Honors Summer Fellowship

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Honors Summer Fellowships provide a summer's focus on your thesis. Within the HSF community, there is opportunity for research, faculty connections, student gatherings, and public scholarship. 


Meet Our 2013 Honors Summer Fellows

Alyssa Slayton

I study Linguistic Anthropology, which focuses on how language influences culture, but also how people use language to actively create and navigate their cultures. This dual view of language will be central to my project on group dynamics. For my thesis, I will be working with student organizations at U of M to collect video recordings of their meetings. Through review and transcription, I will identify the linguistic patterns that guide the interactions and assess these speech features’ roles in altering and/or reinforcing the structure of the group. Ultimately, the project will explore how language contributes to the balance of relations in collaborative settings.


Courtney Webber

For my thesis, I will be researching the foodscape, defined as the physical and social environment of food, from the perspectives of volunteers, staff, and guests at a soup kitchen. I am interested in hunger as a social issue, the relationships between guests and volunteers, and how food assistance may be perceived differently by these individuals.  I will explore these themes of material hardship, entitlement, and voluntarism to better understand the complexities of food aide in the U.S.

Crystal Collier



Eliana Fenyes

My research will focus on the provincial readership of Scottish Enlightenment literature, focusing on libraries as a mode of information dissemination. I will be looking at the information trickle-down effect that occurred as Scottish philosophers, historiographers, and other thinkers produced literature, which was then purchased by rural libraries and read by farmers, laborers, and other lower-class citizens. My research will track the literary phenomenon of the Scottish Enlightenment, when an entire country became enlightened by the values of a few. 

Grace Goudiss 

My research focuses on a specific style of California country music that emerged in the 1950s and ‘60s called the Bakersfield sound.  My thesis will trace the sound from its roots in the Dust Bowl/Depression/World War II migrations of the 1930s-1940s, through its heyday in the late 1950s-late 1960s, and finally to its role in country music today as shorthand for authenticity and tradition.  In forming a cultural history of the Bakersfield sound and the construction of tradition in country music, I hope to examine broader changes in American culture through the evolution of the function and content of country music over the last 80 years.


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Hasan Safiuddin

Dopamine-dependent reward pathways in the brain are crucial for a host of normal functions, particularly what cognitive psychologists term “reinforcement-learning”. Complications within this system can lead to some of the most debilitating diseases in modern medicine, from Parkinson’s and Huntington’s disease, to Tourette’s and schizophrenia. My project involves pharmacological manipulations of these circuits to gain a more comprehensive understanding of two special receptor types—D1 and D2--and their behavioral manifestations.



John Bohn

My history thesis will be looking at the life and works of American anarcho-feminist, poet, and immigrant community schoolteacher Voltairine de Cleyre, who was active between 1890 and 1912. I will be looking at her work as a symptom of what Paul Buhle called the unskilled workers revolution, spear-headed in America by the Industrial Workers of the World in 1905. I will use this historical moment to explore how concerns for the highly marginalized and ethnically diverse unskilled worker frame the themes of her artistic productions and affect the interplay of feminism, anarchism, Marxism, and revolutionary trade unionism in her thought and practice.

Josh Kurtz

In the 21st century, one of the most important problems facing humanity is developing an enduring, sustainable energy economy. Aimed towards creating a more enduring, sustainable energy economy, hydrogen gas has come into play as a popular alternative fuel source is hydrogen; its current method of production, however, comes from natural gas, resulting in the emission of 9 Mtons of CO2 into the environment every year. An alternative method for clean hydrogen fuel production, which will leave no impact on our carbon footprint, involves using semiconductor compounds as catalysts in the splitting of water into hydrogen and oxygen using only sunlight. My research focuses on using CuWO4 as a photoanode for the water oxidation half-reaction of the Z-scheme approach to water-splitting. 

Julia Jacovides

My research will focus on partition in the 20th century, but I will explore Cyprus in particular. I hope to compare one or two other divided societies to Cyprus, drawing generalizations about the population's experience when a partition is put into effect: its feelings about the other side, how it views the distribution of land, and how neighbors see each other in the subsequent years. I hope to end my project on a policy note and suggest what the best course of action might be for Cyprus, given its unique but not isolated experience.

