University recognizes top scholars as Spring 2021 Outstanding Master’s Graduates


Narges Firouzshahi is the University of Louisiana at Lafayette’s overall Outstanding Master’s Graduate.

She was among six finalists for the award. Each will be recognized at 6 p.m. on Saturday, May 15, during a Spring 2021 Commencement ceremony for the Graduate School at the Cajundome.

The ceremony is among nine ceremonies that will be held over two days beginning Friday, May 14. In addition to the Graduate School, ceremonies will be held for the University’s eight academic colleges at the Cajundome and Cajundome Convention Center.

Graduate programs nominate one student as their Outstanding Master’s Graduate. Criteria include leadership, scholarship, service and research.

The dean of UL Lafayette’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.

Firouzshahi is this year’s overall honoree. In addition, she represents the Department of Communicative Disorders as an Outstanding Master’s Graduate Finalist. She is pursuing a master’s degree in speech language pathology and has a 4.0 GPA. The Department of Communicative Disorders is in the College of Liberal Arts.

Firouzshahi is an accomplished researcher with varied expertise and interest in many subjects, including teenagers who stutter, autism spectrum disorders, cognitive neuroscience and central auditory processing.

She co-authored an article published in the Journal of Monolingual and Bilingual Speech, an international, peer-reviewed academic journal.

The article, “Iranian Persian: A Guide to Speech and Culture for the International Clinician,” focuses on the integration of Iranian Persian language and culture in clinical practicum approaches.

She earned a bachelor’s degree in audiology from the Tehran University of Medical Sciences in 2017. Following graduation at UL Lafayette, she plans to pursue a Ph.D. and work as an independent researcher.

Here’s a look at the remaining Outstanding Master’s Graduate Award finalists.

Bárbara Almeida is an Outstanding Master’s Graduate Finalist from the School of Geosciences in the Ray P. Authement College of Sciences. She is pursuing a master’s degree in geology. Her GPA is 4.0.

As part of one key research study, she analyzed samples of fossilized wood more than 5 million years old that were collected from far northeastern Siberia. Findings showed that elevated CO2 levels millions of years ago caused substantial warming in the Arctic, resulting in a more moderate climate than today.

Almeida presented that research virtually during last year’s meeting of the American Geophysical Union, the largest yearly gathering of geoscientists in the world.

She is a member of many local and national geoscience organizations, including the University’s student chapter of the American Association of Petroleum Geologists. She served as the chapter’s vice president and social chair.

Almeida earned a bachelor’s degree in geology and natural resources from the Universidade de Lisboa, Portugal, in 2018.

After graduation from UL Lafayette, she plans to work in academia or industry in Europe as a geochemistry analyst.

Elizabeth C. Heintz is an Outstanding Master’s Graduate Finalist from the School of Kinesiology in the College of Education. She is pursuing a master’s degree in kinesiology with a concentration in exercise and sport science. Heintz has a 4.0 GPA.

Heintz has collaborated with researchers at Pennington Biomedical Research Center and the Louisiana Bird Observatory.

Her work with Pennington researchers examined a chemical compound named BAM15 for its potential for treating obesity; researchers believe that the compound could also be effective in treating diabetes, fatty liver disease and some types of cancer.

In 2019, Heintz presented research about avian malaria at the American Ornithological Society Conference in Anchorage, Alaska.

She has authored or coauthored articles in academic journals that examine racial bias in National Football League officiating, concussions among professional football players, and the effect of coaches’ gender on men’s and women’s weightlifting performance.

As part of another study, Heinz researched the historical inclusion of Native American women in sports.

She will pursue a Ph.D. in physiology, then work as a biomedical researcher to study treatments and cures for chronic diseases.

Ian Naquin is an Outstanding Master’s Graduate Finalist from the School of Architecture and Design in the College of the Arts. He is pursuing a master’s degree in architecture and has a 4.0 GPA.

Naquin has received numerous awards for design excellence from the school. He earned a “Faculty Award” for his master’s project, “Reminiscence Through Architecture.” The project addressed mental health and well-being for elderly populations through connections with nature.

Naquin contributed to a Louisiana State Board of Architectural Examiners project that explored partnerships between communities and universities.

As a graduate assistant in the University’s Office of Sustainability, he is a member of a team that works on designs for potential campus projects.

Naquin helped the University’s Office of Facilities Management design a bioswale that was installed near Hebrard Boulevard. He has contributed to proposals for a range of other potential projects, including campus gateways, a community garden and an outdoor classroom.

Naquin earned a bachelor’s degree in architectural studies from UL Lafayette in 2019. He plans to work as an architect, and envisions starting a firm.

Margaret Storms is an Outstanding Master’s Graduate Finalist from the Department of Criminal Justice in the College of Liberal Arts. She is pursuing a master’s degree in criminal justice. Storms has a 4.0 GPA.

She is the research supervisor for the department’s SPRUCE Lab, where students research criminology and criminal justice processes. Her duties include mentoring students in research methods such as data collection and coding, manuscript writing, and data analysis.

A primary focus of her research is traditional and social media attention on national missing persons cases. Storms co-authored an article on the topic titled “The New Milk Carton Campaign: An Analysis of Social Media Engagement with Missing Persons’ Cases.” The article was published in Social Forces, a peer-reviewed academic journal about social sciences.

She has presented research at national and regional conferences, including the American Criminal Justice Association and Southern Criminal Justice Association conferences, and the University’s Graduate Research Symposium.

Storms earned a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice from UL Lafayette in 2018.

She plans to work in crime data analysis, law, or restorative justice programming.

Nina Zamanialavijeh is an Outstanding Master’s Graduate Finalist from the School of Geosciences in the Ray P. Authement College of Sciences. She is pursuing a master’s degree in environmental science. She has a 4.0 GPA.

Zamanialavijeh has conducted extensive research in areas such as terrestrial mega-landslides and rock magnetism. In August, she traveled to Utah, where she collected rock samples as part of research for her master’s thesis.

She is a member of the Geological Society of America, which awarded her a graduate student research grant.

Zamanialavijeh has also conducted remote sensing research at the University’s Regional Application Center. Satellite and remote sensing imagery gathered at the center is shared with governmental agencies, the military and the public for emergency response, coastal restoration, transportation, industry and farming.

She earned a bachelor’s degree in geology from the University of Hormozgan in Bandar Abbas, Iran, in 2011. Following graduation from UL Lafayette, she is considering several doctoral programs in the earth and energy sciences.

Learn more about Spring 2021 Commencement.

Photo caption: The University of Louisiana at Lafayette’s Spring 2021 Outstanding Master’s Graduates are, from left: Overall Outstanding Master's Graduate Narges Firouzshahi, Department of Communicative Disorders; Elizabeth C. Heintz, School of Kinesiology; Ian Naquin, School of Architecture and Design; Margaret Storms, Department of Criminal Justice; Bárbara Almeida, School of Geosciences; and Nina Zamanialavijeh, School of Geosciences. (Photo credit: Rachel Rafati / University of Louisiana at Lafayette)

An earlier version of this article incorrectly identified Narges Firouzshahi as an editor for proceedings at the 2019 International Symposium on Monolingual and Bilingual Speech. While Narges Firouzshahi assisted with formatting for the proceedings in her capacity as a graduate assistant, she did not name herself as an editor.)