2021-2022 Honors Conference

2021-2022 Honors Conference Student Projects

The Honors Student Research Conference will celebrate the research and creative work of Honors students.

Friday, May 20


Arts & Letters Hall

The following students will present senior thesis projects or poster presentations of research created in Honors courses.  Each work featured was chosen for the exemplary research and writing that went into it, and we couldn’t be prouder of each of these students.

Please review the schedule below and help us support Honors students as they present to an audience of students, faculty, staff, and other guests.

Thesis Panels

The presentation of Honors senior these is comprised of poster presentation as well as participation in a panel with fellow thesis students. These panels will be split into two conference sessions and students will be divided according to the thematic material that their thesis covers. The schedule and location of the panels, alongside each presenter’s personal statement, are as follows:

Panel Session 1 (3:30- 4:30)


Moderator: Prof. James Montgomery, Environmental Science and Studies

Arts & Letters Hall, Room 306

Peter Wild Crea: “GBA, APOE and Neurodegeneration: New Perspectives and Avenues for Exploration in Neurodegeneration”

The ApoE ε4 genotype is the greatest genetic risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease (AD) and influences Parkinson’s disease (PD) progression. One mutation in either copy of GBA also conveys a significant risk for PD. While AD and PD are distinct, the ApoE ε4 genotype influences both diseases. To date, little work has been done exploring connections between APOE and GBA. Here, PD and AD mechanisms will be reviewed along with APOE and GBA in healthy and diseased states. This review will explore the possibility that APOE exerts its effects on PD through GBA and suggest future experimental projects.

Claudia Wilkie: “Human Plague in Madagascar”

Human plague is best known as the disease that killed at least one third of the population of Europe in the 14th century, but it is still very much present in the world today. In the last 30 years, the disease has been reemerging in East Africa in countries like Madagascar. Currently, Madagascar has over 75% of the world’s annual plague cases, with an average of 1000 cases per year. Madagascar thus provides the ideal case study on the current nature of plague. After briefly reviewing the history of plague in Africa, this paper will focus on the reemergence of plague in Madagascar, the factors that influence its spread in this region, and past and present interventions in order to better understand why plague is so prevalent in Madagascar. This understanding can help us find solutions to prevent further spread of the disease.


Moderator: Prof. Jason Schneider, WRD

Arts & Letters Hall, Room 308

Theodora Koulouvaris: “The Role of the News Media: How the Trump Era Shaped the Future of Journalism”

During his time in office, former President Donald Trump frequently referred to the news media as the “enemy of the people” and openly criticized the press. This thesis will analyze how Trump changed the way journalists cover the presidency and politics, particularly new strategies they adopted when covering his administration. This project will also examine the impact the former president has had on the role of journalism in a post-Trump administration era with regards to how the press reports major political events, the level of trust the public has in the media, and the implications this has on American democracy.

Gillian Murphey: “Does Soveirgnty Create Safety?”

This research explores the connection between sovereignty and crime on federally recognized American Indian Reservations (AIRs) in the United States. The research design and methods include a regression analysis of how various measures of sovereignty such as homeownership rate, the presence of casinos on reservations, and poverty rates impact crime rates on AIRs. The intention of this analysis is to shed light on the impact Native sovereignty has on the safety of these communities as well as demonstrate the importance and shortcomings of data on Native populations in the United States.

John Murphy: Chôra: A Third Kind Outside Binary Ontology”

In his dialogue the Timaeus, Plato refers to a “third kind” that is neither being nor becoming. Plato’s chôra is a receptacle, or a space. This chôra disrupts Platonic philosophy which is generally divided into being and becoming. Derrida’s essay Khôra points out the discontinuity between what chôra facilitates and simultaneously disrupts in the cosmology of the Timaeus. Through a close reading of the Timaeus and Khôra, as well as close attention Kristeva’s use of semiotic chôra, I hope to show that idea of chôra, extant from the start of the western philosophical tradition, contains within it the means through which traditional ontology may be thought outside of a simple binary.


