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Graduate Fellows

VIDL Graduate Fellows for 2017-2018:


Ibrahim Ahmed is a 2 nd year student in the Electrical Engineering MS/PhD program at the Vanderbilt School of Engineering. His Masters research is in artificial intelligence applications.  He is advised by Dr. Gautam Biswas. Ibrahim’s current project is the study of adaptive fault-tolerant control systems using reinforcement learning. Essentially, a model of a problem is created where each action has a reward. The model learns to pursue actions with the best long-term benefits in the presence of unexpected changes in the environment. This can help alleviate burden on human operators in time critical scenarios. For example, piloting a plane with a leaking fuel tank. Ibrahim is interested in simplifying digital learning of complex concepts via interactive, web-based data visualizations.


Ashlyn Karan is a PhD student in the Department of Teaching and Learning. Her research explores the use of programming and computer science to support math and science learning in K-12 classrooms. Before starting her PhD, Ashlyn spent several years teaching math and science in Metro Nashville Public Schools. In addition to her work at Vanderbilt, she continues to support Nashville teachers at Relay Graduate School of Education.

Zachary Feldman

Cynthia Porter

Noah Robinson

Noah Robinson



Kellie Cavagnaro is a Ph.D. student in the Department of Anthropology. Her research uses multimedia ethnographic data collection to examine the relationships between globalization and ecological perspective among indigenous populations of the Peruvian Andes, examining their interpretations of ecological crises and resource endangerment through the lens of their resistance efforts and spiritual practices. She is developing a digital dissertation project that will incorporate documentary footage, digital interviews and infographics, and will be working as a 2016-2017 VIDL Fellow to establish a Vanderbilt online learning community and writing group for scholars focused on digital dissertations. In collaboration with the new Digital Humanities Media Lab being built on campus, she will also be creating an online Vanderbilt social media forum exploring the question, how does it work to produce a multi modal dissertation? This will involve bringing in her experiences from the field and engaging important ethical debates about the use of videography and audio interviews of potentially sensitive subjects, including discussion about the humane use of imagery, encoding issues, and field logistics for digital and visual anthropology. Kellie was a 2015-2016 HASTAC scholar for Humanities, Tennessee, and during her tenure, she curated her first digital exhibit in Scalar and presented at the National HASTAC Conference on The Emergence and Implications of Multi-Modal Dissertations.

  Brandy Daniels is a PhD candidate in Religion and a Fellow in the Program in Theology and Practice. Her research explores the methodological and ethical frameworks of formation and(/of) identity in Christian theology and practice, focusing in particular on how Christian identity is articulated in relation to gender and sexual identities. As a VIDL fellow, Brandy is interested in exploring how digital learning can be a resource for underserved, non-traditional, first-generation, minority, and/or other marginalized students, particularly in how it can be a tool for building community and connections, and hopes to pursue these questions through a dual-focus on theological education and on PhD candidates not in residency. 

  Dan Miller Dan Miller is a PhD candidate in the Department of Psychological Sciences. His research investigates the organization and plasticity of sensory systems in primates by quantitatively evaluating the cellular composition of different regions of the brain across species or following trauma to the nervous system. Dan is currently working with his advisor, Dr. Jon H Kaas, on the VIDL macrogrant project Learning Anatomy through Digital Platforms , which seeks to leverage the advantages of digital tools to enhance learning outcomes in an online training environment. In particular, he is interested in evaluating the efficacy of digital tools to communicate and provide feedback to students learning the principles and best practices of modern neuroanatomical research. For example, in addition to providing access to multimedia tutorial materials, Dan is interested in “gamifying” the process of using morphology to distinguish cell types in the brain so that students receive real-time feedback on performance. As a VIDL fellow, Dan is exploring how digital tools impact student learning, and how researchers might leverage this process to increase undergraduate involvement in scientific research.

