by Web on March 1, 2018
Thirteen Millsaps College seniors shared their research findings or creative work during the 2018 Honors Conference in February.
Two theses and presentations were recognized by Phi Beta Kappa: Rachel Bravenec (pictured above), from Brandon, received the Phi Beta Kappa Award for Outstanding Honors Thesis and Presentation, and Maria Welch, also from Brandon, received an Honorable Mention for Honors Thesis and Presentation.
Bravenec presented the project: "Gateways to Pro-Anorexia and Factors Influencing Continued Engagement: A Pilot Study." Dr. Louwanda Evans, assistant professor of sociology, advised Bravenec on her project. Bravenec collected data on how a dangerous online subculture that promotes disordered and harmful eating behavior with the goals of drastic—and often medically dangerous—weight loss is first accessed and factors that may govern the decision to engage with that subculture. She worked on her project from October 2016 through December 2017.
She was able to conclude that the most common gateway is accidentally stumbling across the subculture on social media, closely followed by health- and diet-related searches such as Googling "low calorie snacks" and then being met with some results posted by the subculture. "It seems like entering the community is mostly accidental, so clearly it's going to be difficult to stop, but at least now we know what we're dealing with," she said.
In terms of influencing life factors, body image issues, depression, and anxiety accounted for 70-80 percent of the reported issues, she said.
A senior with a double major in chemistry and psychology, Bravenec said she plans to work in the field of biochemistry and that her project provided firsthand experience with managing long-term research and collecting data. "As a science major I have had an idea of what conducting research across a semester is like, but this was the first time I've ever planned and worked on a project across multiple semesters," she said. "I feel better prepared going into graduate school where I'll be expected to manage long-term projects. I also gained valuable experience in writing academically and learning how to prepare and present data."
Welch, who is majoring in studio art with a minor in art history, formulated her project that is entitled "A Cathartic Remembrance" as a response to an eight-month period during which three of her grandparents died.
"The project was heavily based in personal healing, but also with the goal of providing a relatable narrative for others battling grief through the sharing of this personal narrative," said Welch, who would like to become a college art professor. "A broader goal of the project was to bring awareness to societal stigmas surrounding the expression of emotions."
Welch created 10 large-scale paintings, many measuring about 4 feet by 5 feet, plus a written thesis that analyzed her work and placed it within the context of the contemporary art world.
Relying heavily on color and brushwork to convey emotion, Welch said her work in the series is about learning to live again when accompanied by fickle and ever-present grief. She spent about a year and half working on the project, conducting research and creating the paintings outside of a structured class.
Michael Rohrer of Vicksburg, a senior majoring in geophysics, gave a presentation entitled "Near-Surface Geophysical Imaging of Deformation Associated with the Daytona Beach Sand Blow Deposits, Lee County, Arkansas." Rohrer used geophysical methods to investigate past earthquake activity in Lee County, Arkansas.
"There was a missing puzzle piece, so to speak, from a previous survey that was performed in 2016 by the United States Geological Survey," he said. "My project filled in the missing puzzle piece and allowed us to connect the dots between a newly-discovered fault zone and previous earthquake activity in the area. By understanding the historic seismic activity, we can now make educated implications in regards to future seismic activity in the area. One significant part about this project is that it is outside of the New Madrid Seismic Zone, so this area was not previously associated with seismic activity."
Rohrer worked on his project for a little more than a year, gaining experience directly related to his career plans.
"With my advisor's help, I planned the survey, wrote proposals for funding, performed the survey, and analyzed all of the data," he said. "In the realm of geophysical careers, you do all of these same things for whatever company you go work for. The only difference is that I received funding from secondary sources, whereas your company would probably fund your survey as long as you show them that it is of interest and economically beneficial to that company."
Rohrer said his project has given him a leg up on getting into graduate school.
"There are many people who do not gain the type of experience that I received from my project until they reach some form of graduate school or get hired into the workforce. All of the schools I have applied to for graduate school were impressed with my undergraduate experience and ability to complete a large-scale project."
The project also afforded him the opportunity to get to know his advisor, Dr. Jamie Harris, better.
"It just so worked out in this situation that we mesh really well together, and we now have a personal friendship outside of our work relationship," he said. "I imagine we will stay in touch long after I complete my undergraduate career."
Nigel Stinson, from Winona, Mississippi, was unable to present his project entitled "Guilty by Reason of Disgust? The Relationship Between Morality and Disgust in Punitive Decision-Making in Jurors" at the conference because he began work as a Peace Corps volunteer in the public health sector in Albania earlier this year.
Dr. Cory Toyota, associate professor in the Department of Chemistry and director of the Honors Program, said the program provides students the opportunity to work closely with a faculty mentor on projects that they generate. Juniors with at least a 3.300 grade point average are invited to submit a proposal for a project in the fall of his or her junior year. Research is conducted during the spring semester and the summer, the fall of the senior year is spent writing and making revisions, and the thesis is defended in front of the Honors committee toward the end of the fall semester. Results of the project are presented at the annual Honors Conference during the spring of the senior year.
"We have many students doing ongoing research with Millsaps faculty in many departments," said Toyota. "For example, nearly 20 students gave poster or oral presentations at the Mississippi Academy of Sciences conference recently. The Honors Program is even more prestigious and challenging."
Many of the Honors projects can be comparable to projects that a graduate student seeking a master's degree might pursue, Toyota said. Honors students gain skills during the experience will prepare them for the rigors of graduate and professional school, he said.
In addition to having a note on a student's transcript that notes the student graduated with Honors, every student who completes an Honors project receives special recognition during Commencement.
The nomenclator not only announces the name of the student but also that he or she is graduating with Honors in a particular discipline. Dr. Keith Dunn, provost and dean of the College, places an academic hood on the student during Commencement.
Students from all three divisions of the College completed Honors projects for 2018. They also include: