College of Liberal Arts & Sciences

Outstanding Master's Thesis and Research Project Awardees

Rebecca Woolbert, Applied Behavioral Science  (2021)

Teaching Graphing Using Enhanced Written Instructions: Does Chunk Size Matter?

Alexis Exum, Psychology (2021)

Culturally-Informed Theory for Disordered Eating in Black Women

Alexis’ thoughtful, innovative, and important thesis work proposes the first culturally-informed theory for disordered eating in Black women, with a focus on culture-specific variables such as centrality (the importance of race in self-perception), societal pressure, discrimination, cultural appearance valuation, and stress. Professor Tera Fazzino states, “I expect that she will make key contributions to the field during her career, which may result in more culturally-relevant conceptualizations of eating disorders for the Black community, and culturally-informed treatment approaches.”

Nick Banach, English, Creative Writing (2020)

Case Study: Becoming

Banach’s MFA project is the first major section of a complete novel that he wrote and revised, titled, Transcription. Banach notes that his novel, “explores the ways in which an individual’s identity is actively constructed through self-curated narrative, and how that identity clashes with the perceptions of others”. In the novel, a biracial family seeks help from a Body Language Transcriptionist, who is sent to their home to record not only their words, but the body language and contextual details that will help them understand their interactions with others. Unlike other science fictional nova familiar and reused by many writers, the “transcriptionist” is uniquely Banach’s invention. Further, the story is told in the form of transcripts, family emails, public records, corporate reports, and data analytics. His advisors remark that his work is innovative, clever and brilliantly fresh, yet accessible, as it engages with questions pertaining to race, surveillance, and psychological health. Professor Kij Johnson notes, “It is the best MFA I have been part of in my time at KU”, and further, “has the potential to be an important work, as exciting as the first novels of David Foster Wallace and Michael Chabon”.

Morgan McComb, English (2020)

"Everything is Here and Now": The Polyvocal Poetry of Naomi Long Madgett

Morgan’s impressive thesis portfolio consists of two analytical essays, an interview transcript, and a documentary video centered on the work of Naomi Long Madgett. Despite Madgett’s work as a poet, editor, publisher, and educator, her work is rarely studied or engaged critically. Morgan’s thesis portfolio presents new scholarship that addresses important racial and gender politics explored in Madgett’s work. The work that Morgan has developed helps to fill glaring gaps in mid-twentieth-century African American literary history. Dr. Ayesha Hardison notes, “Morgan’s four-hour interview with Madgett is especially important to the field because of the poet’s advancing age." Dr. Hardison also noted that “Morgan’s thesis is the most innovative M.A. project I have had the pleasure to direct." A section of the portfolio is scheduled for publication in The Langston Hughes Review.

Erin Bojanek, Clinical Child Psychology (2019)

  Postural Control Processes During Static and Dynamic Activities in Autism Spectrum Disorder

This project examined postural control mechanisms during static and dynamic standing conditions and stepping in individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and typically developing controls. We found that individuals with ASD showed reduced coordination of joint movements during dynamic adjustments and showed greater rigidity when stepping and that these postural control and stepping deficits were related to repetitive behaviors in individuals with ASD.

Austen McGuire, Clinical Child Psychology (2019)

  The Association between Dimensions of Maltreatment and Academic Outcomes for Youth in Foster Care

In Austen’s thesis, he addresses the academic performance of youth in foster care, a population of youth who experience a myriad of risk factors for poor academic health. Austen's thesis is one of the first studies to document on a large scale, what the academic health of youth in care is and what about their exposure to child abuse and foster care influenced their subsequent academic performance. His nominator, Professor Yo Jackson states, "The quality of the work was simply excellent and perhaps the best representation of what a thesis should be. He completely conceived of the work on his own, developed the research questions and the methods based on his extensive and thorough review of the literature and wrote one of the best manuscripts to-date in the Clinical Child Psychology Program."

