Graduate Students Receive National Institutes of Health Fellowships

Two University of Texas at Dallas graduate students have received fellowships from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to support their training as they transition into careers as independent research scientists.

Sara Benham, a communication sciences and disorders doctoral student in the School of Behavioral and Brain Sciences, and Alexandra Arteaga, a biomedical engineering graduate student in the Erik Jonsson School of Engineering and Computer Science, were each selected for the highly competitive NIH F31 grants. The awards include up to five years of support for mentored research training while the students pursue their doctoral degrees.

Sara Benham

Both students also were recently named Eugene McDermott Graduate Fellows at UT Dallas.

Benham’s grant, the Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service Award (NRSA) Individual Predoctoral Fellowship, was received through the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders. Benham’s research, under the mentorship of Dr. Lisa Goffman, the Nelle C. Johnston Chair in Communication Disorders in Children, focuses on early speech production, particularly in preschoolers with developmental language disorder.

“I’ll be using multiple methods to assess children’s speech production that draw from phonological theory, speech acoustics and kinematics, as well as network science, to describe the regularities and irregularities in their speech production,” Benham said. “To better understand how speech production variability develops, I’m collecting data from 2-year-olds with typical language and 4-year-olds with and without developmental language disorder.”

McDermott Fellows

In addition to receiving fellowships from the National Institutes of Health, Sara Benham and Alexandra Arteaga also have been named Eugene McDermott Graduate Fellows at UT Dallas.

The Eugene McDermott Graduate Fellows Program is designed to prepare outstanding doctoral students for careers in leading research enterprises. Applicants to UT Dallas’ research-intensive doctoral programs are automatically considered for the fellowship. For more information, visit its website.

Benham said prior work from the Goffman lab has demonstrated that children with developmental language disorder are often highly variable when producing new words — meaning they produce the same word multiple ways. Scientists don’t understand why their productions are so varied or what other factors contribute to speech production differences.

“I will examine how speech production variability influences children’s learning with the end goal of determining whether there is a shared mechanism of impairment that affects both the speech and language domains. If so, we could affect the way speech-language pathologists diagnose and treat developmental language disorder in a clinical setting,” Benham said. “I’m really honored to have received this distinction and know that it will set me up for a productive career.”

Arteaga received the Ruth L. Kirschstein NRSA Individual Predoctoral Fellowship to Promote Diversity in Health-Related Research through the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. The program’s intent is to increase the number of scientists from diverse population groups who are pursuing careers in biomedical, behavioral, social, clinical or health services research.

“This fellowship is a huge opportunity for me to create something that can potentially help people in the future,” Arteaga said. “I want to make orthopedic and dental implants more successful for diabetic patients, and this funding opportunity will allow us to conduct this research.”

Alexandra Arteaga

Arteaga is trying to establish a correlation between the amount of decay of an implant surface and the environment to which the implant was exposed. The overall goal is to understand surface properties, morphological features and failure modes of implants removed from diabetic patients.

“The implants that we’ll be looking at are retrieved implants from previous diabetic patients,” Arteaga said. “We will be looking at a variety of implant designs, from fracture augmentation screws and pins to other devices such as hip and knee implants.”

The fellowship also will allow her to continue her work toward her doctoral degree with mentor Dr. Danieli Rodrigues, assistant professor of bioengineering.

“The clinical outcome of orthopedic procedures in diabetic patients is less than optimal, with a high rate of complications, which often result in lower limb amputations,” Rodrigues said. “Because of the increasing incidence of diabetes worldwide, there is an urgent need for strategies for the early and enhanced biological fixation of implants in diabetic patients, including new materials and new surface treatments. With this pre-doctoral fellowship, Alexandra will investigate the impact of this important clinical condition on implant surface properties using a large collection of retrieved orthopedic devices from John Peter Smith Hospital in Fort Worth.”

Media Contact: The Office of Media Relations, UT Dallas, (972) 883-2155, [email protected].