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2021-2022 Dissertation Fellows

In the Spring 2021 semester the Graduate School introduced new recognition for doctoral students who had attained Dissertator status. The Dissertator Fellowship is to recognize excellence in research promise as students enter the final phase of their doctoral program. The award consists of a stipend and full tuition waiver to allow awardees to focus on completing their dissertation work and their final document.

Tessa Espinosa

Tessa Espinosa

  • College of Performing and Visual Arts, Music: Voice Performance D.A. program with a secondary emphasis in Music Theory
  • Mentor: Melissa Malde, D.M.A.
  • Dissertation Title: “Ici on Chante en Français: Giving a Voice to Cajun Culture”

Tessa Espinosa is currently on staff at Front Range Community College where she directs the choir and teaches private voice, music appreciation and music theory. She is a Louisiana native with Cajun ancestry.

Tessa’s initial project involved interviewing Cajun people from Pierre Part, Lousiana, and transcribing the folk songs they sang for me. During this project, she noticed that it was male driven after interviewing Mona Dugas and hearing her experiences as performer and songwriter.

The focus of Tessa’s project has shifted to include women’s contribution to the research of Cajun music and culture and to include Mona Dugas’ personal Cajun songs that have never been transcribed before.

David Lyons

David Lyons

  • College of Natural and Health Sciences, Biological Education Ph.D. program
  • Mentor: Nicholas Pullen, Ph.D.
  • Dissertation Title: “Characterizing the Proinflammatory Role of Mast Cells Outside of Allergy – Trained Immunity and Atypical Activation"

David’s research aims to describe non-allergic stimulation of mast cells in an effort to characterize mast cells as potent inflammatory regulators throughout the body. Mast cells are of particular interest in this model because these immune cells (unlike most other immune cell types) are present in virtually all tissues in the body and mast cells in different tissues behave differently from one another

David’s work builds on preliminary data generated in mentor Nicholas Pullen’s lab before David joined the lab. Mast cells are popularly thought of as immune cells that only mediate allergic responses. Early experiments studied an immunosuppressive cytokine which normally decreases immune cell function. However, preliminary data demonstrated a stimulatory effect of this protein on mast cells, suggesting that there was a way mast cells could be activated and induce inflammation outside of allergic responses. This finding led David down the path of understanding how mast cells can elicit inflammatory responses and coordinate with other immune cells in a novel manner.

David’s work demonstrates that mast cells have multiple pathways of activation that are unique from the typical allergic activation pathway. Each pathway responds to different stimuli and utilizes different receptors signaling pathways to elicit their responses.

David’s model depicts the mast cell as the “lynchpin” of tissue inflammation. Under this new paradigm of non-allergic mast cell activation, mast cells are now implicated in the pathogenesis of various chronic inflammatory diseases such as Ulcerative Colitis, Crohn’s Disease and even cancer (mast cells were originally discovered around a breast cancer tumor). By targeting mast cell activity, this would stop an inflammatory “vicious cycle” that mast cells can instigate in a localized manner.

By understanding how mast cells can potentially induce pathogenic inflammation in disease states, David and Dr. Pullen hope to develop therapeutic treatments that aim to target the mast cells to inhibit a source of tissue resident inflammation.

Preventing/reducing this initial inflammation is critical to reshaping the tissue environment to limit the involvement of other immune cells which typically will exacerbate the inflammation and tissue damage in an attempt to protect the body. This approach will limit tissue damage to the host and can promote a “proper” immune response in the presence of pathogens

David was born and raised in Arizona before moving to Colorado to attend grad school at UNC. He graduated from the University of Arizona with an undergraduate degree in Molecular and Cellular Biology as well as a degree in Japanese Language. David studied abroad for a year in Japan.

Erin McEvoy

Erin McEvoy

  • College of Education and Behavioral Sciences, Counseling Psychology Ph.D. program
  • Mentor: Stephen Wright, Ph.D.
  • Dissertation Title: “Post 9/11 Military Spouse Caregivers: A Descriptive Phenomenological Study”

Erin McEvoy is a fifth-year student in the Counseling Psychology Ph.D. program. She is currently on internship with the Cheyenne Veterans Affairs Healthcare System in southern Wyoming and northern Colorado. Her internship is currently focused on evidence-based practices for PTSD and SUDs (substance use disorders) doing individual and group therapy, consultation and assessments with veterans from all service areas. 

Erin’s research interests are focused on issues facing the military and veteran community and their families. Her dissertation is a qualitative phenomenological study of military spouses who become caregivers for their service member partners injured in the post-9/11 service era. The aim of the study was to center the voices of military spouse caregivers to provide helping professionals, policymakers and American citizens with explanations of the barriers to care these individuals face and how best to support them.

A social justice perspective was taken throughout the research process, amplifying the voices of the participants and focusing on what they believe are the issues they are facing and supports that would best serve them. Erin employed a semi-structured interviews with spouses, focused on the identity transformation from military spouse to caregiver. The data were analyzed using a descriptive phenomenological approach.

Erin is the spouse of a veteran, a mother of three and happy to be living in “Colorful Colorado.” She enjoys time outdoors hiking, paddle boarding and fishing with her family and her dog, Jude.

She received a B.A. in Psychology from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and an M.S. in Mental Health Counseling from the University of Nebraska-Omaha.

Erin’s career goal is to work as a psychologist for the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).