Moderator: Prof. Rose Spalding, Political Science

Arts & Letters Hall, Room 102

Claire McNulty: “Neoliberalism Doesn’t Create Paradise: How the Honduran Tourism Industry Sustains Human Rights Violations Against Garifuna Communities”

This paper analyzes the direct, causal relationship between the neoliberal development of Honduras’ tourism industry and human rights violations committed in Garifuna communities. Since the 1980s, Honduras has adopted neoliberal economic policies to bolster development. International tourism has become one of the country’s main sources of revenue as a result. Though the five-star resorts residing along Honduras’ northern coast may seem appealing to outsiders, their development has caused major land rights infractions and the internal displacement of indigenous groups. Through the lens of neoliberal economics, I argue that these state-sponsored violations will subsist against Garifuna communities until some form of systemic change occurs.

Martylinette Sanchez: “The Braceros Behind the Bracero Program, H-2A Visa Workers, and the US Immigration System Today”

In this project, I explore different facets of the Bracero Program and the H-2A Visa Program, which is the current US guestworker program. The main questions my research answers is: Who were the braceros that participated in the Bracero Program and what were their experiences and motivations to participate in this program? What should be the future of guestworker programs in the United States? My thesis is divided into eight sections. In my first section, I will focus on the history of the Bracero Program. In this section, I will discuss what the Bracero Program was and how it was established, and the exploitation and human rights abuses those braceros suffered. In my second section, I will detail what the bracero’s different experiences were and why they decided to become braceros. In the third section, I will include oral histories that I uncovered from The Bracero History Archive that tell the stories of braceros and their experiences in their own words. Then, in the fourth section, I will describe the bureaucratic mechanisms that allowed the Bracero Program to thrive. In the fifth section, I will discuss the Mexican government’s role in the Bracero Program. I will then focus on how the Bracero Program attempted to unionize, and the role of the Chicano movement and other groups in helping end the Bracero Program. I will proceed to then discuss guestworker programs today with a specific emphasis on the H-2A Visa Program. Finally, I have a section on how undocumented immigrants were exploited and participated in the clean-up of Ground Zero after 9/11. In my conclusion, I reflect on the impacts of the Bracero Program and the H-2A Visa Program on US immigration policy, and will conclude that immigration programs and immigration policy should reflect the democratic values that the United States values.

Avery Tunstill: “Free Labor and American Farming: An Analysis of the Yeoman Myth and the Split Between Productive and Reproductive Labor”

The yeoman farming ideal, as first established by Thomas Jefferson’s vision of America as a nation of land-owning farmers, holds that the highest value in American political life was the ability to work and provide for oneself. This ideal can be traced throughout American history, from the tensions leading up to the Civil War, the land conflicts of the Reconstruction South, the discourse of the Dust Bowl, Woody Guthrie’s folk songs, television portrayals of the Bracero Program, and Super Bowl advertisements. Drawing from historical scholarship on American labor history and the division of labor on gendered and racial lines, I argue that the culture and discourse surrounding modern American farming cannot be divorced from its roots in slavery and coerced labor, as is the product of a history of the myth of yeoman free-labor farming. Tracing the history of yeoman farming ideals, as contrasted with the reality of labor conditions, establishes both the mythic value of this ideal throughout American history, but also the unrealized and impossible vision of a yeoman society. Although the history of the myth of a free-labor society changes from the nation’s found to the present day, this myth is a powerful force in the construction of American identity and signifies the split between productive and reproductive labor.

Panel Session 2 (4:45-5:45)


Moderator: Jennifer Finstrom, WRD

Arts & Letters Hall, Room 306

Priya Fink: “Exploring Music Through Silence: A Study of John Cage and 4’33””

John Cage’s 4’33” has been both applauded and deeply criticized since its premiere in 1952. 4’33”, (also called “Four Minutes and Thirty-Three Seconds”), is a silent piece. While many critics assert that Cage was trying to provoke or insult the audience by writing a piece with no notes, just instructions for a performer or performers to tacet (be silent) for four minutes and thirty-three seconds, others applauded Cage for his noble work to challenge how we perceive the world around us. In creating 4’33”, Cage asks the audience to consider silence as an opportunity to listen. My thesis seeks to explore the relevance of Cage’s work, what questions it raises, and how we might start to answer them.

Caroline Maxwell: “Contemporary John Donne”

My thesis project consists of two parts, equal in value. With the purpose of developing my own, comprehensive and poetic responses to some of John Donne’s work, I intend for this project to connect otherwise unlikely readers to the authorship of Donne. In the first part, I present a thorough analysis of Donne, focusing on who he is as an author. This includes a comprehensive interpretation of his poems as I introduce my creative process. The second part of this project presents my poetic responses to five of his best poems. I present my own work in parallel to Donne’s, showcasing the five matched poems side by side in order to foster a complete understanding of the connection between our works.

