Texas Tech University



The Texas Tech University Honors College proudly presents its virtual Spring 2020 Thesis Day! The graduating Honors students featured here have spent the past two semesters researching and writing an Honors thesis (a major research paper) on a topic of their choice, qualifying them to graduate from the Honors College with the distinction of “with Highest Honors from the Honors College."

Scroll down and join the celebration!

Director's Message

Professor Kurt Caswell
Director, Honors Sciences & the Humanities


Cheyenne Alexander      Abigail Bell      Samantha Brown

Hannah Burks      Jordan Butler      Reagan Collins

Shivani Dalal      Elizabeth Gomez      Jon Goodart

Gabriella Hale      Zachary Hansen      Sarah Huerta

George Ibarra      Lars Lindgren      Jake Noltensmeyer

Angelica Rodriguez      Carina Vasquez      Tingzeng Wang



Cheyenne Alexander

Abstract: Most dental cavities are caused by the formation of biofilms. Cavity prevention could be accomplished by invading the microbiomes of microbes such as Streptococcus mutans and lactobacilli. These microbes are known to live in the oral cavity and cause chaos in the form of dental plaque and calculus. This build up is known to harden on the teeth and sub-gingival surface eating away at bone and tooth structures. This leads to the degradation of the tooth's most outer protective coating known as the enamel. The microbes then work their way into the middle layer; the dentin. The destruction of the tooth is increased with diets high in sugar and poor oral hygiene. This is because these microbes use sugar for energy and as a result secrete acid. Acid is known to be destructive to tooth enamel. This thesis will look at the dentistry, a field that serves to improve itself through new innovations and research. Because dental work has been occurring since human existence, I will analyze progression in diagnosis and treatment of cavities. I will assess how the understanding of germ theory and study of specific microbes have affected and shaped the dental community. These discoveries may have disrupted the way practicing dentists had diagnosed decay for their career. I will also compare how the dentists today who understand these microbe's role, diagnose patients. Lastly, I will hypothesize what dentistry may look like in the future. Overall, this thesis will explore cavity prevention with respect to the biofilms that cause them.



Abigail Bell

College: Arts & Sciences
Major: Biology

Thesis Title: "The Bible Tells Me So: The History of the Separation of Church and State and Modern Perspectives on its Effects"

Thesis Director: Dr. Joseph Hodes,
Honors College
Second Reader: Dr. Sean Cunningham,
Department of History

Abstract: The history leading to the separation of church and state outlined by the U.S. constitution is long and tumultuous, and one which has resulted in interesting opinions sourced from religious and educational authorities in modern times. With the desire to pursue a greater understanding of why this portion of the Bill of Rights was enacted to begin with, this thesis delves into the history of the Christian church and the relationship it had with governments in Western Europe throughout its existence. This work will reveal both the benefits and detriments that a lack of separation of church and state had on the lifestyles and governments of Europeans, and what lessons the constitution's writers took from them. Though the presence of the church brought about the of education in Europe and the consequential growth of a literate middle class, the abuse of power which occurred in its ranks allowed for events such as the Crusades and Inquisition, which killed thousands of innocents. This thesis will also highlight how the Church faced growing dissent in Europe which led to the Protestant Reformation and the eventual Puritan movement to America, where some of the early laws of the separation of church and state were first created. These laws, alongside the history of Christianity and the events occurring on the world stage at the time, led to the founding fathers' establishment of the first amendment of the U.S. Constitution. Despite the controversies surrounding the separation of church and state in modern times, its overall benefits have only been reaffirmed by officials in religion, philosophy, history, and politics as they have been interviewed with this historical review in mind. These interviews allow for an updated perspective on the amendment's affects upon religious organizations and the outside world alike, and combined with the history of Christianity help to show how the separation of church and state might have originally risen as a Christian idea.


