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University of Iowa News Release


Sept. 12, 2011

UI Graduate College recognizes top scholars with dissertation prizes

The University of Iowa Graduate College has awarded its most prestigious dissertation prize – the D.C. Spriestersbach Dissertation Prize – to Megan Ealy (photo, left) in biological and life sciences and David Riep (photo, right) in humanities and fine arts.

Ealy, who earned her Ph.D. from the Genetics Interdisciplinary Graduate Program in 2011, completed the first genome-wide association study ever undertaken for any type of hearing loss. She identified the gene RELN's involvement in otosclerosis, a form of adult-onset hearing loss caused by an abnormal bone growth in the middle ear. Otosclerosis affects 1 percent of humans.

This significant finding distinguished Ealy's dissertation, "Otosclerosis – Identifying Genetic Contributors to a Complex Hearing Disorder."

"We're trying to play with this gene more and figure out its role in bone," Ealy said. "It's very rewarding to open up a new avenue of research that can be conducted by a number of different labs."

Riep, who received his Ph.D. in art history in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences in 2011, researched the art of the South Sotho cultures in the African kingdom of Lesotho. No such catalog existed previously, and his dissertation, "House of the Crocodile: South Sotho Art and History in Southern Africa" will serve as a primary document for the people of Lesotho and South Africa for generations.

"I really invested a lot of myself in this research. I was overseas in southern Africa for a combined five of the last 10 years," Riep said. "It was really kind of a personal journey for me. To see this kind of recognition is amazing. I never thought it would have gone this far. The kings and chiefs were shocked to see some white guy from a foreign place showing an interest in who they are and their culture. They were blown away, and that makes me smile."

The dissertations of Song Yi (biology) and Dennis Hanlon (film studies) were recognized with the Graduate College Dean's Distinguished Dissertation Award.

The Spriestersbach Dissertation Prize is named for Duane C. Spriestersbach, who served as Graduate College dean from 1965 to 1989. When the prize was founded, Spriestersbach, who died April 25, 2011, at age 94, hoped it would "serve as tangible evidence – as 'gold standards' – of the outstanding work of which graduate students are capable and to which all others should aspire."

The Spriestersbach Prize is awarded annually on a rotating basis in two of four broad disciplinary areas: humanities and fine arts; mathematical, physical sciences and engineering; biological and life sciences; and social sciences.

Winners of the Spriestersbach Prize also are the UI's nominees for the Council of Graduate Schools (CGS)/University Microfilms International (UMI) Distinguished Dissertation Award. The UI, with five winners, has garnered more national awards than any other institution, public or private. Twelve other Iowa nominees have been finalists in the national competition.

"The Graduate College is honored to recognize the outstanding graduate research accomplished by Megan and David," said John Keller, UI Associate Provost for Graduate Education and Graduate College Dean. "They continue our tradition of exemplary nominations for the CGS national award where our students have fared exceptionally well."

These scholars, as well as the winner of the L.B. Sims Outstanding Master's Thesis Award, will be formally recognized for their exemplary research as graduate students this spring at a ceremony on the UI campus.

STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa Graduate College Office of External Relations, 205 Gilmore Hall, Iowa City, Iowa 52242-2500

MEDIA CONTACT: John Riehl, 319-384-1309,