Graduate Students

NOTE: This article highlights the 2016 Averitt Award winners. The 2017 Averitt Award winners were announced as we went to press. John David Curtis (Science and Biology) – Excellence in Research and Ray Delva (English) Excellence in Instruction will be profiled in a future issue of Georgia Southern Magazine.


Instead of two winners – three graduate students were named the 2016 winners of the top award in the Jack N. Averitt College of Graduate Studies. Martin Muinos and Heidi Moye received the Averitt Award for Excellence in Research and Desiree Riley was honored with the award for Excellence in Instruction. Each of the winners received the Crystal Eagle trophy and a $1,000 prize.

Heidi Moye: Tracing History GS student Image
Fresh out of high school, Heidi Moye was working as a bank teller in Sylvania, Georgia, when a visit to an old cemetery showed her a new direction. “It was a summer afternoon, and I’d decided to follow Sherman’s March to the Sea through Screven County on Old Louisville Road,” she said. “I actually took the wrong fork in the road and ended up on Old Elam Road, which is where the cemetery is located.”

Moye stumbled across the gravestones of the John Hergen Ash (1843-1918) family and was intrigued when she noticed his second wife and their three young children died on the same day. “Their story has been the inspiration for my education,” she explained. “Digging into their lives is the reason why I started going to college at all.”

Her research into the life of the Confederate soldier is the reason why she won the highest honor the College of Graduate Studies awards its students – the 2016 Averitt Award for Excellence in Research. The history major is hoping to turn her thesis, “A Forgotten Confederate: John H. Ash’s Story Rediscovered,” into a book. “The story of Ash and his family is so good, people will be interested in it whether they like history or not,” she said. “I am hopeful that it will be published and through its human appeal, educate the general public on Georgia history.”

Moye found that Ash’s family emigrated to Georgia from Germany in 1734 at the beginning of Georgia’s history as a colony. His first wife died when he was fighting in the Civil War. The soldier remarried after the war and studied to become a Baptist minister. On a hot summer night in 1871, his wife Laura poisoned herself and her three children with strychnine. “It was called a murder-suicide,” said Moye. “It was a brutal and painful death and a sensationalized case. The Savannah Morning News covered it and it was in The New York Times and other national papers.”

The soldier’s story didn’t end there, but continued until his death in 1918. “With my thesis,” said Moye, “I’m attempting to explore the history of Georgia from colony, through the Civil War, Reconstruction, and then its attempt to shape itself as a New South. “

Moye earned her bachelor’s in history while working full time in the Regents Center for Learning Disorders at Georgia Southern. She received her master’s in December. The graduate student credits history Professor Anastatia Sims Ph.D., for keeping her research on track. “She listens to me and helps me sort out the direction I need to take,” Moye said. “She helps me with my writer’s block. She’s amazing.”

Martin Muinos: Professor Sparks a Love for EnginesGS student Image
Martin Muinos transferred to Georgia Southern as a sophomore, and said he had no set plans for his future. He just figured he’d get his engineering degree and see what happened from there.

Not long after his arrival, however, Muinos met Valentin Soloiu, Ph.D., the Allen E. Paulson Distinguished Chair of Renewable Energy, who brought the young student into the Engine Combustion and Emissions lab, a place that changed the trajectory of the young student’s life.

“Martin showed an extraordinary determination to succeed, be successful and excel in research,” said Soloiu, who nominated Muinos for the award.

As an undergraduate, Muinos spent much of his free time in the laboratory learning concepts and theories, helping with experiments, and then writing and reporting the findings under intensive deadlines.After only six months, Muinos was accepted as a full researcher in the lab — one of the fastest student promotions in years. He later became the lead undergraduate researcher in the lab, and published four peer-reviewed papers and presented more than 10 posters and discussions at prestigious conferences across the U.S.

Muinos’ focused his graduate research on Reactivity Controlled Compression Ignition (RCCI) with renewable fuels, a process which delays combustion in a fuel-efficient diesel engine, reducing its soot and smoke emissions and cleaning up its dirty reputation.

The research earned him a National Science Foundation (NSF) Graduate Research Fellowship, which placed him among only 2,000 graduate students in the United States who received the $136,000 grant out of 16,500 national applicants. The fellowship placed him among student researchers from such institutions as Georgia Tech, MIT, Stanford, Princeton and Cornell.

He says he can’t imagine getting to do the work he’s done anywhere else.

“If we were to visit a research facility conducting similar research anywhere in the United States, we would be surrounded by post-docs, Ph.D.’s, and grad students,” said Muinos. “In the Engine Combustion and Emissions lab at Georgia Southern, I am one of four graduate students working under the supervision of one professor and working alongside 15-20 undergraduate students.”

Muinos said the Averitt Award was a “great surprise,” and one he couldn’t have achieved without the help of his professor.

“I have to give all my thanks to Dr. Soloiu,” he said. “He was a very selfless professor. The best professor I’ve ever had and most of his students have ever had. If it wasn’t for him staying late with me, working out problems and diving into theory and providing me the avenue to do all this research, I would not have been able to get this award or the NSF award, for that matter.”

Desiree Riley: Chemistry to Literature to Teaching GS student Image
Desiree Riley (‘13, ‘16) never planned to be a teacher. She enrolled in Georgia Southern as a chemistry major, but soon changed her mind. “The introductory courses everyone takes as a freshman ignited my interest in literature. And that’s why I changed my major to English,” she says.

After earning her undergraduate degree, Riley began working on her master’s. Fueled by her love of books and stories, her heart was set on becoming a book editor, but changed course when she entered the Department of Literature and Philosophy graduate program. “The program offered all these opportunities for teaching. And once I started teaching I found my passion,” Riley explains.

Her impact in the classroom did not go unnoticed by her professors and her students. They nominated her for the Averitt Award for Excellence in Graduate Instruction for 2015-16. It recognizes outstanding teaching by a graduate student. Riley was shocked when she was announced the winner at the 2016 Research Symposium.

“It was surprising. I had no idea that anyone was paying that much attention to me. I am extremely honored and humbled,” she says. “I was more touched by what the students said in the feedback that was read just before the winner was announced.”

“I like teaching a lot,” she notes. “You see that look on students’ faces when they don’t understand something. But, then you see their eyes light up when you explain it and help them understand it. Those are the rewarding moments. They are what I consider those little “ahha” moments. I want my students to enjoy literature as much as I do.”

Riley, a Double Eagle, says she may pursue a doctorate. For now, she plans to gain more experience teaching at the college level. “I hope students leave my classroom appreciating literature more than when they came in. At the end of my course, I want students to understand why literature can have an impact on the world and why we keep talking about these authors and stories years after they were written.” — Sandra Bennett, Doy Cave