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A Hallmark Undergraduate Research Experience: Nine Honors Program Students Complete their Honors Thesis

This academic year, a record number of students completed an honors thesis as part of the University Honors Program’s curriculum. The process simulates that of a master’s or Ph.D. thesis and defense, and the final product is the calling-card of a scholar—original, independent research. Thesis projects challenge students to draw on knowledge and abilities that they have developed throughout the course of their honors education and to apply them to an in-depth investigation of a chosen topic. The quest to produce an original piece of research began, for most of these students, their junior year.

Ren Dimico Thesis Committee
Ren Dimico and Thesis Committee

Each student began by selecting a faculty mentor to guide them on their endeavor. The faculty mentor assists the students in developing a thesis proposal, conducting research and providing the vital feedback necessary for a successful project. In many cases, the honors thesis student and their faculty advisor met weekly or biweekly, demonstrating the exceptional mentorship that a large public research university such as the University of Idaho has to offer its undergraduate students. The journey ends with the students presenting their findings to the larger campus community at the biannual University Honors Program Research and Creative Scholarship Forum held in December and May prior to turning in their printed theses. As part of the journey, students enroll in the newly created Honors INTR 454 course, which is intended to assist students by guiding them through thesis research and writing, learning about time management, finding writing resources and identifying and practicing research presentations. This course provides the students with a space to forge a deep bond, not unlike a Ph.D. support group, as their cohort is tested through hard work and discipline.

In addition to this course, the University Honors Program supports honors thesis students through grant opportunities, including the University Honors Program Grants for Undergraduate Research, Scholarship and Creative Activities. The purpose of the grants is to support the growth and development of original, independent undergraduate research, scholarship or creative activity and to encourage progress toward completing an honors thesis.

Taken together, the honors thesis experience provides an opportunity for University Honors Program students to have a substantial, challenging capstone experience that encourages them to work diligently and creatively over an extended period of time. The resulting product, a public presentation and a bound thesis, stands out amongst graduate and professional schools’ admission committees, as well as to future employers, which see these as proof of long-term commitment and tenacity by the students.

Alice Cassel (Biology and Microbiology, College of Science) presented “Linking Micro and Macro: Exploring Patterns of Soil Microbial Diversity in the Disjunct Mesic Forests of the Pacific Northwest.” Alice’s thesis committee included Dr. David Tank, Dr. Eva Top and Dr. Jack Sullivan.

BreAnne Servoss Cook (Apparel, Textiles and Design, College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, and Theatre Arts, College of Letters, Arts and Social Sciences) presented "Consumer Perception of Garment Value Relative to Garment Construction Knowledge." Breanne's thesis committee included Dr. Lori Wahl, Dr. Ann Hoste and Dr. Sonya Meyers.

Ren Dimico (Molecular Biology and Biotechnology, College of Science) is the first University Honors Program student to complete two honors theses. In December, she presented “Enhancing Learning Understanding and Retention in an iCURE Laboratory.” Ren's thesis committee included Dr. Patricia Hartzell, Martina Ederer and Dr. Diane Carter. At the May forum, Ren presented “Unraveling Genetic Determinants of Synaptic Formation in the Mammalian Visual System." Ren's thesis committee included Dr. Peter Fuerst, Dr. Doug Cole and Dr. Deborah Stenkamp.

Natasha Herbenson (Microbiology, College of Science) presented "Identification of Proteins that Interact with Down Syndrome Cell Adhesion Molecules." Natasha's committee included Dr. Peter Fuerst and Dr. Diana Mitchell.

Romana Hyde (Biochemistry, College of Science, and Psychology, College of Letters, Arts and Social Sciences) presented "Analysis of SHANK3 Expression in Cerebellar Granule Cells." Romana's thesis committee included, Dr. Benjamin Richardson, Dr. Peter Fuerst and Dr. Deborah Stenkamp.

Caitlin C. Klaeui (Animal and Veterinary Science, College of Agricultural and Life Sciences) presented "Effect of Feeding Supplemental Zeolite on Measures of Nitrogen Utilization in Backgrounding Cattle." Caitlin's thesis committee included Dr. Gwinya Chibisa and Dr. Pedram Rezamand.

Samuel A. Myers (Physics and Mathematics, College of Science) presented "Mini-Neptune Orbiting Delta-Scuti KOI-972." Samuel's thesis committee included Dr. Matthew Hedman and Dr. Jason Barnes.

Matthew Young (Physics and Mathematics, College of Science) presented "Wakes in Saturn's E Ring from Enceladus." Matthew's thesis committee included Dr. Matthew Hedman and Dr. Jason Barnes.

Article by Justin M. Smith, University Honors Program Coordinator

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