As appearing in | By  | March, 2019

CSU graduate students win regional awards for research

The Western Association of Graduate Schools recently recognized two Colorado State University graduate students as exceptional researchers during the organization’s annual membership conference.

Afnan Shazwan Nasaruddin, a Ph.D. student in the Department of Bioagricultural Sciences and Pest Management and Hajar Homayouni, a doctoral student in the Department of Computer Science, both received high honors at the WAGS conference March 3-6 in Tucson, Arizona.

Founded in 1958, WAGS is the regional affiliate of the Council of Graduate Schools, the only U.S. organization dedicated to the advancement of graduate education and research. WAGS members include accredited institutions of higher education that offer master’s and doctoral degrees in the Western U.S., Canada, Mexico and the Pacific Rim.

People’s Choice winner at CSU and in the region

Afnan Shazwan Nasaruddin, who represented CSU at the Grad Slam Competition, received the People’s Choice Award. He advanced to the competition after also winning a People’s Choice award at the Vice President for Research 3 Minute Challenge for his presentation “The Chemical Radar: Bacterial Chemotaxis.”

Nasaruddin and his 16 competitors in the Grad Slam Competition, all top presenters from their respective institutions, described their research in just three minutes and used only one static slide. Nasaruddin’s presentation outlined how he seeks to reduce potato losses due to soft-rot bacteria, specifically from a bacterial family known as Pectobacteriaceae. His research on pathogenicity and virulence of Dickeya dianthicola, which caused a major outbreak in the U.S. in 2014, is conducted in the lab of Amy O. Charkowski, professor and department head of Bioagricultural Sciences and Pest Management.

Nasaruddin’s research findings may spur further research for using chemotaxis against soft-rot bacteria for the sustainable management of the disease.

“Afnan represented CSU proudly,” said Mary Stromberger, dean of the Graduate School. “He is a great science communicator and is truly deserving of these recognitions.”

As a non-native English speaker, Nasaruddin said he initially went into the competitions self-conscious about public speaking. He said that his self-confidence grew after receiving the award and support from his fellow students and advisers.

“The experiences I gained will help me improve my skills in public science communication and make me more confident in putting myself out there,” Nasaruddin said. “These experiences inspire me to do more in communicating science to the public.”

Nasaruddin, who was named as a 2019-20 Vice President for Research Fellow in February, is next slated to participate in the first statewide three-minute talk competition hosted by the Colorado Council of Graduate Schools. The challenge engages politicians and administrators in conversations about graduate education and research. He also plans to continue his public outreach to elementary and high school students through the What’s Eating My Plants? plant pathology outreach group.

Outstanding thesis award

Hajar Homayouni, a doctoral student in the Department of Computer Science, also was honored at the awards luncheon, where she received the 2018-19 WAGS & ProQuest Award for Distinguished Master’s Thesis and a $1,000 cash prize.

Homayouni, who earned her master’s degree in computer science from CSU in 2018, took home the honor in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics category.

Her master’s thesis, “An Approach for Testing the Extract-Transform-load Process in Data Warehouse Systems,” was recognized for its originality, significance, quality and outcomes.