Lucas McMichael, Geography & Atmoshperic Science (2018)

  Assessing the Mechanisms Governing the Daytime Evolution of Marine Stratocumulus Using Large-Eddy Simulation

In Lucas’ research, individual mechanisms accountable for administering the evolution of afternoon cloud properties were investigated for a case of thin stratocumulus off the coast of California. In his thesis, Lucas answers in detail process-based research questions about how low clouds respond to their environment. His research has been backed by an Office of Naval Research, and he has presented his results at the Annual Meeting of the American Meteorological Society in 2017. His nominator, Professor Mechem stated, “His thesis research demonstrates intellectual rigor, creativity, and attention to detail far beyond most Masters-level students, and he is the strongest graduate student to pass through my research group in my 11 years here at KU.”

Che-Ling Ho, Ecology & Evolutionary Biology (2018)

  First Finding of Succulence and C4/CAM-Cycling Photosynthesis in a Grass: Ecophysiology on Spinifex littoreus in Coastal Region of Taiwan

Che-Ling’s research explored the physiology of a species of grass that is native to Asia. For the very first time, she unveiled that this particular grass can have succulent, water-storing leaves. Che-Ling also was the first to discover a unique kind of physiology that aids the grass in conserving water unlike any other type of grass. Her research was focused on a type of grass that was on a separate continent, however the research she discovered is especially relevant to Kansas. Agriculture is fundamental to Kansas’ economy. Currently in Kansas, aquifers are being used at a faster rate than can be restored. Che-Ling examines potential opportunities for cultivating this grass with crop relatives such as corn and wheat to yield drought-resistant strains. Che-Ling’s nominators passionately praised her work as “exceptional” and “rare.”

CJ Grady, Geography & Atmospheric Science (2018)

  Delineating Sea-Level Rise Inundation: An Exploration of Data Structure and Performance Optimization

In CJ’s thesis, he suggested and explored an innovative approach to calculate the minimum sea level rise needed to inundate a cell in a Digital Elevation Model (DEM). This particular method, which accounts for water connectivity outperforms the simpler “bathtub” method. CJ put into action both a binary heap and hash table data structure in order to achieve the most useful implementation. According to Professor Li, who nominated CJ, “His research not only explored data structures to improve computation efficiency on conventional desktop computers, but also parallelized the method using the supercomputing resources in the Extreme Science and Engineering Discovery Environment (XSEDE) funded by NSF.” CJ’s research was presented at the CUAHSI (Consortium of Universities for the Advancement of Hydrologic Science) Conference in summer of 2017.

Carolina Bejarano, Clinical Child Psychology (2017)

  Motivation and Hedonic Hunger as Predictors of Self-Reported Food Intake in Adolescents: Disentangling Between-Person and Within-Person Processes

In her thesis, Carolina explains her research into how dietary behavior contributes substantially to health across the lifespan.  Carolina’s research examined dietary motivation and hedonic hunger as interacting predictors of adolescent consumption of sweet, starchy, fatty, and fast foods.  Carolina conducted an intensive longitudinal study, through which data was collected from fifty adolescent participants.  Participants completed a measure of dietary motivation at baseline and reported on hedonic hunger and consumption of palatable foods via a smartphone application at the end of each study day.  Carolina’s findings indicate that hedonic hunger has the potential to fluctuate over time, but conceptualization of the variable as both trait and state may be most appropriate given current findings. Carolina’s nominators were highly impressed with her research and thesis, noting that it was “much more akin to an outstanding doctoral dissertation than it is to a typical Master’s thesis.”

