Liberal Arts Honors logo
Liberal Arts Honors

Junior Fellows Projects 2014- 2015


Project Title:  Building a Family of 9,800: How to Engage Liberal Arts Students with Their Education and Each Other

Description:  Belonging to community while in college has been correlated to higher GPAs, graduation rates, and overall healthier college experiences. In UT, college retention rates vary across schools and I believe that the community factor might be responsible for that. My research will look at the communities in the different schools of UT, see how community affects student performance, and try to find ways that will strengthen, particularly, the community in the College of Liberal Arts.

Faculty Adviser:  Professor Marc Musick



Project Title:  ESL students as writing center tutors: Between conflicting perspectives

Description:  As more international students are enrolled at universities in the United States, more English as a Second Language (ESL) speakers are coming to campus writing centers. In response to this demographic change, the effectiveness of the “non-directive/non-evaluative” (ND/NE) methodology has been challenged. As a researcher puts it, ND/NE is so effective for native English speakers in the same way it is so ineffective for ESL speakers: culture. Interning as a tutor at the Undergraduate Writing Center last semester, I noticed two layers of conflicting expectations: not only between students and tutors, but also between ESL and native English speakers. I found that while many studies of writing centers have focused on ESL speakers as students, not many have discussed ESL speakers as tutors. I was an ESL student myself before assuming the role of an ESL tutor; I experienced firsthand the struggles of understanding academic and cultural expectations of English writing. My project will explore challenges that ESL students face as writing center tutors, as well as contributions they can make while holding onto conflicting perspectives.

Faculty Adviser:  Professor John J. Ruszkiewicz



Project TitleC. elegans as a Model to Study Muscular Dystrophy: A Forward Suppression Screen

Description:  The model organism Caenorhabditis elegans provides a means through which muscular dystrophy can be studied, by investigating its burrowing behavior. Unlike other behaviors, burrowing is unique because it permits the experimental manipulation of substrate density, allowing behavioral assessment of neuromuscular integrity in animals modeling many human diseases. Mutants mimicking muscular dystrophy, by lacking a functional dystrophin protein (DYS-1), can crawl normally but are severely impaired at burrowing.  My research focuses on a suppression screen through which I have identified several mutant lines where novel mutations rescued the burrowing impairment of dys-1 worms, and I am currently working to characterize the nature of these mutations.

Faculty Adviser:  Professor Jon Pierce-Shimomura



Project Title:  The Fall of Ahmed 'Abboud: The Beginning of the End of Egypt's Industrial Class under Nasser

Description:  Egypt's 2011 Revolution looked to many observers like history repeating itself. Many could still recall the Revolution of 1952 that brought Gamal Abdel Nasser to power. In fact, the modern Egyptian demonstrators shared common cause with their historical predecessors. But what followed the Revolution of 1952 was an unprecedented era of expanding state economic control, and the collapse of a burgeoning Egyptian business class. As today's Egypt faces economic crisis again - this time with President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi at the helm - I will look to Egypt's historical political economy for lessons to apply to the present. My research will look specifically at the political strategies of Egyptian business firms, particularly those under the leadership of Egyptian capitalist Ahmed 'Abboud, to gain insight into the dismantling of Egypt's business and industrial class under Nasser's regime. 

Faculty Adviser:  Professor Yoav di-Capua



Project Title:  Don't Just Sit in the Back: Developing Social Capital in Organizational Meetings.

Description:  Meetings are a pervasive part of organizational life.  Yet, in the age of social media, there is limited research describing how involvement and the use of technology impact the type and depth of relationships formed from meeting interactions.  My research aims to utilize social capital theory, popularized by Robert Putnam in 2000, to explore how face-to-face and online interactions during and after a meeting influence the development of relationships and network connections. My thesis will build upon previous work conducted in 2013, but will allow for a mixed-methods analysis of my findings and enhance organizational leadership development in an effort to connect practice with theoretically-grounded results. 

Faculty Adviser:  Professor Keri K. Stephens



Project Title:  NO TO PRAVDA! – A Troubling State of News-Media in Putin’s Russia

Description:  Since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, the press in Russia had to tolerate various political environments. From the turbulent 1990s, when the journalists found no constraints in their reporting, to today’s increasingly authoritarian environment – the press in Russia has always possessed a very strange role within a Russian society, most of whom need more than simple truth. In my project I intend to research the 30-year old history of the news-media in the post-Soviet Russia, in order to explore the mysterious role the journalists occupy within Russian society.  

Faculty Adviser:  Professor Robert Moser 



Project Title:  A Streetcar Named Desire: An Examination of Tennessee Williams' Iconoclastic Symbolic Journey into Societal Structure, Self-identity, and Sexuality

Description:  Tom Williams went to New Orleans and left as Tennessee Williams.  This most celebrated playwright of the twentieth century penned some of the most enduring works in the American Theater.  Williams’ ability to develop emotionally complex characters and accurately depict life in the South resulted in plays that challenged the views of society, social structure, and the human condition. Tennessee Williams’ classic, A Streetcar Named Desire is an example of how Williams sought to challenge some of the conventions of society and theatre. Through Williams' archives at The Harry Ransom Center, drafts of A Streetcar Named Desire, panel discussions at the Tennessee Williams New Orleans Literary Festival, and primary sources, I aim to identify the major symbols, influences, and philosophies of Williams through his writing of A Streetcar Named Desire.