Samantha Brown

College: Arts & Sciences
Major: Microbiology, Psychology

Thesis Title: "Palliative Care and You: Why End-of-Life Discussions Should Be Happening Now"

Thesis Director: Dr. John Culberson,
TTU Health Sciences Center
Second Reader: Janice Sweetman, RN, Charge Nurse in the Trauma and Surgical ICU at UMC

Abstract: In the United States, end-of-life care is not being used appropriately. In 2017, the average length of a hospice stay was 17.4 days—when hospice is designed to care for people up to six months before the death (Robinson & Holloway, 2017). Many people fail to take control of their death through the means of an advanced directive, medical power of attorney, or considering burial plans. This is commonly due to multiple factors, including ignorance of end-of-life practices, fear of death, and forcing physicians who are uneducated in palliative care to quickly become the palliative physician in times of traumatic or sudden death. Palliative care is a unique branch of medicine in which all important values of a persons' life, including religion, can come together with science to create a good transition at the end of life. By depriving patients the full experience of palliative care, we are not practicing good healthcare. This disparity can be alleviated by spreading awareness of end-of-life care through means of access to palliative care physicians at the beginning of a chronic illness, streamlining communication between physicians, and integrating psychological care into typical healthcare settings.


Hannah Burks

College: Arts & Sciences
Major: Cell & Molecular Biology

Thesis Title: "More Harm Than Good? An Investigation into the World of Short-Term Mission Trips Abroad"

Thesis Director: Dr. Jen Shelton,
Department of English
Second Reader: Dr. Scott Weedon,
Department of English

Abstract: There are many arguments surrounding the world of short-term mission trips abroad, from both proponents and critics. Shrouded in personal agenda is the rhetoric that fuels these views, with each group seeking to demonize the other without examining the facts. Through examination of scholarly literature and interviews with those who have gone on short-term mission trips abroad, this thesis aims to look at those facts and determine whether the structure of short-term mission trips causes more harm than good to the people served.


Jordan Butler

College: Arts & Sciences, Honors College
Major: English, Honors Arts & Letters

Thesis Title: "The Waiting Game: Personal Essays"

Thesis Director: Prof. Kurt Caswell,
Honors College
Second Reader: Dr. Aliza Wong,
Honors College & Department of History

Abstract: The personal essay is a form that allows a writer to mine individual experience in order to elucidate the importance of life events. Since the advent of the personal essay by Montaigne in the sixteenth century, the form has been a favorite of writers like Joan Didion, Alexander Chee, and Phillip Lopate. The essays following the critical introduction in this thesis have different origins: the first four originated in TTU professor Kurt Caswell's Honors summit course, Writing Your Life, while those that follow are the product of independent study and research. In these essays, I explore the themes of agency, empathy, and intimacy in the context of my personal experiences with the goal of better understanding myself.


Reagan Collins

College: Arts & Sciences
Major: Mathematics

Thesis Title: "Play Like a Girl: Title IX and Intercollegiate Athletics"

Thesis Director: Dr. Aliza Wong,
Honors College & Department of History
Second Reader: Dr. Judi Henry,
Department of Intercollegiate Athletics

Abstract: Enacted in 1972, Title IX had many implications for the future of females in athletics.  The first chapter recants the history of Title IX and the battle towards equality in athletics at other educational institutions. It explores the progress that has been made from when my mom had to play on the boy's high school tennis team to the inequities still present today. The second chapter is a case study of Title IX implementation at Texas Tech. This includes the pioneers who played pivotal roles in the progress of women's athletics towards Title IX compliance at Texas Tech. The third chapter is a series of interviews with Texas Tech athletics staff as well as former athletes and champions for women's equality in athletics. The interviews shed light on the current status of women in athletics and what more can be done to attain complete gender equity. Through my role as a student athlete at Texas Tech, I provide an insider view in each of these topics.