Melissa Gilstrap, English (2016)

  Re-Placing the Prostitute: Ruth Hall and the Spatial Politics of the Streetwalker

Through her study of Fanny Fern’s 1854 Ruth Hall, Melissa exhibited outstanding work and produced a thesis representing some of the very best work done in her Master’s program.  “Re-Placing the Prostitute: Ruth Hall and the Spatial Politics of the Streetwalker” engages with recent critical conversations on subjectivity and the socio-spatial shifts of modernity in Fanny Fern’s loosely autobiographical novel that narrates the rise of a widow from poverty to literary fame as a writer named “Floy.”  Using Michael Foucault’s concept of heterotopia, or “spaces of difference,” Melissa argues that the boardinghouse, the boarding school, and the brothel featured early on in the novel are all fundamentally connected as female-oriented liminal spaces, spaces that have the potential to either nourish authorial voice or to produce “painted women.”  Melissa then contends that the streetwalker, the most common and most mobile sex worker in mid-19th-century New York, significantly complicates how Ruth plies her own trade as a peripatetic journalist and flaneuse.  Ultimately, the biggest implication of Melissa’s thesis has for the field is how Ruth is seen – and by extension, other antebellum women writers – participating in the 19th-century’s prevalent and increasing spirit of commodification.  Melissa’s nominators noted her work as consistently exceptional and find this to be an excellent piece of scholarship.

Meghan Kelly, Geography (2016)

  Mapping Syrian Refugee Border Crossings: A Critical, Feminist Perspective

In her investigation of media coverage of the Syrian refugee crisis, Meghan demonstrates both her scholastic maturity and her ability to generate applicable solutions to urgent contemporary issues through academic inquiry. In particular, Meghan investigated how cartographic coverage of refugees’ movements is presented as well how it could be improved to encourage public engagement. While Meghan identified the importance of eliciting empathy from readers and viewers as essential to catalyzing action, she also recognized that coverage relying on maps to illustrate their experiences “were comparatively sterile and lacking in emotional depth.” In response to this disconnect, Meghan used interviews with humanitarian workers, media content analysis, theory, and political analysis to develop an interactive atlas that allows users to engage with the migratory experiences of humanitarian workers and refugees. Meghan’s nominators praised her skill in examining this contemporary issue “with an innovative combination of theory, content analysis, interview, and cartographic exploration and expression.” They particularly praised her expert application of theory, noting her mature ability to apply theory to research with a depth and complexity rarely seen in the work of Master’s students. The complexity of her research and work is a true expression of Meghan’s broad academic interests, including “cartography, political geography, feminist sociology, and graphic design.” It is for these many reasons that Meghan’s unique and academically sophisticated work is deserving of this honor.

Joshua Meisel, Geography (2015)

  Historical Demographics, Student Origins, and Recruitment at Off-Reservation Indian Boarding Schools, 1900

In his study of student populations at off-reservation industrial training schools for Native American youth in 1900, Joshua exhibited both his ability to contribute new and important work to his field of study and his immense promise as a scholar. Joshua created a large dataset to complete his thesis that involved extensive archival research. He “was able to locate nearly every census and superintendent’s report for the years surrounding 1900 so that he could create a demographic profile for each school including the age, gender, tribal affiliation, and blood quantum of each student.” Joshua prepared a thesis that his committee agreed was exceptional based on the “depth and complexity of his analysis of the student population of the Bureau of Indian Affairs’ off-reservation boarding school system in 1900.” Joshua’s thesis shows his ability to work across the “intersection of a number of disciplinary traditions including history, demography, Indigenous studies, and geography.” It is for these reasons that his committee members encouraged Joshua to seek publication of his work.

Elizabeth Adams, Classics (2014)

 Esse videtur: Occurrences of Heroic Clausulae in Cicero's Orations

In her thesis on Cicero and the rhythms of literary Latin in the first century BCE, Elizabeth “tackles an extraordinarily thorny issue with over a century of research behind it and offers a unique perspective” that provides an important contribution to her field.  In fact, after presenting her research at a national convention, Elizabeth’s work has started to receive considerable attention from Ciceronian scholars.  Through her research, Elizabeth developed a thorough and persuasive argument that challenges previous scholarship on the “heroic clausulae,” uncovering its place in the Roman oratory genre and offering new insight into the meaning of its use in passages.  Elizabeth’s nominators note that her work and originality “attest to her growing promise as a scholar.”

