Three graduate students honored with Distinguished Master’s Thesis Award

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Three Penn State graduate students — Vasiliy Lakoba, Andrew Morris and Shanti Nachtergaele — have been awarded the Distinguished Master’s Thesis Award. The award recognizes excellence in master’s-level thesis research in any of the disciplinary areas of fine arts and humanities; social sciences – applied and basic; physical and computational sciences – applied and basic; life and health sciences; and engineering.

A master’s student in landscape architecture with a dual title in human dimensions of natural resources and the environment, Lakoba has titled his thesis “Planning for Sustainable Forest Restoration: The Case Study of Hartley Wood at The Arboretum at Penn State.” Lakoba seeks to address questions that correspond to each of three aspects of sustainable ecological restoration: ecological, social and economical.

One nominator wrote, “In this project, Lakoba combines ecological considerations with people’s attitudes and beliefs toward ecological restoration in order to understand how ecological restoration projects can be successfully planned and implemented.”

Lakoba is hopeful that the results of his research will “lead to a holistic understanding of the ecological and social challenges, along with associated costs, of the next 50 years of restoration in Hartley Wood.” 

He contends that “by pioneering interdisciplinary approaches such as this one, landscape architects can implement the social and ecological components of restoration as a unified process.”

Morris, a master’s student in soil science, is conducting research that evaluates the impact of cover crop interseeding, specifically as it relates to nitrogen losses. His research compares two agricultural systems: the traditional cover cropping practice and the interseeded system. 

His work will advance understanding of how management practices like tillage and cover crops can shift microbial communities that produce nitrogen pollutants such as nitrous oxide.

As described by his adviser, Morris’ research “focuses on one of the Grand Challenges in agriculture: how can we produce ample food for a growing population without increasing environmental pollution.”

Morris has stated that improving “our understanding of factors that influence nitrogen losses, as well as the biological processes that produce those compounds … will allow farmers and policymakers to better predict and manage soil nitrogen losses to improve environmental outcomes, and ensure the economic success of communities impacted by agriculture.”

Nachtergaele is a master’s student in music. In her thesis, she examines “18th- and 19th-century sources to determine the methods by which bass players modified their notated parts — during performances — either for ease of execution or for stylistic reasons.”

While identifying Nachtergaele’s thesis as the first comprehensive study of this topic, one nominator wrote, “Integrating musicology and performance practice perspectives, her thesis promises to make a real contribution to our understanding of historical approaches to the instrument.”

Nachtergaele has noted that her intention is to “provide a better understanding” of the evolution of double bass reductions, “including how the performance practice relates to compositional and notational conventions.”

In the conclusion to her thesis, she discusses "practical implications for modern performers,” with the goal that her research will benefit her own double-bass playing and impact historically-informed performance.

The three students were honored during the annual Graduate Student Awards Luncheon held on April 18 at the Nittany Lion Inn. 

Last Updated April 26, 2017