Shivani Dalal

College: Arts & Sciences
Major: Biology

Thesis Title: "Association Between Odor Discrimination and Cognitive Bias in Dogs"

Thesis Director: Dr. Nathaniel J. Hall,
Animal and Food Science
Second Reader: Dr. Gary Elbow,
Honors College

Abstract: In a recent study, higher levels of persistence in dogs was associated with poorer performance on an odor discrimination task (Dalal & Hall, 2019). The aim of this study was to expand on this finding and evaluate the relationship between cognitive bias and odor discrimination accuracy. 16 dogs were tested on a cognitive bias task (CBT) and an odor discrimination task (ODT) to evaluate whether odor discrimination performance was associated with a positive or negative bias. In the CBT, dogs were trained to recognize one side of the room as positive (food present) and the other as negative (food absent). Ambiguous trials (NN, NP, or M) were interspersed throughout the session, and the time it took the dog to reach each location was recorded. The ODT was a standardized two-choice task in which maximum accuracy achieved across 2 to 3 sessions was measured. Trends show that dogs that perceived the NP location more negatively, significantly perform better on the discrimination task. The other two ambiguous locations (NN and M) were not significantly associated with odor discrimination performance.


Elizabeth Gomez

College: Whitacre College of Engineering
Major: Chemical Engineering

Thesis Title: "Analysis of Remote Magnetic Actuation and Control of 4D Printed Polylactic Acid Composite Coronary Stents"

Thesis Director: Dr. John Carrell,
Honors College
Second Reader: Dr. Mark W. Vaughn,
Department of Chemical Engineering

Abstract: 4D printing integrates the fourth dimension of time to the traditional application of 3D printing. The time element is observed through printing with active materials that are responsive to various stimuli such as heat, light, or chemicals. A 4D printed sample has the ability to retain its original shape, become deformed to a new shape under a stimulus, and ultimately return to its origins. The future of 4D fabricated applications will enhance the current 3D available applications, such as those in the biomedical fields.

This research evaluates a polylactic acid-iron oxide (PLA-Fe3O4) composite that exhibits sensitivity to heat and magnetic fields for multiple trigger actuation of shape-changing arterial stents. PLA is responsive to temperature change and begins to undergo its deformations at its glassy temperature. The addition of Fe3O4 particles to the composite employs an additional mechanism for actuation by utilizing a magnetic field. By coupling of these stimuli, multiple triggering mechanisms and shape control is seen. The printed stents can be actuated through traditional heat fields and can be actuated through magnetic induction heat fields. Based on mechanical properties of the composite above its transition temperature, remote shape control of the composite can also be made with directed magnetic fields. The triggering and shape control mechanisms allow for novel modes to remotely activate and adapt the geometry of these arterial stents leading to less invasive measures in their implantation and utilization.


Jon Goodart

College: Arts & Sciences
Major: Biology

Thesis Title: "Genesis and Genetics: Looking at the Bible and Scientific Theories to Address Questions of Life's Origin"

Thesis Director: Dr. David Roach,
College of Arts and Sciences
Second Reader: Dr. Michael San Francisco,
Honors College

Abstract: Humanity has conquered many great feats over the course of its existence. However, one dilemma that it has always sought after but never been able to settle on is an answer to the question of its own origin. Where did life come from? Theologians and scientists alike have embarked on many quests to provide a definitive answer to this daunting question. Through the course of this societal journey, two distinct accounts have emerged: the Biblical account, supported by the book of Genesis, and the scientific account, supported by the theory of evolution. These two worldviews have both provided strong arguments and have placed themselves on opposing spectrums of what someone can believe about the origin of life. With that in mind, this thesis sets out to reconcile these two seemingly conflicting narratives and provide a combined and cohesive narrative on the origin of life – one that can be equally supported by both of the main viewpoints on the subject. As someone who was raised with a strictly scientific background, but in college came to be a firm believer in the Christian faith, this thesis will serve as a personal journey for knowledge and reconciliation of these two accounts, inviting anyone who is interested to join along. First, the scientific narrative is explored as a standalone story. Next, the Biblical narrative is delved into, unpacking its interpretations and authority. Then, these two individual narratives are brought together in a diagram that outlines each one side-by-side, with connections being drawn between the two sides. These connections are further explored and explained. Finally, by the end of the thesis and the personal journey, a combined narrative is written, proving that the origin of life can indeed be supported by both Genesis and genetics.


