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UL Lafayette recognizes top scholars as Fall 2023 Outstanding Master’s Graduates

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Dana Wallis is the University of Louisiana at Lafayette’s overall Outstanding Master’s Graduate. Wallis is among six award finalists who will be recognized Friday and Saturday during Fall 2023 Commencement ceremonies. Individual ceremonies for UL Lafayette’s eight academic colleges will be held at the Cajundome and the Cajundome Convention Center.

Graduate programs nominate one student as their Outstanding Master’s Graduate. Criteria include leadership, scholarship, service and research. The dean of the University’s Graduate School leads a panel that selects the top candidates. An Alumni Association committee interviews the finalists and chooses an overall Outstanding Master’s Graduate.

In addition to being the fall semester’s overall honoree, Wallis is the Outstanding Master’s Graduate Finalist for the LHC Group • Myers School of Nursing in the College of Nursing & Health Sciences. She is pursuing a master’s degree in nursing to become a family nurse practitioner.

Wallis is a practicing nurse with extensive experience in many settings and roles, including her current position with the West Feliciana Parish School Board.  

She was instrumental in collaborating with health care professionals to facilitate COVID-19 vaccinations for school district employees. Wallis also helped to coordinate the placement of automated external defibrillators in the district’s schools and gymnasiums.

She earned the School Nurse of the Year Award from the Louisiana School Nurses Organization and the Excellence in School Nursing Award from the National Association of School Nurses.

Wallis will continue to work as a nurse, with plans to help coordinate partnerships for the creation of a school-based health center.

Here’s a look at the remaining Fall 2023 Outstanding Master’s Graduates.

Granger Hanks is the Outstanding Master’s Graduate Finalist for the Department of Biology in the Ray P. Authement College of Sciences. He is pursuing a master’s degree in biology.

Hanks’ research interests include wood fall and sponge fall communities in deep-sea ecosystems. His work contributed to the discovery of a new species. Hanks’ master’s research focused on testing ecological theory related to the drivers of biodiversity to facilitate conservation efforts.

He authored or co-coauthored several academic papers, including one accepted by the Journal of Biogeography for which he was lead author. Hanks presented research during Deep-Sea Biology Society conferences.

He was an intern and laboratory technician at the Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium. LUMCON is a coalition of Louisiana’s higher education institutions that coordinates marine research projects and educational programs. Hanks was a teaching assistant for the Department of Biology, and mentored fellow student researchers in University laboratories.   

Benjamin Lukk is the Outstanding Master’s Graduate Finalist for the Department of Physics in the Ray P. Authement College of Sciences. He is pursuing a master’s degree in physics.

As a graduate research assistant at the Louisiana Accelerator Center, Lukk used a particle accelerator for materials characterization. His research included analyzing environmental, magnetic nanomaterial, micrometeorite, fluorescent material and archaeological samples.

For one project, Lukk examined ancient Egyptian bronze artifacts from the collection of the Museo Egizio in Turin, Italy. His research involved analyzing the artifacts at the accelerator center via two techniques, particle-induced X-ray emission and X-ray fluorescence.

Lukk presented his findings during the International Conference on the Application of Accelerators in Research and Industry in Denton, Texas. He is reviewing graduate degree programs and is considering disciplines such as nuclear engineering and education. Lukk envisions a career as a research scientist.

Justin Peltier is the Outstanding Master’s Graduate Finalist for the School of Architecture and Design in the College of the Arts. He is pursuing a master’s degree in architecture.

His design project “The Cloud Factory” redefined the relationship between ecology and industry. The project aims to prevent wildfires and sustain farming communities in California. Another project, “The Mire,” introduced a riverside marsh to New York City to explore challenges and opportunities associated with rising sea levels.

While an intern at local architectural firms, Peltier contributed to many projects of community significance, including at the Lafayette Regional Airport. He also has contributed to civic outreach efforts coordinated through the American Institute of Architecture Students.

As a graduate research assistant, Peltier examined energy modeling and sustainable strategies for building design and construction. He plans to work as an architect, with a focus on sustainability and ecological considerations.

Emilia Ranzino is the Outstanding Master’s Graduate Finalist for the Department of Counseling in the College of Education & Human Development. She is pursuing a master’s degree in counseling.

She has given multiple conference presentations based on her research, which examines a range of subjects that include marriage, couple interactions and connectedness, developmental trauma disorder and autism spectrum disorder.    

Ranzino was the lead graduate assistant for the college’s Clinic for Counseling and Personal Development, a mental health training clinic that is coordinated and staffed by students. Along with providing care for clients, she assumed administrative duties and mentored fellow students in areas such as clinical procedures and adherence to policies.

Ranzino also tutored fellow students in subjects such as algebra, English, geometry, science and Spanish. She plans to work as a licensed professional counselor and, later, utilize her administrative acumen to manage or own a clinic.  

Kalli Segura is the Outstanding Master’s Graduate Finalist for the Department of Psychology in the College of Liberal Arts. She is pursuing a master’s degree in psychology.

Segura’s master’s thesis examined how parental self-efficacy, flexibility and participation in training influence communication skills of children with autism.

She also researched ways race, socioeconomic status and attitudes toward counseling and therapy influenced willingness to seek treatment. Segura presented her findings at the Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies and the Southwestern Psychological Association conferences.

As a graduate assistant for the Student-Athlete Academic Center, she relied on her psychology expertise to mentor and motivate student-athletes striving to reach their academic goals. Segura also tutored student-athletes in subjects such as biology, chemistry, psychology and statistics.

She mentored undergraduate students in the department’s Stress, Coping and Wellness Lab. Segura will apply to doctoral programs, with plans to become a licensed school psychologist.   

Learn more about Fall 2023 Commencement.

Photo caption: The University of Louisiana at Lafayette’s Fall 2023 Outstanding Master’s Graduates are, top row from left: Granger Hanks, Department of Biology; Justin Peltier, School of Architecture and Design; Emilia Ranzino, Department of Counseling; and Kalli Segura, Department of Psychology. On the bottom row is Overall Outstanding Master’s Graduate Dana Wallis, LHC Group • Myers School of Nursing. Not pictured is Benjamin Lukk, Department of Physics. Photo credit: Doug Dugas / University of Louisiana at Lafayette