Julia Hickey

My research for my anthropology thesis focuses on how undocumented young people experience and think about Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). DACA is a government policy that grants temporary relief from deportation and work authorization to undocumented migrants brought to the U.S. as children. Through interviews with DACA applicants, lawyers, and activists, my research explores the social and legal implications of this immigration policy for young people, their families, and the larger undocumented community in southeast Michigan. 

Justin Creeden

This summer I'll be researching the arts and medical education. Truly excellent health care is supported by the ability to interact and communicate with patients. I'm interested in exploring the arts' ability to bolster these relationship skills in the context of health care systems.


Kathryn Marchetti 

An estimated 16-18 million humans in the Americas are infected with Chagas disease causing many deaths and great economic cost; Rhodnius prolixus is its primary vector.  A research focus in my lab is the role of myosuppressins in peptidergic regulation of cardiac contractility; we conduct research in model systems like Drosophila melanogaster, a versatile experimental organism.  My biochemistry research thesis explores the interactions between D. melanogaster myosuppressin and its receptor, and their application to the design of a myosuppressin analog that manipulates R. prolixus physiology for use in disease control.

Mallika Sarma 

My thesis looks to examine the relationship between mindfulness, emotional regulation, creativity, and mental health. Recent clinical research examining the relationship between mindfulness and emotional regulation shows that individuals who are more mindful also show a reduction in anxiety, increase in positive emotions, and increased levels of creativity which potentially leads to higher life satisfaction. Using the Mindfulness and Loving Kindness and Compassion scales, I am looking to see the positive effects on mental health that occur with higher levels of mindfulness as well as the effects on creativity. I hope to explore this relationship specifically in populations that find themselves at the crossroads of Eastern and Western traditions where the concepts of mindfulness, loving kindness, and compassion have very different meanings, connotations, and values. 

Mark Durham

My research focuses on CHARGE Syndrome, a genetic disorder affecting1:10,000 live births. Common features associated with CHARGE include improper development of the central nervous system, heart, ear, craniofacial bones, and multiple other tissues. Mutations in the protein CHD7 cause CHARGE Syndrome in over 60% of cases. Specifically, my thesis aims to determine the role of CHD7in the development of two brain structures implicated in CHARGE, the midbrain and cerebellum. 


Masha Shulkin

For my honors thesis, I am examining neural processing of language and sound in patients with cochlear implants. This device provides us with a unique window into both the development and potential reorganization, or plasticity, of the human brain. Using a new brain imaging methodology called functional near infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS), which measures brain activation as a function of cerebral oxygenated and deoxygenated hemoglobin, I hope to uncover how brain architecture and functioning may be modified in the absence of auditory input and after its restoration. 

Megan Bernath

I will test how α-synuclein and ATP13A2 contribute to neurodegeneration. In an unpublished study, I observed no α-synuclein accumulation in ATP13A2 null mice, but sub-aggregate synuclein may still cause neurotoxicity. I will test the role of stressing a dysfunctional autophagy system through α-synuclein over-expression. My proposed project will focus on the interaction between two genetic mutations: A53T mutation in SNCA and loss-of-function mutation in ATP13A2. I hypothesize increasing the amount of α-synuclein within the cell will place a heavier burden on the autophagy pathway, which will cause an increase and early onset of α-synuclein aggregation in experimental mice. Further, this stress on the autophagy pathway will cause an increase in protein aggregation, neurotoxicity, and inflammation in experimental mice. This is significant because it will provide insight into the normal function of the lysosomal ATP13A2 protein, along with its role in PD pathogenesis. This work is innovative in that it will develop a new genetic mouse model to examine ATP13A2 function.


Melissa Manley

My thesis project aims to better understand variations in sexual orientation identity, challenging traditional notions of the connection between attraction, behavior, and identity. At the intersection of feminism and psychological science, this project uses data following polyamorous and monoamorous individuals over multiple time-points in order to better understand the association between changes in sexual and romantic attractions, relationships, and identities. This work expands upon the existing literature on sexual fluidity, defined as situation-dependent fluctuations in sexual attraction.

Molly Niedbala

With the democratization of Internet access and unprecedented abilities to store, transmit, aggregate, and manipulate information, we now share and receive content like never before, yet have increasingly diminished opportunities to critically consider our content flows’ significance.  I describe such diminishment as an erosion of individual agency and emblematic of privacy invasion itself.  As privacy aims to insulate the self against inappropriate potential influence, when we experience phenomena that diminish our freedom of thought (e.g. misdirection, inappropriate pressure, or just non-transparency about potential influences), we experience them as privacy invasions.  My project explores the nature of our interest in privacy with an emphasis on the private actor as a critical thinker, and it asks how, in light of Big Data, US law might ensure communicating actors’ hypothetical consent to their informational exchanges (and so ensure their privacy).

