Undergrad theses examine topics from body image to recycled tires

Marques Paige said he was a terrible student in high school, and he soon discovered that the nursing program he tried at a community college was not for him.

But when Marques started at Penn State Harrisburg, with a tentative major in communications, he began to thrive. He graduated on May 4, one of 130 students in Penn State Harrisburg’s Capital College Honors Program out of the school’s more than 4,200-member student body.

Just before commencement, Paige presented his honors thesis, a documentary in progress about how digital photo editing affects self-image. During his studies at Penn State, and particularly through his honors project, he discovered a love of photography and videography. He now has his own business in Harrisburg, Marq Creative Works, and it is “growing faster than I expected,” he said.

“School is the reason I could start my business,” he said. “In high school, I didn't see a purpose in what I was learning. Since that changed, it has been easy. Each class has given me new skills.”

Paige, of Harrisburg, was among eight seniors in the honors program who presented their theses recently. All said working on their projects – which in some cases took two years to complete – has given them direction.

Ronald Walker, assistant director of the honors program, said students must have good grade point averages and SAT scores to get in, write compelling essays, and have the incentive to work hard and independently.

“It's definitely a select group,” he said. “It's a testament to their love of learning.”

Once accepted, the students can delve deeply into their selected subjects and work one-on-one with their faculty advisers. Here are some of their stories:

• Both Lauren Mehalik (Carlisle) and Abigail Mickey (Harrisburg) investigated the use of recycled materials for green roofs under faculty advisers Katherine Baker and Shirley Clark, although they took different approaches. They both concluded that it appears that using crumbled up recycled tires combined with compost as a medium for growing plants on roofs compares favorably with using the commercial medium now available, made of expanded shale and peat. They will present their results at an upcoming conference.

Mehalik plans to continue her studies at Penn State Harrisburg, pursuing a master’s degree in environmental pollution control.

Mickey said her studies ignited her interest in microbiology, but she will pursue a somewhat different path, going into a doctoral program at the University of Virginia, where she has received a full scholarship, in microbiology and immunology with a particular interest in anthrax.

“I feel having done this thesis prepared my way for grad school,” she said. “I know the hardships of research.”

•Luis Vargas (Jonestown) joined the military for several years before heading back to school, and his maturity has given him focus. His thesis examined the correlation of sleep disorders among autistic children and behavioral problems during the day. His sample included 280 children diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder, and gave separate questionnaires to their parents about their children's sleep habits and their behaviors. He found “the more sleep problems, the more anxiety and depression.”

Vargas plans to apply to medical school or get a doctorate, with the goal of becoming a psychiatrist or psychologist. The honors program opened up a research assistantship for him at Penn State Harrisburg, and he has already had several papers published.
 
• Jeshanah McLeod (Highspire) has discovered that she loves academia. She plans to continue work on her thesis, titled “The Image of the Forest in English Renaissance Drama,” before pursuing a doctorate in English with the goal of becoming a professor.
 
• Cassandra Romanowski (Marysville), who studied the environmental movement from Theodore Roosevelt to Al Gore, said her thesis project led directly to a Fulbright scholarship in Malaysia next year. Eventually, she said, she wants to work in public service.
 
• Tara Neely (Mount Joy) studied the role of biological and environmental factors in the development of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, a condition she described as hard to diagnose, often hidden, and potentially devastating. She plans to apply to graduate school for psychology.
 
• Bryan Tarkington (Landenberg), a business major, looked at ways that microbreweries use social media to advertise their products. He concluded they could better engage their customers in conversation, and even use their customers to help develop new products. He plans to seek employment after graduation.

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Last Updated May 23, 2013