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Five UT doctoral students have been named Tennessee Doctoral Fellows. These prestigious awards are funded by the Tennessee Higher Education Commission and UT’s Graduate School.

Tennessee Doctoral Fellows are chosen every three years; this is only the second group of fellows at UT.

The recipients, all Tennessee residents, were chosen from nominations made by departments across campus. The three-year awards consist of an annual $20,000 fellowship, a 25 percent assistantship in the student’s home department, a tuition waiver, and a $2,500 educational allowance to fund conference travel or other academic expenses.

THEC funding covers the cost for three of the new fellows; Graduate School endowments cover the other two.

The fellows enjoy networking and professional development opportunities. In addition, each is paired with a faculty mentor who will work with them toward successful completion of their degree.

The new Tennessee Doctoral Fellows are:

Marcia Chavez, psychology

A third-year PhD student in experimental psychology who will graduate in May 2023, Chavez works in Assistant Professor Kalynn Schulz’s Neurobiology of Mental Illness Lab, where she studies the role testosterone and estrogen exposure at puberty plays in mental health. Chavez, of Bakersfield, California, completed her bachelor’s degree in psychology at California State University, Bakersfield. She earned her master’s degree in psychological science from California State University, San Marcos.

Julian Cosner, entomology and plant pathology

Cosner, who begins his PhD studies this fall in plant sciences, will focus on pest management for the industrial hemp industry in the southeastern United States. Hemp is a newly emerging market in the state; the 2018 Farm Bill legalized the production of hemp as an agricultural commodity, removed it from the list of controlled substances, and also listed it as a covered commodity under crop insurance. His faculty mentor is Professor Jerome Grant. Cosner, from the Fountain City area of Knoxville, earned his bachelor’s degree in plant sciences from UT in 2016.

Nadya Vera, sociology

Nadya Vera begins her doctoral studies this fall in sociology. Her interests include animals and society, collective behavior and social movements, and the sociology of emotions. She aspires to work in academia. Her faculty mentor is Associate Professor Stephanie Bohon. Born in Puerto Rico and raised in Miami, Florida, Vera has a bachelor’s degree in theater arts from Florida International University. She has a master’s degree in mass communications from the University of Florida in Gainesville and a master’s degree in sociology from UT. She has worked in media relations at the Humane Society of the United States in Washington, DC, and as an environmental public health educator for the Washington County Department of Health and Human Services in Hillsboro, Oregon.

Maria Virginia White, chemistry

Maria Virginia White is a second-year PhD student who expects to complete her degree in quantum chemistry in another four years. She wants to teach chemistry and physics. Her faculty mentor is Assistant Professor Konstantinos Vogiatzis. White’s family moved from Argentina to Miami, Florida, when she was nine. She attended Volunteer State Community College in Gallatin, Tennessee, and then completed her bachelor’s degree at Austin Peay State University in Clarksville, Tennessee.

Sa’Nealdra Wiggins, nutrition

Wiggins is a fourth-year doctoral student in nutrition scheduled to graduate in May 2021. Her research involves implementing a dietary intervention with mothers in hopes of improving the dietary quality of their adolescent daughters. Her faculty mentor is Sarah Colby, associate professor of nutrition. Wiggins aspires to be a registered dietitian and work as a governmental program director or stay in academia. She was born in Frankfurt, Germany, and raised in Clarksville, Tennessee.




Amy Blakely (865-974-5034,

Sean Hendricks (865-974-7521,