Gabriella Hale

College: Agricultural Sciences & Natural Resources
Major: Plant & Soil Sciences

Thesis Title: "Investigating the Physiological Responses in Arabidopsis FKF1"

Thesis Director: Dr. Venugopal Mendu,
Department of Plant & Soil Science
Second Reader: Dr. Glen Ritchie,
Department of Plant & Soil Science

Abstract: Cellulose is the main load bearing component of cell walls. Cellulose biosynthesis is a complex and highly regulated process which is required for plant growth and development. A recent discovery showed that a specific blue light receptor mutant showed enhanced cellulose and chlorophyll contents compared to wild type plants. It is hypothesized the T-DNA insertion mutants have higher photosynthetic efficiency due to enhanced chlorophyll content. Controlled environment plant growth chambers were constructed to measure CO2 gas exchange. Differences in gas exchange allowed for the measurements of photosynthetic and respiration rates. This research will increase the understanding of how the blue light receptor protein is modulating physiological responses in order to co-ordinate development with delayed flowering time and increased cellulose content. Further research on how the mutant plant increasingly incorporates carbon throughout its life cycle may give insight on how to adapt plants to rising environmental CO2 levels in order to optimize fiber production in cotton and similar carbon-use heavy crops. This research question is of high significance as enhanced carbon fixation will reduce the carbon from the air and fix it in the form of plant biomass. This research helps in developing "carbon hungry crops".


Zachary Hansen

College: Whitacre College of Engineering
Major: Computer Science

Thesis Title: "Early Recognition of High Performance Computing Center Overheating Events With Neural Networks"

Thesis Director: Dr. Christopher Turner,
Department of Computer Science
Second Reader: Dr. Yong Chen,
Department of Computer Science

Abstract: High performance computing and big data processing are increasingly critical tools for a wide array of fields. As such, ensuring the optimal performance of the systems providing these services is of great interest. During the timeframe from December of 2018 to November of 2019 we collected physical readings such as temperature and power consumption from Texas Tech University's data center, the High Performance Computing Center (HPCC). During the course of this data collection period, we recorded 17 separate overheating events, some of which necessitated the emergency shutdown of the entire data center. In an effort to prevent such events – which cost researchers time and money – we explored the feasibility of using neural networks to identify imminent overheating events. We compared the performance of a Direct Neural Network (DNN) with that of a Long Short-Term Memory network (LSTM).


Sarah Huerta

College: Arts & Sciences
Major: English

Thesis Title: "The Things We Bring With Us: Travel Poems"

Thesis Director: Dr. John Poch,
Department of English
Second Reader: Sara Ryan,
Department of English

Abstract: Travel writing is a genre that defies traditional boundaries due to its very nature of border crossing and liminal space exploration. From the diary entries of Columbus to modern poets such as Elizabeth Bishop and Eileen Myles, travel writing has shifted in scope, craft, and purpose over time. The poems following the critical introduction in this thesis were born out of research in Spain and Italy, and the study of modern poets and travel writers. These poems question what home is, how landscapes and identity are changed by the hand of colonialism and marginalization, and they explore the culture of Spain, Italy, Texas, and the rest of the United States. The poems are travel poems, but they are also Chicana poems, and examinations of the self and the past.


George Ibarra

College: Arts & Sciences
Major: Microbiology

Thesis Title: "The Hispanic Narrative: Journey, Image, and the Policy of (Border) Health"

Thesis Director: Dr. Aliza Wong,
Honors College & Department of History
Second Reader: Dr. Kent Wilkinson,
College of Media and Communication

Abstract: Most people today are misinformed about the process of becoming a US citizen. This process is often generalized and talked about in a simplistic manner. The truth is the stages of becoming a US citizen are often complex requiring time and money. The first part of this thesis will focus on a personal story. The story of my mom and her journey to becoming a US resident. The second part of this thesis shifts into an overview of how Donald Trump has created a negative view of Mexicans in the United States. By calling us “rapists” and “killers”, Trump has influenced many of his supporters to create hate crimes against the Latinx community. His words along with a negative representation of Hispanics coming from republican media make it clear that racism and prejudice are still prevalent. The third and final part of this thesis will focus on a more medical approach to what doctors and health advocates are calling a “health crisis” at border detention facilities. This health crisis stems from the unsanitary conditions that children are experiencing in the hands of border patrol as they are seeking asylum. Such conditions include not having proper hygiene products and having limited opportunities to shower and clean up.


