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Doctoral students in the College selected as Self Graduate Fellows

Thursday, September 20, 2012

LAWRENCE — Three doctoral students in the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences have been selected to receive the University of Kansas’ prestigious Madison and Lila Self Graduate Fellowship as they begin the 2012-2013 academic year. The 28 current Self Graduate Fellows are among 140 students who have benefited from the fellowship since it was established.

Self Graduate Fellowships are four-year awards to new or first-year doctoral students who demonstrate leadership, initiative and a passion for achievement. The fellowship covers full tuition and fees, provides a $29,000 annual payment to new fellows and includes a unique development program. The Fellow Development Program provides general education and training in communication, management and leadership to assist Self Fellows in preparation for future leadership roles, complementing the specialized education and training provided in doctoral programs.

The fellowship’s mission is to identify and recruit exceptional doctoral students who demonstrate the promise to make significant contributions to their fields of study and society as a whole.

Madison "Al" and Lila Self of Hinsdale, Ill., launched and permanently endowed the Self Graduate Fellowship in 1989, motivated by their strong belief in the vital importance of developing leadership for tomorrow. Madison Self is a 1943 KU graduate in chemical engineering. Lila Self is a native of Eudora and attended KU with the Class of 1943.

The new Self Graduate Fellows in the College:

Blair Benson, geology, has an innate curiosity for blending geophysics and archaeology to develop noninvasive techniques for identifying and excavating archeological sites. She spent three summers working for the National Park Service’s Midwest Archeological Center, Lincoln, Neb., and has worked at several National Parks across the Midwest, including Hopewell Culture National Park, Ohio; Knife River Indian Villages, North Dakota, and Fort Scott, Nicodemus National Historic Site and Fort Larned, all in Kansas. Benson is conducting her research at KU under the guidance of George Tsoflias, associate professor of geophysics, and Rolfe Mandel, executive director of the ODYSSEY research program at the Kansas Geological Survey and professor of anthropology. She received a Bachelor of Science in geology in 2009 from James Madison University and her master’s degree in geology in 2012 from KU. She has received numerous awards including the Catherine-King Frazier Scholarship for outstanding achievement by the most promising new major and the Philip R. Cosminsky Award while at James Madison. In 2011 Benson received a National Science Foundation GK-12 Fellowship. Benson is the president of the Association for Women Geoscientists (AWG) Osage Chapter, the south-central delegate for the AWG board, and co-founder and director of the KU Geology Mentor Program. Her professional goal is to advance near-surface geophysical imaging methods for private sector and government research. 

Benson is the daughter of Richard Benson and Lisa Enright and a graduate of Centreville High School in Centreville, Va.

Zachary J. Raff, economics, is a self-defined “go-getter.” With his math and science background, experience being part of an athletic team and his time working in Washington, D.C., Raff is eager to earn his doctorate and then perhaps enter the world of politics. He received his B.S. in mathematics (2008) in three years from Upper Iowa University while also a scholarship athlete in baseball. Raff then served as a U.S. Senate intern, where he researched environmental policy issues. After a brief stint working as a technical service engineer, Raff worked as a program associate at the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities in Washington, D.C. He then completed his Master of Public Policy degree, 2012, from American University while also working as a research associate for the university and working as a program analyst for the Environmental Protection Agency. These experiences, combined with his lifelong love of the outdoors, were the reasons he chose to pursue a doctorate in environmental economics at KU. Raff is determined to add to the knowledge of environmental economics so that “human health and the environment aren’t compromised for short-term job growth.”

Raff is the son James and Melissa Raff of Sheboygan, Wis., and a graduate of Sheboygan South High School. 

Kathy Roccaforte, ecology and evolutionary biology, is passionate about developing research projects that link fundamental questions in the fields of ecology and evolutionary biology to real-world conservation concerns. She received a B.S. in biology, 2007, from Creighton University, where she studied the effects of oak savannah restoration on the dominance of garlic mustard, a highly invasive forest understory plant that poses a threat to biodiversity in Midwestern forests. At Creighton, Roccaforte won numerous awards and scholarships, including the Ferlic Undergraduate Summer Research Fellowship, the dean’s award for undergraduate biology research and the biology department award for outstanding research. She also served as a teaching assistant and volunteered as a taekwondo instructor. After graduating, Roccaforte worked as a research technician at the Plant Conservation Laboratory at Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo, where she helped conduct research that focused on the long-term conservation of endangered Malagasy orchids. Roccaforte received an M.S. in biology, 2012, from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, where she conducted research on hybridization, speciation and the conservation of native lilies. At UNL she received a Chancellor’s Fellowship and the school’s Arthur William Sampson Fellowship. In addition, Roccaforte served as a graduate teaching assistant and volunteered with both the Upward Bound and Research for Undergraduates in Theoretical Ecology (R.U.T.E.) programs.

She is the daughter of Bill and Jane Roccaforte of Omaha, Neb., and a graduate of Omaha Mercy High School.