Graduate school degree recipients encouraged to ‘love what you do’

Author: Erin Blasko

Esther Takeuchi speaks at the Graduate School Commencement Ceremony
Esther Takeuchi speaks at the Graduate School Commencement Ceremony

Esther Takeuchi, the primary speaker for Saturday’s Graduate School Commencement Ceremony at the University of Notre Dame, drew on her own experience as a young chemist to provide members of the class of 2020 “with a foundation from which (to) make the world a better place.”

A distinguished professor of chemistry and material science and engineering at Stony Brook University in New York, Takeuchi is best known for her research on lithium/SVA battery systems — tiny devices used to power implantable cardiac defibrillators in ventricular arrhythmia patients.

This despite a background in organic chemistry.

“My first job after graduation was in a large petrochemical company,” Takeuchi said. “After a year, I had the opportunity to conduct postdoctoral research with a university electrochemist, and I felt seizing an opportunity to intellectually grow in a field new to me would provide me with additional career opportunities.”

It did, and Takeuchi went on to become one of the world’s leading energy storage researchers as a result.

Her advice?

Don’t just do what you love; love what you do.

“If you pursue what you love, you are limited by your own knowledge base,” Takeuchi told the graduates, including 241 doctoral degree recipients and 590 master’s degree recipients, gathered inside Compton Family Ice Arena. “If you love what you do, you can continue to grow, expand and adapt as your knowledge and experiences grow.”


“Take pride in yourself,” Takeuchi said. “Respect the talents and abilities that you have been given. It is your responsibility to develop them, and then to use them for the good of others. As you continue to learn, grow and use your talents constructively, you will without a doubt love what you do.”

For his part, Notre Dame President Rev. John I. Jenkins, C.S.C., urged the graduates to use the advantages of a Notre Dame education “for the common good.”

“We hope that you will use your talents and skills not simply to serve your own interests but to care for the neediest and create a more just society,” Father Jenkins said. He added, “We hope that you acquired here not only the knowledge to make a good living, but the wisdom to live a good life.”

To the “mothers and fathers, siblings and spouses, friends and relatives” who sweated and stressed along with the graduates over the past several years, Father Jenkins said, “Thank you and congratulations. This day also belongs to you.”

The following graduates were recognized with Eli J. and Helen Shaheen Graduate School Awards honoring the top doctoral students in the divisions of engineering, humanities, social sciences and science:

Prateek Mehta, Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, Shaheen Award in Engineering. Mehta is an outstanding researcher who focuses on the computational design of multifunctional catalytic systems for sustainable energy applications. He is recognized for his creative theoretical models that rationalize complex phenomena observed in catalysis experiments and guide the discovery of improved catalyst materials. Following graduation, Mehta will assume a research position in the catalyst and process technology division at ExxonMobil Research and Engineering.

Luis Bravo, Department of Romance Languages and Literatures, Shaheen Award in the Humanities. A celebrated poet and a scholar in the fields of Latin American literatures and cultural studies, Bravo is recognized for his singular contribution in unearthing and examining the literary case of the Uruguayan poet, artist and activist Ibero Gutiérrez. Distinguished in his program as a curious and engaged intellectual presence, Bravo is a scholar and professor at Universidad de Montevideo and the Instituto de Profesores Artigas Montevideo in Uruguay.

Marshall Allen Taylor, Department of Sociology, Shaheen Award in the Social Sciences. An original and productive scholar of sociology whose dissertation focuses on nationalist movements in the United States, Taylor is already recognized as an expert in complex methods including computational text analysis and cognitive social science. A popular instructor of statistics courses who stands out for his willingness to collaborate, Taylor is working at the leading edge of emerging research concerns in the social sciences. He begins as an assistant professor of sociology at New Mexico State University in fall 2019.

Amanda Nicole Marra, Department of Biological Sciences, Shaheen Award in Science. A biologist whose research explores the regulation of the developmental pathways responsible for the coordination of organ formation during embryogenesis, Marra is recognized for her research contributions, stellar publication record and leadership. Marra is now a postdoctoral scholar in cell and developmental biology at the University of California, San Diego.

The following faculty and staff of the Graduate School also were recognized:

Lauren M. Papp, Distinguished Alumna Award. The Vaughan Bascom Professor in Women, Family, and Community in the School of Human Ecology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Papp also serves as associate dean for research. A doctoral graduate of Notre Dame’s Department of Psychology, Papp is recognized for her innovative research on how intimate and family relationships shape a person’s development across the lifespan, her extraordinary commitment to student welfare demonstrated in both teaching and service, and her role as a leader in her field and at her institution.

Elliott T. Visconsi, Dick and Peggy Notebaert Award. An associate professor of English who currently serves as associate provost and chief academic digital officer, Visconsi has long been committed to graduate education, as a dissertation adviser, graduate instructor and co-founder of the “Global Dome,” a doctoral accelerator program. He is recognized with this award for his pioneering work in conceiving and overseeing the successful implementation of the online master of science degree in data science, which serves as a model for Notre Dame to emulate across disciplines and domains. Distinctive features include classes that are fully online but include in-person immersions that build the cohort; an integration of students from diverse backgrounds; a robust ongoing collaboration with AT&T; and the development of multimedia assets to support online teaching that are used for other campus courses and digital initiatives.

Vania Smith-Oka, Director of Graduate Studies Award. An associate professor in the Department of Anthropology, Smith-Oka is a cultural and medical anthropologist who specializes on the effect of institutions (medical, economic, development) on the behavior and choices of marginalized populations. Smith-Oka is recognized for her pivotal work supporting the early cohorts of students in the new anthropology doctoral program, which will produce its first graduates this year. She is honored for her supportive efforts to open pathways for their careers that balance a commitment to their academic training with a commitment to their well-being.

Peter N. Wallensteen, James A. Burns, C.S.C., Award. The Richard G. Starmann Sr. Research Professor of Peace Studies in the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies, Wallensteen is recognized for his defining role in the foundational doctoral seminar on international peace research, in which he has taught every doctoral student in the program since its inception in 2008. The application of his formidable perspective as a researcher and his direct experience in peacebuilding make this course a transformational capstone experience. Wallensteen also holds an appointment as a senior professor in the Department of Peace and Conflict Research at Sweden’s Uppsala University.

Mariette Quinn, Graduate Administrative Staff Member Award. The administrative assistant for graduate studies in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, Quinn has initiated process improvements that have benefitted applicants, admitted students and faculty alike. By sharing her innovations and working with graduate coordinators in other master’s and doctoral programs, she has facilitated the broad-scale adoption of best practices and technology, as well fostered community among graduate staff across the colleges and schools.