Genevieve Swanson: Harder Said Than Done: a play

My Honors Senior Thesis is a full length play based on true events about love, loss, substance abuse, queerness, trust, and communication. Harder Said Than Done recounts the love story between my two grandmothers. I learned their love story for the first time this year from partner Patty, who told me everything from their high school years to now, and I had never heard any of it. Queerness deserves visibility and celebration, and that is what I strive to do with this play. Their relationship was kept a secret, and it is a story that deserves to be told.


Moderator: Prof. Molly Andolina, Political Science

Arts & Letters Hall, Room 308

Ally Filicicchia: “That RInging Bell: The American Death Penalty as an Arm of White Supremacy”

The state-sponsored execution of any American is cruel and unjust beyond measure. However, there is even more cruelty to be found in the underlying fact that capital punishment is inextricably bound to white supremacy in the United States. By using it to quell movements for Black liberation, and destroy Black lives through disproportionate sentencing and general brutality, the American government has explicitly furthered racism and white supremacy since the beginning. There will be no justice until the death penalty is completely abolished under federal law.

Gurvir Gill: “Martial Constructions: How Perceptions of Sikhs Shaped Conflict”

Conflict concerning the Sikhs in the post-colonial era has been widespread, but there has been little effort to contextualize and explain the reasons for this behavior. This project attempts to establish a theoretical framework for understanding why conflict in South Asia has occurred for the Sikhs, through exploring the application of the martial race theory to Sikhs, and how this shaped their identity. The specific focus shall be on this theory in relation to how both the state formed a perception of Sikhs, and how Sikhs formed identities of themselves. The consequences of martial constructions of Sikhism are dire and form a central piece to understanding the geopolitics of South Asia.

Sophie Ryall: “Integration, I-630, and the Walton’s: A Historical Analysis on the Effects of Housing Segregation in Little Rock’s Public School System”

This thesis project will expose the deep history of housing segregation in Little Rock, Arkansas and how it has impacted public school funding and the academic success of students of color. Public schools in America are funded mainly through the property tax, and where people of different races live has been manufactured in most cities in this country through de jure segregation. In Little Rock, segregation was made permanent by the location of Interstate 630. It has acted as a racial barrier from the 1960s to this day, creating an unnecessary link between race and student success. This connection is evident when analyzing which schools are “failing” and lack basic resources and necessities, as compared to those schools that have state of the art facilities and high test scores. Majority Black schools south of I-630 are the ones being neglected, not the majority White schools north of the highway. This project will establish that given the hold redlining and racial segregation still have on American cities, this country has created an education system in which poor students and students of color are inherently disadvantaged

Thesis Poster Presentations

Alongside speaking and participating in a conference panel, thesis students also present a poster for their project. Listed below is the schedules for the poster portion of thesis presentations:

Poster Session 1

Alyssa Filicicchia: “That Ringing Bell: The American Death Penalty as an Arm of White Supremacy in the United States”

Priya Fink: “Exploring Music Through Silence: A Study of John Cage and 4’33””

Gill Gurver: “Martial Constructions: How the Perception of Sikhs Shaped Conflict”

Caroline Maxwell: “A Thoughtful and Contemporary Response to the Works of John Donne”

Sophie Ryall: “Redlining, Property Tax, and the Waltons: How Housing Segregation in Little Rock Impacted Public School Funding”

Genevieve Swanson: “My Other Half : a play by Genevieve Swanson”

Poster Session 2

Theodara Koulovaris: “The Role of the News Media: How Donald Trump’s Presidency Changed Journalism”

Claire McNulty: “Neoliberalism Doesn’t Create Paradise: How Tourism Sustains Human Rights Violations Against Garifuna Communities”

Gillian Murphey: “Does Sovereignty Create Safety?”