Laurie Gayes, Clinical Child Psychology (2014)

 A Meta-Analysis of Motivational Interviewing Interventions for Pediatric Health Behavior Change

Laurie’s meta-analysis of research on Motivational Interviewing interventions “is much more akin to a well-conducted doctoral dissertation than it is to a typical Master’s Thesis.”  While there is a robust body of literature about the intervention technique, which aims to help people identify their motivations as a means of making difficult behavioral changes, Laurie’s work is the first to examine the literature as a whole, improving the accessibility of up-to-date knowledge that can influence clinical practice and research.  The value of Laurie’s work is underscored by its acceptance for publication in the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology», the premier journal in clinical psychology.  

Gopolang Mohlabeng, Physics & Astronomy (2013)

 A Redshift Dependent Color-Luminosity Relation in Type 1a Supernovae

Gopolang undertook an immensely challenging project, particularly for a Master’s level student, and skillfully navigated and organized raw data to produce a significant contribution to his field.  His study of Type 1a supernovas – which “are the main (and probably sole) evidence for ‘dark energy" and help researchers calibrate the rate of the expansion of the Universe – uncovered evidence that “the large redshift, most distant supernovas don’t act as expected.”  The observations made in Gopolang’s research introduce an important discovery to the field.  Those who stepped forward to nominate Gopolang stated that his work “shows a great deal of technical prowess as well as imaginative flair that should serve him well in the future.”  The results of his research were published in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society».

Jeanne Tiehen, Theater (2013)

 Frankenstein on Stage: Galvanizing the Myth and Evolving the Creature

Jeanne’s research analyzes aspects of the story of Frankenstein that have captured the imagination of theater directors for over two-hundred years, prompting them to readapt it for contemporary audiences.  More specifically, Jeanne focuses on how Frankenstein serves as a cultural myth that mirrors society’s psychological relationship with scientific and technological progress.  Through the presentation of her research at national conferences, Jeanne has demonstrated the significance of her work to the discipline as well as her potential as a theater scholar.  Furthermore, those who nominated Jeanne note that the quality of her work evinces her “rich understanding of the multiple contexts in which her research fits” and establishes a solid foundation for future research.  ​An adaptation of this research was published in The Popular Cultural Studies Journal».

Laurie Petty, Sociology (2012) 

 Department Chairs and High Chairs: The importance of perceived department chair supportiveness on faculty parents' views of departmental and institutional kid-friendliness

In her study of how faculty careers are affected by perceptions by faculty of the degree to which department chairs are family-friendly, Laurie addresses an aspect of the faculty experience previously unexplored in the literature.  In producing this original contribution, Laurie also demonstrated her thoroughness as a researcher through the recruitment of broad sample of participants and careful consideration and examination of a number of variables that may affect how faculty parents experience their departments and institutions.  Furthermore, Laurie’s work provides additional insight into understanding how culture in academe impacts the departmental and institutional experiences of faculty parents, particularly in relation to gendered expectations.

Steven Roels, Ecology & Evolutionary Biology (2012)

 Not Easy Being Mead's: Comparative Herbivory on Three Milkweeds, Including Threatened Mead's Milkweed (Asclepias meadii), and Seedling Ecology of Mead's Milkweed

Steve’s passion for the study of ecology and conservation is clearly evident in this study of a local, endangered plant species, Ascleapis meadii.  Not only has this work allowed him to explore an area of interest, but the results of his detailed and difficult research efforts are also applicable to current conservation practices in Douglas and Anderson counties.  Department members who nominated Steve consider his work to be “of high quality, and also of significant depth” while also providing an original contribution to the field that represents “an ideal example of a master’s thesis” in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology.  The results of his research were published in The American Midland Naturalist».