Lars Lindgren

College: Arts & Sciences, Honors College
Major: Cell & Molecular Biology, Honors Arts & Letters

Thesis Title: "Co-overexpression of AtCLCc and PP2A-C5 to Increase Salt Tolerance in Arabidopsis thaliana"

Thesis Director: Dr. Hong Zhang,
Department of Biological Sciences
Second Reader: Ruvini Mathangadeera,
Department of Biological Sciences

Abstract: Global environmental changes have caused an increase in salt-scarred farmlands and an increased need to fortify our agricultural practices. By manipulating the expression levels of individual genes, transgenic plants have shown much improved resistance to abiotic stresses, potentially leading to increased crop yield under stressful conditions. We are overexpressing two genes, AtCLCc and PP2A-C5, in the model organism Arabidopsis thaliana to see if AtCLCc/PP2A-C5 co-overexpressing plants perform significantly better than AtCLCc-overexpressing, PP2A-C5-overexpressing, and wild-type plants under single stress, multiple stress, and normal growth conditions. The AtCLCc gene encodes an antiporter that sequesters chloride anions into the cell's vacuole while exporting protons, thereby increasing plant stress tolerance under salt conditions. The PP2A-C5 gene encodes a phosphatase that upregulates chloride channels such as AtCLCc, thereby increasing AtCLCc's activity. The AtCLCc/PP2A-C5 co-overexpression construct was incorporated into the Arabidopsis genome utilizing Agrobacterium-mediated transformation, and homozygous transgenic plants were obtained. High-expression lines were tested by physiological analysis under normal and salt conditions. The performance of AtCLCc/PP2A-C5 co-overexpressing plants under high salinity conditions were quantified by measurements of root length and were compared to both wild-type and single overexpression transgenic plants. Ideally, we will introduce these two genes into a more practical organism, such as cotton, to test if we can increase crop yields on a larger scale under high salinity conditions.


Jake Noltensmeyer

College: Arts & Sciences
Major: Physics

Thesis Title: "Signal Analysis for the Production of Non-thermal Dark Matter in the Large Hadron Collider"

Thesis Director: Dr. Shuichi Kunori,
Department of Physics and Astronomy
Second Reader: Dr. Nural Akchurin,
Department of Physics and Astronomy

Abstract: Experimental searches for dark matter over the last fifty years have largely come up empty-handed despite the plethora of observational evidence for its existence. This lack of evidence has forced physicists to put constraints on traditional dark matter models, which in turn necessitates the development of theories that fit within the new constraints. We explore a potential model of dark matter production that also helps explain the current concentration of baryonic matter to dark matter in the universe. We analyze signals of dark matter and background sources from simulated collisions that will better inform future searches of LHC data for dark matter signals.


Angelica Rodriguez

College: Honors College
Major: Honors Arts & Letters

Thesis Title: "The Face of Addiction in Cinematic Art: An Analysis of Beautiful Boy"

Thesis Director: Dr. Thomas F. McGovern,
TTU Health Science Center
Second Reader: Dr. George Comiskey,
College of Human Sciences