Jack Murphy: Chôra: The implicit critique of the philosophical tradition”

Martylinette Sanchez: “The Braceros Behind the Bracero Program”

Avery Tunstill:“Language of Labor, A Critical Discourse Analysis of Farming and Ranching in the United States”

Peter Wild Crea: “GBA, APOE and Neurodegeneration: New Perspectives and Avenues for Exploration in Neurodegeneration”

Claudia Wilkie: “Human Plague in Madagascar”

Non-Thesis Presentations

Similar to the thesis presentations, non-thesis presenters will be split into two sessions and two different rooms per session. The schedule for these presentations is as follows:

Session 1 (3:30-4:30)

Sofia Barrios: “Video Games: A Hobby for All”

Liz Bazzoli: “Towards a Radically Trans Inclusive Feminism”

Amna Cehaja: “The Minamata Disease: Disease Through the Employer”

Anna Finerty: “A National Theatre for the United States”

Sergio Godinez: “Buying The Votes: How Corporate Lobbying Has Undermined Democracy and Social Progress”

Emily Hamilton: “Tracing the Sustainable Path to 2050 Oklahoma”

Julia Hester: “American Involvement in Foreign Countries: Motivation and Results”

Syd Mark: “More Than Tangible: An Artifactual Analysis into Vodou and Rastafari Community Values”

Valerie McDonough: “The Censorship of Reality”

Petar Modrakovic: “The Influence of Music on Individuals and How to Improve Your Life With It”

Joseph Mertes: “Southern Mongols Caught in the Crossfire of Geopolitics”

Samarah Nasir: “The Merit in the Misunderstood: Young Adult Literature Strikes Back!”

Lillian Moore: “Eating Meat is Harmful for Human Health”

Yessica Pineda: “Gender Inequality and Female Autonomy: Three Women, Three Stories, and Three Generations in Beijing, China”

Evyana Polyak: “Elements of Myth and Ritual in Veve and Reggae”

Raneem Qassem: “Institutionalized Islamophobia”

Lailah Qureishi: “The Road to Hell is Paved with Good Intentions: Walter White’s Descent to Evil”

Serena Schalk: “Neuromusculoskeletal Prosthesis: Function and Future Use”

Kelly Schweikert: “Economic Impacts of the Rockefeller Drug Laws”

Allison Scott: “True Tolerance: Creating and Maintaining Multicultural Societies”

Vanesa Simic: “A Purposely Broken System: Abolishment of the Electoral College”

Kate Soupiset: “Diverse Needs, Diverse Practices: ADHD in Public Schools”

Koko Tamai: “The Shindo Renmei: Origin, Reign of Terror, and Demise”

Katelyn Warner: “Keep Scrolling”

Session 2 (4:45-5:45)

Nailah Ali: “Thoughts on Disqualified Knowledge”

Imani Barnes: “The Invisible Plight of the Black Woman”

Camila Barrientos: “‘Como Se Dice’: Research on the Spanish-Speaking Latine Community in the Chicago Area”

Kellen Brown: “Op-Ed: TIFs Need to be Distributed Solely to South and West Side Neighborhoods.  How Else is Chicago Going to Become More Equitable?”

Florina Chhay: “Corporate Misuse and Abuse of Intellectual Property Rights”

Morgan Cox: “The Overlooked Performance of Black Women in STEM”

Brooklyn Gunnare: “Digital Technology is Becoming as Essential as a Beating Heart”

Jamila Jusino: “How Undocumented Status Affects Latinx Youth Development”

Melanie Kerz: “Star Trek The Next Generation: “Darmok” and Epistemological Storytelling”

Bethany Kujawinski: “Lost in Reverie: Understanding Escapism Through the Lens of Fantasy Language”

Kaitlyn Lane: “Fan Participation and Language Acquisition”

Haydon Mayer: “Unionization and Reimagining American Labor”

Maizy Mennuti: “Male Distortion of Lesbian Imagery and its Real-Life Implications”

Christina Millich: “Free Community College for All”

Lillian Moore: “Eating Meat is Harmful for Human Health”

Gabriella Miles: “The Systemic Lead Poisoning of Black Milwaukee Residents”

Sophia Patton: “Prison Reform”

Catalina Torres Reyes: “The Effect on Violent Crime on Academic Performance Within Chicago: How School Resource Officers Have Attempted to Solve the Problem”

David Tallahu: “Tik Tik Tomfoolery: How Internet Slang Can Boost Promotional Material on Tik Tok”

Madysen Ward: “Neoliberal Housing Policy in New York City”

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