoral candidate Luiz Vilaça has directed his research toward explaining the causes of anti-corruption prosecutions. His remarkable success in being published — seven publications in total, with several more on the way — underscores the impact that his research has already had on the field of sociology, as well as on public policy. Following graduation, Vilaça will begin a position as a postdoctoral fellow at the Center for Inter-American Policy and Research at Tulane University. In the fall of 2024 he will take up an appointment as assistant professor of sociology at Bowdoin College.
Ester E. Aguirre Alfaro, M.A. candidate from the Department of Romance Languages and Literatures is the winner of the Social Justice Award, given annually to a graduate student in the Notre Dame community who has tackled complex societal issues through his or her scholarship, teaching, and service. Master’s candidate Ester Aguirre Alfaro has demonstrated a tireless commitment to fighting for the marginalized — in particular, immigrants and families from Latin America — both during her master’s program at Notre Dame, and in the years preceding it. She has worked for non-profit groups in Texas to protect and advance the rights of asylum-seeking immigrants at the border and has served as an educator for underserved student populations. While at Notre Dame, Aguirre Alfaro took on a position as assistant project coordinator with the Shaw Center for Families and Children as part of their ongoing Seguimos Avanzando project, one of the largest studies of the Mexican population in the U.S. In this role she recruited families into the study, served as a bilingual assessment coordinator, and assisted in the coding of qualitative interviews about migrant experiences of discrimination and parenting. This fall Aguirre Alfaro will begin a doctoral program in hispanic studies at the University of British Columbia.