Graduate students on stage getting their doctoral hood placed on their shoulders by faculty
Category: Graduate Fellowships and Awards, News

Title: Three Scholars Receive Prestigious 2023 Harold N. Glassman Distinguished Dissertation Award

While packing her bags to return to campus, Casey Zipfel was eager to don her doctoral regalia again and reunite with former lab mates. Alongside fellow alumnae Nohora Arrieta Fernández and Katherine O’Connell, she returned to campus for the 2023 Doctoral Hooding Ceremony to receive the prestigious Harold N. Glassman Distinguished Dissertation Award.

Each year, the Graduate School of Arts & Sciences recognizes three outstanding doctoral dissertations in the humanities, sciences and social sciences. Eligible nominees must have successfully defended their dissertation in the graduation cycle prior to the year of the award. They are judged by topic rather than by the student’s department or discipline; thus, interdisciplinary projects can win in unexpected categories. 

This year’s awardees, notably all women, impressed the faculty committee who evaluated a strong pool of candidates put forth by their doctoral programs. Their dissertations, each unique, timely and incredibly impactful, embody the level of academic rigor and scholarly passion that the Graduate School aims to instill in each of its doctoral candidates.

The mentorship and faculty support, especially from my Ph.D. supervisor, that I received at Georgetown was, and continues to be, vital to my success and growth as both a scientist and a person.”

– Casey Zipfel

From examining relationships between literary and visual production in the sugar industry, applying machine and computational learnings around empathy, and developing greater theories and methods for the field of disease ecology, learn more about each of this year’s Glassman Award winners.

Humanities: Dr. Nohora Arrieta Fernández


Headshot of Nohora Arrieta Fernández
Photo Credit: Carrie Rosema Photography

Nohora Arrieta Fernández received the 2023 Harold N. Glassman Distinguished Dissertation Award in the Humanities for her dissertation, “Bittersweet Poetics: Politics and Aesthetics of the Sugar Plantation in Contemporary Brazilian and Caribbean Arts (1990–2018),” which she defended in June 2021. She was mentored by Joanne Rappaport, professor emerita in the Department of Spanish & Portuguese

Arrieta’s dissertation examines the relationship between literary and visual production connected to the development of the sugar industry in Brazil and the Caribbean, foregrounding artists’ and writers’ treatment of the evolution of the production process and its social impact. 

Rappaport describes Arrieta’s dissertation as, “very daring,” taking on “a vast historical and theoretical territory and a wide array of artistic texts, which are interpreted both individually and as a corpus, and juxtaposed to one another, to produce an elegant and profound argument about sugar, race, modernity and artistic expression in the Americas.”

Arrieta’s research has been supported by a prestigious ACLS pre-doctoral fellowship, funding from Harvard University to participate in a traveling seminar in Latin America, and the Presidential Postdoctoral Fellowship at UCLA.

She recently accepted a tenure-track appointment in UCLA’s Department of Spanish & Portuguese.

Social Sciences: Dr. Katherine O’Connell (Matthews)


Headshot of Katherine O'Connell
Photo Credit: Katherine O’Connell (Matthews)

Katherine O’Connell received the 2023 Harold N. Glassman Distinguished Dissertation Award in the Social Sciences for her dissertation, “From Perception to Social Connection: Assessing Deficits and Modulation of Empathic Processes to Study Human Social Behavior,” which she defended in December 2021. She was mentored by Abigail Marsh, a professor in the Department of Psychology.

“In short,” summarizes Marsh, “She has produced a seminal social scientific inquiry into the roots of empathy—and did so during an unprecedented global pandemic that both required her to reconfigure essential components of her dissertation research and highlighted the essential nature of the questions she was addressing.”

O’Connell’s dissertation combines social science with rigorous neuroscience, applying computational modeling and machine learning to studies of empathy and social behavior. She describes her work as an exploration of “the interplay between empathy, social behavior and social connectedness,” and the dissertation leverages two separate studies to employ two different frameworks to this interplay. 

The first investigates the neurological impacts of stroke on empathy, examining their relation to real-world social outcomes. The second study leverages a modulatory framework to approach empathy and social connectedness in neurologically healthy adults. 

Sciences: Dr. Casey Zipfel


Headshot of Dr. Casey Zipfel
Photo Credit: Casey Zipfel

Casey Zipfel received the 2023 Harold N. Glassman Distinguished Dissertation Award in the Sciences for her dissertation, “The Interplay Between Human Behavior and Infectious Disease Dynamics,” which she defended, with distinction, in July 2021. She was mentored by Shweta Bansal, Provost’s Distinguished Associate Professor in the Department of Biology.

Zipfel’s timely dissertation examines the reciprocal feedback loop of human behavior and disease, characterizing the effects of disease on behavior through empirical data and exemplifying the downstream effects of those behavioral changes on infectious disease dynamics through epidemiological models. 

The department’s nomination noted that by combining empirical data analysis and epidemiological modeling, Zipfel’s dissertation research significantly extends the theoretical and methodological basis of the field of disease ecology.

Furthermore, her research achieves crucial advances in understanding epidemiological dynamics and improving public health in the face of events such as the recent COVID pandemic caused by the emergence of SARS-CoV-2. Her mentor, Dr. Bansal remarked, “She integrates strong technical skills with a broad understanding of social and public health problems, and brings key experience and perseverance from having been trained during the pandemic.”

Learn more about the nomination process and explore past recipients of the Glassman Award.

Students interested in learning more about the Office of Graduate Fellowships & Awards should email