  Kyle Romero, Ben Skinner, Nadeja Webb


Max Baumkel is a second year PhD student in the English Department at Vanderbilt University.  His research focuses on contemporary literature and digital media that shape our cultural understanding of disability, animality, and transgender embodiment.  Max hopes to explore the ways that digital pedagogy can facilitate broader access for disabled students in the literature and writing classroom, as well as improving access to online resources about Universal Design in higher education classrooms and pedagogy for faculty and graduate teaching assistants at Vanderbilt.  

Tim Foster is a Ph.D. student in the Department of Spanish and Portuguese. His thesis research examines the role of music and literature in the rhetoric of conquest in Early Modern Spain. Tim has worked as a Graduate Affiliate in the Vanderbilt Center for Second Language Studies where he participated in a variety of Digital Humanities initiatives including a group encoding of literary texts through the Text Encoding Initiative (TEI). He was a 2014-2015 HASTAC scholar where he implemented a Wikipedia article composition in his foreign-language class and built an interactive map based on his research on the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage. Tim is interested in researching digital pedagogies in the language-learning classroom and the relationship between technology and study abroad.

Qiliang He is a Ph.D. candidate in the Cognition and Cognitive Neuroscience program with a graduate minor in Quantitative Method. Using virtual reality as the main research tool, his research focuses on studying how people acquire spatial knowledge during navigation and how people represent and update the surrounding objects under different locomotion modes. Qiliang is a heavy online course taker himself, completing more than 10 online courses concentrating on data science and computer programing. In terms of digital learning, he is interested to learn what constitutes a good online learning course and how it differs from the traditional classroom learning. He hopes the statistical and data science knowledge accrued throughout the graduate study can shed light on these issues.

Stacey Houston, II is a third year doctoral student in the Department of Sociology. His master’s research examined the effects of maternal alcoholism on children’s later educational attainment. He is currently involved in two projects funded by the National Science Foundation designed to examine the factors that contribute to the underrepresentation of African-Americans in engineering faculty positions. Through his future work, Stacey is interested in understanding the contexts in which teaching and learning in higher education occur. As a VIDL fellow, he hopes to understand how digital technologies facilitate the spread of diverse knowledge and ideas. He intends to assess whether and how engagement in an online collaborative community model of teaching and learning is associated with increased levels of (diverse) knowledge production and consumption.

Kylie Korsnack is a Ph.D. candidate in the English Department studying postcolonial theory and contemporary world literature.  Her research traces the effects of contemporary globalization on literary form and genre, and she has a special interest in the development of and intersections between mainstream science fiction and the category of literature often referred to as “Postcolonial Science Fiction.” Alongside her literary scholarship, Kylie also conducts research related to rhetoric and composition and the scholarship of teaching and learning (SoTL). Specifically, her work in this area explores how different technological platforms and/or innovations can be used to enhance student learning.  Her current project examines how writing teachers might use technological metaphors to reimagine their own pedagogical practices and ultimately develop new paradigms for teaching academic writing.

Gabriela Leon-Perez is a PhD student in the Department of Sociology and a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Health Policy Fellow. 

Her research focuses on issues pertaining to health disparities and international migration. Her master’s thesis examined the use of Mexican health care services by residents of a community on the U.S.-Mexico border. Her current research explores the health transitions of immigrants in the United States and whether social context is related to changes in health. She is also collaborating on a Vanderbilt Medical Center grant, studying the physical and mental health of heart disease patients during and after hospitalization. As a VIDL fellow, Gabriela is interested in exploring the challenges and opportunities posed by the use of digital learning technologies by international students.


Sandra Arch is a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Sociology.  Supported by a Vanderbilt Dissertation Enhancement Grant and Sociology Department Small Research Grant, her dissertation research examines meanings of work and the formation of community in post-bureaucratic organizations, in particular co-working spaces.  Sandra is interested in the future of work and the ways in which digital technologies connect people offline and facilitate in-person interactions.  Through her fellowship with VIDL, she hopes to investigate how digital technologies might foster collaboration, intellectual community, and productive dialogue among students.