Faculty Adviser:  Professor Andrew Carlson



Project Title:  Multiple Factors Influencing Weight in Children with Intellectual Disabilities

Description:  Current research shows that children with intellectual disabilities comprise roughly 9% of school-aged children (Rimmer, Yamaki, Lowry, Wang & Vogel, 2010); however, children with intellectual disabilities represent 23% of the total population of obese children (Emerson & Robertson, 2010). There is a higher proportion of obesity in children with intellectual disabilities than in the general population. While there has been ample research done showing that children with intellectual disabilities are more prone to obesity, no research has been done to identify which factor or factors are most predictive of obesity in this population. Children with intellectual disabilities face more challenges than just poor nutrition and less physical activity. These challenges include genetics, poor communication with health professionals and medications. The goal of this study is to examine which factors are most highly associated with excess weight in children with some aspect of an intellectual disability.

Faculty Adviser:  Professor Lynn Rew



Project Title:  Self-Assembly of Nanoclusters

Description:  Self-assembly processes are frequently seen in nature. They include the folding of peptides into proteins and the formation of DNA from nucleic acid building blocks. Scientists have endeavored to mimic the necessary thermodynamic conditions and create targeted nanostructures. My project will involve both an experimental investigation and a computational model of nanocluster self-assembly. Experimentally I will analyze the internal structure of biodegradable gold nanoclusters made for medical imaging applications. Computationally I will use "inverse optimization" algorithms to elucidate thermodynamic conditions which yield similar nanoclusters useful for bioimaging. Together the research will result in a comprehensive understanding of self-assembly processes behind biodegradable nanoclusters. 

Faculty Advisers:  Professor Keith P. Johnston, and Professor Thomas M. Truskett



Project Title: Use of the Latin Language in a Contemporary Context

Description:  Latin in contemporary culture and education is often

labeled a “dead” or “dying” language as a result of the paucity of persons fluent in the reading and even more in the speaking of this ancient tongue. However, Latin thrives in various niches and societies throughout the world. The Latin language survives in medicine and scientific study, religion and the occult, and even extensively in popular culture. This study will focus on these groups and will trace the journey of Latin from a major world language to its status and uses in a contemporary setting. Through examination of historical context, cultural trends, scientific practices, and rites of various religious groups, I will identify the significance of the Latin language as well as connections between these various groups. Through these connections I will observe the causes for the current uses of Latin, show that Latin is an integral part of contemporary culture, science, and religion, and provide evidence that shows that Latin is far from extinct as a language.

Faculty Adviser:  Professor William Nethercut



Project Title:  Using Computer Simulations to Study the Evolution of Animal Behavior 

Description: Many people are familiar with the wide range of complex behaviors that can be observed throughout the animal kingdom. Most notable are the social behaviors (collective vigilance, sexual preference, etc.) that define interactions between conspecifics in groups of all sizes. However, while these phenomena are readily-observed, the reasons why such behaviors have evolved can be difficult to study, given the large sizes of the groups involved and the evolutionary timescale required. My research uses computer simulations to model social decision-making in prey in various conditions, all based on a genetic code that be evolved within the simulation, not unlike what is found in nature. By using a simulation, I am better able to isolate, repeat, and explore the factors that drive the evolution of behavior. Specifically, I am interested in both how prey choose to work together to detect and avoid predators as well as how animals of all types develop complex means of sexual selection to find the most suitable mates.

Faculty Adviser:  Dr. Art Covert



Project Title:  Parsing Internet Architectures:  Code as an Agent of Power

Description:  Just as sociological studies of architecture propose that the buildings we live and work in affect us psychologically, culturally, and even politically, so too are we constantly, and silently, regulated by the digital architecture we build around ourselves. My project will advance computer science theories of code by uniting them with a Foucauldian analysis of power.  Power is both productive and repressive, centralized and decentralized, complex and multiplicitous—most fundamentally, power is everywhere.  By analyzing the seemingly neutral institution of code, the internet, and other distributed information networks, my research will analyze how these digital, and therefore partially invisible, systems reflect, produce, and reproduce societal power structures.

Faculty Adviser: Dr. Simone Browne



Project Title:  Human Rights as Tools to Overcome the Law of Exception in Humanitarian Interventions

Description:  Humanitarian interventions use the temporality of emergency to justify long-lasting states of exception. Development-focused interventions often act under the pretense of responding to emergencies to intervene, while failing to collaborate with states to build the capacity needed to achieve and maintain development goals independently. In this project, I intend to re-conceptualize development as capacity-centered growth and will explore the role of human rights discourse in encouraging sustainable development. I argue that even if states are temporarily dependent on NGOs and foreign governments to meet basic development goals, the evolution and sustainability of development depends on the actualization of rights. Specifically, I aim to explore using domestic jurisprudence and pedagogy as avenues to actualize social, economic, and cultural human rights to facilitate locally defined development.

