Day: June 7, 2017

Doctoral Finishing Fellowships Summer 2017 Recipient Colin Phifer

Colin Phifer
Forest Science

Colin Phifer2
What does interdisciplinary mean? For Colin Phifer, a PhD student at Michigan Technological University, it has meant working with the wildlife ecologists he is used to as well as learning the methods and terminology of social scientists, hydrologists, soil scientists and engineers all working on the same questions but from different angles. For the past 4 years, Colin has been one of the over 130 members of an international, interdisciplinary team studying the socio-ecological effects of bioenergy development in four countries (Argentina, Brazil, Mexico and United States). Funded by the National Science Foundation’s Partnerships in International Research and Education program (PIRE), Colin’s research focuses on how land-use change associated with bioenergy development influences native bees, birds and ecosystem services while other PIRE team members examine water, soil, and social and policy impacts. After surveying for both native bees and birds in three of the countries, he is now applying ecosystem service modeling to understand trade-offs with multiple ecosystem services and land-use change.

Colin completed his MSc at the University of Hawaii in conservation biology and his BS from Humboldt State University in California. From bats to birds, plants to pollinators, gibbons to whales, Colin has worked in the US and abroad to conserve biodiversity and provide for human well-being. He wants his work to lead to actionable, impactful science and informed decision-making.

The Finishing Fellowship granted by The Graduate School in spring of 2017 has supported Colin in completing his part of the larger project. When not working, he enjoys cooking, reading a good (science fiction) book, and playing hockey with his son.

Doctoral Finishing Fellowships Summer 2017 Recipient Bryan Freyberg

Bryan Freyberg
Mathematical Sciences

Bryan Freyberg and his wife left tenured teaching jobs in Northern Minnesota four years ago so that Bryan could continue his mathematics education at the highest level at Michigan Tech. His research is in the area of graph theory, the study of graphs used to model the relationships between objects. An example would be designing sporting tournaments in which the strengths and schedules of the teams have certain properties. You can use this information to construct handicap tournaments designed to help the underdog teams to make the odds more fair. As a Minnesotan, he feels obligated to specialize in these kind of tournaments.

Bryan and his wife are adventure seekers and have converted a local rural hunting camp to an off-grid “yurtstead.” They gather water from the creek, harness electricity from the sun, and heat the yurt with wood from their property. The Finishing Fellowship granted by the Graduate School will help Bryan not only to finish his dissertation this summer, but ensure that it meets the high standard he sets for himself. In addition, it will help the family with undertaking the next adventure: the addition if a new family member this summer!

Doctoral Finishing Fellowships Summer 2017 Recipient Chathura Gunasekara

Chathura Gunasekara
PhD Candidate in Computational Science and Engineering Program
School of Forest Resource and Environmental Science


Before Chathura started his Ph.D., he did his undergraduate degree in University of Colombo, Sri Lanka, majoring in Computational Physics. He has always been interested in interdisciplinary research, where computational techniques are used to solve tough scientific challenges. He discovered his lifelong career in Bioinformatics, when he joined the lab of Dr. Hairong Wei in 2013. His current research is in plant systems biology and bioinformatics, specifically, identifying genetic regulatory networks.

Plants will always be a vital component in every living species including humans. With the increasing human population, there is an increasing necessity to harness the limited resources to produce enough food from crop plants or timber from economical plants. The recent technological advances in genetics, genomics, and ergonomics have made promising discoveries that we can improve the yield but thanks to the advances in computing capabilities in terms of hardware and software. In recent years, the field of biology has transformed from data scarce discipline to a big data discipline and has become increasingly depended on computational approaches. In his research, he focused on several key areas of this computational challenge and developed solutions which were highly successful.

Being an international student, who worked as a research assistant to support his Ph.D. studies, the finishing fellowship awarded to him from the Graduate School will allow him to completely dedicate his final semester to writing his Ph.D. dissertation and prepare publications to share his research findings to the scientific community. Chathura plans the next phase of his career by joining a high impact research laboratory as a post-doctoral researcher.

Doctoral Finishing Fellowships Summer 2017 Recipient Mohammad Reza Amini

Mohammad Reza Amini
Mechanical Engineering-Engineering Mechanics


Mohammad Reza’s main Ph.D. research objective is to develop novel model-based control theories for nonlinear dynamic systems to improve the performance of the traditional controller design techniques against different sources of uncertainties. He is designing and applying these new controllers to different automotive applications in real-time, to improve the vehicle fuel economy and drivability, and minimize the engine-out emissions.