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University of Iowa News Release


March 26, 2009

UI Graduate College awards dissertation prizes

The University of Iowa Graduate College has awarded its most prestigious dissertation prizes: the D.C. Spriestersbach Dissertation Prize, the Graduate Dean's Distinguished Dissertation Award and the L.B. Sims Outstanding Masters Thesis Award.

Four scholars will be formally recognized for their exemplary research as graduate students on Friday, March 27, at a ceremony on the UI campus. The event will be held in conjunction with the James F. Jakobsen Graduate Research Forum, organized by the Graduate Student Senate.

Jessica S. Horst (psychology) and Veronique Ziegler (physics and astronomy) will receive top doctoral honors with the D.C. Spriestersbach Dissertation Prize. Each will receive $2,500 along with a Graduate College award certificate. The dissertations of Jonas Baltrusaitis (chemistry) and Andriy Norets (economics) will be honored with the Graduate College Dean's Distinguished Dissertation Award. Katherine Furgol (statistics) won the L.B. Sims Outstanding Master's Thesis Award.

Horst, who earned her doctorate in psychology and developmental science in 2007, won the Spriestersbach Prize in the Social Sciences for her dissertation, "Turning Novel Names into Known Names: Understanding Referent Selection and Retention in 24-Month-Old Children and Neural Networks," supervised by Larissa K. Samuelson, assistant professor of psychology. Horst won the nation's most prestigious honor for doctoral dissertations in 2008, the Council of Graduate Schools (CGS)/UMI Distinguished Dissertation Award. She also won the 2008 American Psychological Association Dissertation Award in Developmental Psychology. She is currently an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Sussex, U.K.

Ziegler earned her doctorate in physics and astronomy in 2007. She won the Spriestersbach Prize in Mathematics, Physical Sciences and Engineering for her dissertation, "Hyperon and Hyperon Resonance Properties from Charm Baryon Decay at BaBar," supervised by Usha Mallik, professor of physics. Ziegler is currently a postdoctoral research associate at the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory in Menlo Park, Calif.

Baltrusaitis, having earned his doctorate in chemistry in 2007, won the Graduate Dean's Distinguished Dissertation Award in Mathematics, Physical Sciences and Engineering for his dissertation, "Experimental and Theoretical Studies of the Adsorption of Atmospherically Relevant Gases on Metal Oxide and Carbonate Surfaces," supervised by Vicki H. Grassian, professor of chemistry. Baltrusaitis is currently a postdoctoral research fellow at the UI's Department of Chemistry and Central Microscopy Research Facility.

Norets earned his doctorate in economics in 2007. He won the Dean's Distinguished Dissertation Award in the Social Sciences for his dissertation, "Bayesian Inference in Dynamic Discrete Choice Models" supervised by John Geweke, Harlan E. McGregor Chair in Economic Theory in the departments of Statistics and Actuarial Science and Economics. Norets is currently an assistant professor in economics at Princeton University, N.J.

Furgol, who earned her master's degree in 2008 and is currently pursuing a doctorate in educational measurement and statistics, won the L.B. Sims Award for her thesis, "Trend Estimation Under NCLB: A Novel Method for Estimating Trends from Censored Assessment Data," supervised by Dale Zimmerman, professor of statistics and actuarial science, and Andrew Ho, assistant professor in the College of Education.

The Spriestersbach Prizes are awarded annually on a rotating basis in two of four broad disciplinary areas: humanities and the fine arts, mathematical and physical sciences, biological sciences, and social sciences. They were created by and are named for D.C. Spriestersbach, dean of the Graduate College from 1965-1989 and UI vice president emeritus for educational development and research. He founded a prize he hoped would "serve as tangible evidence -- as 'gold standards' -- of the outstanding work of which graduate students are capable and to which all others should aspire."

Winners of the Spriestersbach Prize also become the UI's nominees for the Council of Graduate Schools/University Microfilms International Distinguished Dissertation Award. Winners of the Spriestersbach Prize have fared exceptionally well in the national competition. Iowa has the greatest number of national winners, with five. Horst's win broke the UI's tie with Yale, which has four. Ohio State and Princeton rank next, with three winners each since the inauguration of the national competition in 1981. Twelve other Iowa nominees have been finalists in the national competition.

Graduate College Dean John Keller said the success of Iowa's candidates in the national competition is a tribute to the high standards of excellence met by doctoral research conducted at this university.

For more information about current and past dissertations award winners, as well as information about recognition for excellence in graduate education at the UI, visit

For details on the Jakobsen Research Conference visit

STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa News Services, 300 Plaza Centre One, Suite 371, Iowa City, Iowa 52242-2500

MEDIA CONTACT: Nicole Riehl, University News Services, 319-384-0070,