Abstract: Mind altering substances have been around as long as mankind has been. There have been various uses including religious. Their misuse however has always been condemned for both religious and social reasons. As more research has been done and a picture of compassion began to surround the topic, a dichotomy was formed between drunkenness and the disease we now know. The topic of substance misuse has been heavily covered in the art world as well. Art has serves a special role in the reflection of the human condition. It serves as both a third party storyteller and an influencer of our perception of the world around us. Art gives us a common platform with which we can all relate. For a modern analysis streaming technology was used to study film and the depiction of addiction through the last seventy years. This paper will explore the topic of film's ability to reliably report on these topics. Beautiful Boy is the most modern and central film to the analysis. Research questions include: Can film accurately portray addiction? Specifically, the human suffering associated with addiction on the individual level and family unit. Can it help people, who might not otherwise be exposed to its effects, understand the intricacies of addiction and reform? Painting the face of addiction through modern art has many effects. Now that we understand addiction to be a disease, art's role in portraying that to the public is crucial to recovery for all.


Carina Vasquez

College: Arts & Sciences
Major: Microbiology

Thesis Title: "The Impact of Social Media on Vaccine-Related Legislation Following Measles Outbreaks"

Thesis Director: Dr. Allie C. Smith,
Honors College
Second Reader: Dr. Amber McCord,
Department of Professional Communication

Abstract: According to the World Health Organization, vaccine hesitancy is one of the top ten global health threats. Vaccine exemptions are on the rise in many states where allowed, including Texas. Vaccine exemptions lead to a breakdown in herd immunity, allowing viruses like measles to propagate easily through a population and cause outbreaks. In response to recent measles outbreaks in the US, individual states have passed vaccine-related legislation. States such as New York and California proposed ‘pro-vaccine' bills which sought to remove religious and/or philosophical exemptions in an attempt to increase vaccine uptake. Conversely, Arizona proposed ‘anti-vaccine' legislation to make filing exemptions easier, and in Texas, state legislators considered HB 1490, a bill that sought to make vaccine exemptions easier to obtain. In this study, we seek to determine if social media is informing individual states to pass or reject vaccine-related legislation. We hypothesize that social media platforms, such as Twitter, influence public opinion on vaccination, which consequently affect legislation. To test this, we retrospectively collected social media data from the bills passed in California, New York, Arizona and Texas and compared the sentiment with the success or failure of each bill. If social media indicates public attitudes about vaccines, and laws are made based on constituent sentiment, we predict that sentiment on social media will be predictive of the outcomes of recent vaccine-related legislation. Next, we collected data on current vaccine sentiment on social media to attempt to predict if vaccine uptake in Texas will increase or decrease, with the hopes of predicting the correlation between sentiment and vaccine uptake.


Tingzeng Wang

College: Arts & Sciences
Major: Cell & Molecular Biology

Thesis Title: "Improving Secondary Science Education: An Exploration of Present Challenges and Potential Solutions with a Focus on Integration and Enrichment "

Thesis Director: Dr. Aliza Wong,
Honors College, & Department of History
Second Reader: Levi Johnson, TTU Center for Transformative Undergraduate Experiences

Abstract: Changing times necessitate changes in the ways we think about our world, the methods by which we assess our conditions, and the means through which we engage with our futures. In the face of a shifting economic and social environment, it has become clear that as we move further into the 21st century, the way we think about education, the methods by which we measure learning, and the means through which we teach students (both within and outside the classroom) need to be reexamined. This thesis will explore the idea of improving science education in five sections: 1) a discussion of the history of science education and an analysis of current challenges as presented in the literature, 2) an interview editorial piece with professionals in the field such as teachers and administrators as well as university faculty and non-profit organizers, 3) an examination of potential solutions with a focus on integration and university-based community engagement 4) an exploration of integrative curriculum design via two sets of independently constructed program lesson plans for high school and middle school students in the life-sciences, and finally 5) an extension of the concept of interdisciplinary learning and creative enrichment through the study of an undergraduate-high school research collaborative. This thesis will utilize primarily qualitative methods in order to provide in-depth analysis of the information gathered. However, both academic and non-academic sources will be drawn upon to present multiple perspectives as well as to allow for dialogue between the views presented. While the contents of this work will focus on science education at the secondary level in Texas, it will also serve to stimulate the exploration of new avenues for improving pre-college education as a whole.