Bradley Kiddie is a Ph.D. student in the Electrical Engineering and Computer Science Department under the mentorship of Dr. William H. Robinson. His research as part of the Radiation Effects and Reliability group focus on the effects of radiation in space and other harsh environments on the operation of electronic circuits, and how new technologies can be designed to withstand or mitigate those effects. In his undergraduate thesis, Brad explored connections between philosophy and engineering design and the implications these have on technology development. Understanding the intense specificity of many of today’s research fields, he is interested in seeing how digital learning can be used to encourage more collaboration between engineering and the humanities, for richer results within both areas.

Zoe LeBlanc is a Doctoral Candidate in the Department of History at Vanderbilt University. Her dissertation examines the relationships between pan-Arabism and pan-Africanism in the late 1950s and 1960s. Zoe’s research interests include 20th century diplomatic history of the United States and the Arab World, American Protestant missionaries in the Third World after 1945, and the history of modern Islamic international organizations and Islamic law. Zoe is also focused on researching the best practices of digital pedagogy in Higher Education, especially around the use of geospatial tools; social media; and online databases and exhibits in the classroom. Zoe is a Vanderbilt HASTAC alumni and her research is supported by the Canadian Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council. For information about Zoe’s projects, please visit her website at or follow her on twitter @Zoe_LeBlanc.

Kathleen McKissack is entering her second year in Vanderbilt’s M.Ed program in International Education Policy and Management.  While earning her BA in Psychology from Clemson University, she spent a semester living and working in rural Uganda with a community-based NGO, and is ultimately interested in working on education initiatives in sub-Saharan Africa. Kathleen is most interested in the potential of digital learning to: 1) foster personalized learning experiences for students of all ages, 2) expand access to educational materials utilizing the ubiquity of cell phones (mLearning), and 3) change the nature of collaboration and access to social capital for disadvantaged youth.  Her previous work experience in education includes time with the Louisiana Department of Education, the Clayton Christensen Institute for Disruptive Innovation, and Worldreader.


Bradley J. Daugherty is a Ph.D. candidate studying religion with a focus on the thought and practice of early Christians, particularly the Christians of Roman North Africa. His current research explores the diversity of understandings of clerical office among western Christians in the fourth and fifth centuries. A former Lilly Faculty Fellow in Theological Education, Brad is interested in the opportunities and challenges that online and digital learning present for theological education and for the study of religion more broadly. He is also interested in the use of digital technologies in classroom teaching - both in expanding his own repertoire of teaching tools and in exploring strategies for introducing colleagues to the use of digital technology in teaching. Brad is also a 2013-2014 HASTAC scholar, a community of students working at the intersection of technology and the arts, humanities and science.

Amanda Doody is a Ph.D. candidate studying organic chemistry under the mentorship of Dr. Jeffrey N. Johnston. Her studies focus on the use of new reaction methodologies for the total synthesis of natural products and natural product analogs of biological importance and interesting structure. Amanda is interested in the creation and application of computer adaptive modules for skill development in the physical and natural sciences, particularly Organic Chemistry, which is a course that reaches students of many different majors within the School of Arts & Sciences and School of Engineering. Through the use of computer adaptive modules and digital technology, she hopes to create a personalized learning environment for both traditional and digital classrooms.

Laura Hieber is a first year Ph.D. candidate in the Clinical Psychology department under mentorship of Dr. Sohee Park.  Her research focuses on severe mental illness, particularly psychosis, and the cognitive and social processes implicated by the disorder.  She hopes to use digital technology to address mental health needs on campus in designing a potential widespread virtual intervention methods and training programs for stress reduction and improve well-being among students at Vanderbilt. Additionally she is interested in utilizing innovative techniques such as web apps to probe their experiences more deeply and individually to better understand the underlying issues that would be addressed most beneficially. A video report of Laura's research is here.

Please see the Graduate Fellows Program page for information on how to apply.