Faculty Adviser:  Professor Paula Newberg



Project Title:  Proposal: Over-legalization of the American Regime and its Effect on Judicial Philosophy

Description:  The way in which America handles separation of powers disputes between the three branches of government today differs in important respects from the way such disputes were handled in the earlier parts of its history. What was once a passionate, educational public debate among the branches, has transformed into a formal, legal battle in our nation’s federal courts. The nine justices of the Supreme Court now decide many of these disputes. While work has been done on how this shift alters the nature of both the legislative and executive branches of the government, my research focuses on how this important shift changes the way justices on the Court see themselves and their roles in the American Regime. 

Faculty Adviser:  Professor Jeffrey Tulis 



Project Title: The Hypocritical Oath -- Physicians are Humans, Too

Description:  Medicine uses an interdisciplinary lens to study human beings. As such, the field needs a well-rounded pre- and medical education for one to excel and deliver in practice and in life. Furthermore, the 2015 MCAT reflects the significance of bringing the sciences and the humanities into reunion. A liberal arts education catalyzes unique personal and academic experiences, specifically shaping one’s path towards medicine.  I seek to recover the value of the humanities in medicine, arguing for why medicine must push for future physicians who have studied broadly.  Those who realize where the heart of medicine truly lies -- the human condition -- are well-suited to delivering genuine, effective care.

Faculty Advisers:  Professor Stephen Sonnenberg and Professor Martin Kevorkian



Project Title:  Religious Syncretism in the Fayum Mummies

Description:  The culture and art of the ancient Egyptians shifted during Ptolemaic and Roman times to include Greco-Roman motifs and deities. These motifs are most evident in funerary art even though they pervaded every aspect of Egyptian daily life. My research will focus on art from a particular set of sarcophagi found in Fayum Basin to examine how and why Greek and Roman culture merged with the existing Egyptian culture. In addition, I hope to gather insight into the effect Hellenism had on the lives of the ancient Egyptians and the culture of the ancient Near East.

Faculty Adviser:  Professor William Nethercut




Project Title:  The Network Architecture Underlying Proteins

Description:  Many networks of biological origin (neural, metabolic, food webs, etc.) exhibit similar patterns of connectivity.  This implies that, while dissimilar in function and contents, these networks are subject to the same evolutionary constraints.  If this is the case, then network properties likely translate.  For instance, we might expect connectivity patterns predictive of functional role in one network have predictive capacity in the other networks as well.  Basically, solve one and you solve them all.  My research aims to explore the network of amino acid interactions underlying proteins, the most fundamental of biological systems.  If this network exhibits the same pattern seen in the others, then it may be a useful model system for understanding the origins, evolution, and function of biological networks.

Faculty Adviser:  Professor Rama Ranganathan, U.T. Southwestern Medical School



Project Title:  Understanding History Through Jokes and Computers

Description:  The field of computer science has been blazing a trail of new opportunities and new ways to investigate the world around us. It provides us with many tools that could revolutionize our own interests and subjects - we simply have to be brave enough to use them. This project brings together the worlds of linguistics, history and computer science. Looking at jokes in comics written during World War II, my research aims to use computer programs to analytically study the most raw form of language in order to paint a clearer picture of how the people at the time were feeling.  

Faculty Adviser:  Professor Roger Louis



Project Title:  Ideological State Apparatuses, Addiction, and Infinite Jest

Description:  In Infinite Jest David Foster Wallace demonstrates the extent to which Althusserian Ideological State Apparatuses negatively impact individuals’ abilities to function effectively within their societies. Hal Incandenza’s relationship with Michael Pemulis mirrors Hal’s with Falstaff in Henry IV, Part 1. An expansion of the implications of this relationship and others in the novel based on the second formulation of Kant’s Categorical Imperative elucidates the mechanism through which addiction is developed and perpetuated. 

Faculty Adviser:  Professor George Christian



Project Title:  Fire and Rain:  Classical Guitar Music from the Southwest United States

Description:  My research explores the classical guitar music of contemporary composers from Texas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Arizona, and California through the creation of a CD of their music and a treatise on both the intramusical and extramusical themes that characterize this music.  The CD will contain about 60 minutes of music, and the composers included are Christina Avila, Timothy Callobre, Mark Cruz, Brad Richter, Carlos Rios, and Joseph Williams.  After brief biographical sketches of the composers, I will analyze extramusical themes such as the relation of their music to physical geography, history, and myth.  Exploration of intramusical themes will include the composers’ harmonic languages, the composers’ use of physical characteristics of the guitar in shaping their musical languages, and formal musical structure.  The summation of intramusical and extramusical characteristics of each composer’s music will be considered in order to draw conclusions about the musical culture of this region.  Preliminary observation has led to the hypothesis that naturalistic spiritualism is a prevalent extramusical theme in this music and that the campanella effect, in which strings ring over each other between notes of a musical line, is central to the musical language of many of these composers.

Faculty Adviser:  Professor Charles Carson