Nicholas Rombes

I'm studying higher-spin gravity in 2+1 dimensions (2 dimensions of space + 1 dimension of time; think Flatland). I'm interested in a particular spin-4 spacetime solution. Can we call it a black hole? If so, what are its thermodynamic properties? Are there any obstructions to proceeding to spin-N solutions? What physical meaning, if any, do the different embeddings of classical gravity into higher-spin gravity carry? My hope is that detailing a spin-4 solution will help advance the understanding of higher-spin spacetime solutions and their intricacies.

Peter Chutcharavan

For my thesis, I am attempting to characterize the surface area of suspended sediments in glacial meltwater. The surface area of sediment grains is directly related to the reactivity of these sediments, which in turn governs the availability of dissolved elements and nutrients in the meltwater. Suspended sediment is also the greatest source, by mass, of riverine-transported material to the ocean, so better understanding the reactivity of these glacial suspended sediments could provide insight into the effect of periods of increased and decreased glaciation on global seawater chemistry. This summer, I will conduct measurements on sediment from alpine glaciers in Canada and Alaska using a nano-scale balance. By measuring nanogram-sized variations in mass, I can calculate the surface area for samples with masses several orders of magnitude smaller than with conventional methods.

Raanan Barach 

What role should nationalism play in any just settlement of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict? I will use the theoretical difficulties that crop up when attempting to approach this case example to argue that in order to resolve the real-world difficulties raised by nationalism and defend it from the compelling arguments brought against it, one must challenge the assumptions made by most nationalist thinkers and recognize the dangers of extending a boundless cultural pluralism to all iterations of nationalism.

Ray Strobel

Carbon-oxygen bonds are important structural and functional motifs in pharmaceuticals, commodity feed stocks, and energy storage.  A modern methodology for their synthesis, C-H oxidation, suffers from poor yields due to bimolecular decomposition of the catalyst. My project proposes to incorporate catalysts within the crystalline structure of a metal organic framework (MOF).  It is hypothesized that this will render the MOF catalytically active, prevent the bimolecular decomposition of the catalyst (thereby increasing the reaction yield), and provide novel regioselective and chemoselective control.

Rebecca Cao

I'm working on two theses this summer. The first one is a phonetic comparison of Spanish, French, and Catalan vowels. I will be creating a speaking task, recording native speakers, and then performing acoustic analysis of the data. For my second thesis, I am studying the representation of women during the Chinese Cultural Revolution through the medium of art. 

Rosie Levine

My thesis in the History department is focusing on the interplay between China and America between the 1880's and 1910's. I'm trying to break away from the standard political and trade examples that dominate the discipline by bringing in instances from mass culture where traditional assumptions about modernity and technology are being challenged. In particular, I am grounding my research in a World's Fair/Industrial Exposition exhibit that the Chinese government donated to the University of Michigan in the 1880's. Through this collection and other examples, I hope to show how China and the U.S. are both dealing with the consequences and repercussions of modernization around the turn of the century. 

Sara Knutson

My History Honors thesis considers Viking-Age women and how gender roles in Scandinavian society transformed during the period of Christianization and into the Middle Ages. My research deals with models of religious conversion as well as the archaeological evidence of Christian rune-stones located in Uppland, Sweden. I hope to contemplate how a surprisingly high number of women came to be sponsors of these rune-stones in Uppland relative to the rest of Scandinavia.

Victoria Blake

My research project studies how changes in binding affinity and orientation of the Ci transcription factor modulates gene expression patterns during development. Ci is involved in signaling pathways that are critical during development of many species and defects in the interpretation of this signal have been associated with human cancers. Understanding how proteins such as Ci coordinate gene expression helps gain insight into previously unknown causes for common human disease.

Xiao Wang

My project examines the relationship between music and cognition. Specifically, I am examining if students with musical training have an improved ability to sustain attention over time. This research has important implications for both cognitive psychology and education. As school districts tend to view music programs as costly luxuries, it is necessary to study the types of cognitive benefits that learning and playing music can have for children, adults, and the elderly alike.