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2021 Honors Summer Fellows

Each year, students apply for and are granted a stipend from the HSF Endowment to spend the summer researching and writing their thesis. Meet this year's Honors Summer Fellows.

Krista Albertins | History

Krista is a rising senior studying History and Political Science, and minoring in Museum Studies. For her thesis, Krista is researching the relationship between nationalism, cultural preservation, and cultural creation during the rise of Latvian nationalism in the late nineteenth century. Her research is focused on two subtopics: the collection of existing Latvian folk songs and the creation of Latvian song festivals. She intends to demonstrate how song serves as an intersection between creating and preserving culture and that song was a key factor that led to the success of the First Latvian National Awakening. In addition to completing a traditional written thesis, Krista intends to create a digital exhibition to synthesize her historical research with her academic interest in Public History and Museum Studies.

During her childhood, Krista attended Latvian summer camp, where she learned about Latvian history and sang in the camp choir. Through her research, she hopes to connect the songs she sang as a child to the origins of the Latvian national identity. Krista remains connected to the American Latvian community through her involvement with the American Latvian Youth Association. She also is a volunteer at the Kelsey Museum of Archaeology, directs the staff for the high school Model United Nations conference hosted at UM, and is a member of UM’s competitive Model UN team.

Lily Antor | History

The 1968 Democratic Convention and concurrent Chicago Police riots demonstrated to the broader public just how rife Chicago was with sociopolitical turmoil in the late 1960s. Tensions brimmed in the city, with countercultural ideals gripping younger residents and meeting resistance from Mayor Richard J. Daley’s political machine. One small piece of this history is the Rainbow Coalition, spearheaded by the Illinois Chapter of the Black Panther Party (ILBPP). In a city that remains one of the most segregated in the United States, the 1969 Rainbow Coalition established an interracial, united opposition to the power structures its member organizations abjured, overcoming both racial and physical boundaries to do so. One of the leftist groups in the Rainbow Coalition was the Young Patriots Organization (YPO), which was mainly comprised of white Appalachian migrants living in the impoverished Uptown neighborhood. The group, which used Confederate iconography while simultaneously advocating for the Black Panther Party platform, both challenges and affirms commonly-held notions about the politics of working-class white folks. Lily’s thesis seeks to examine the Young Patriots Organization’s formation and dissolution, as well as internal and external perceptions of the group. She also hopes to shed light on the ways in which the YPO was monitored and undermined by the Chicago Police Department’s anti-communist Red Squad unit.

Lily is a rising senior pursuing a major in History and minors in English, Political Science, and Environment. On campus she is involved with Epsilon Eta Professional Environmental Fraternity, U-M’s Global Scholars Program, Turn Up Turnout, the Big Ten Voting Challenge, and the Program on Intergroup Relations. She is interested in the throughlines between contentious historical moments and the sociopolitical issues of the present, especially when considering discourses about historical memory. She enjoys studying history that pertains to carceral issues, gender, radical politics, and Chicago.

Xinyu Chen | Economics

In response to the economic turmoil brought by the COVID-19 outbreak, governments around the world have announced fiscal policies on a scale unprecedented in history. However, the size of the fiscal response varies greatly across countries. Developing economies appear to have issued much less generous fiscal packages compared to advanced economies, despite having lockdown measures that are just as stringent. By analyzing economic, political, and demographic factors, Xinyu’s thesis addresses two questions. First, how can data related to fiscal response inform on the nature of the constraints countries face when using fiscal policies during a crisis like COVID-19? Second, more generally, what can account for the variation in fiscal response to COVID-19 across countries?

Xinyu majors in Economics and Mathematics. She began to appreciate the art of doing economics research after taking two seminar classes, in which she started two projects of her own. This thesis extends from one of them. She has since aspired to pursue pre-doctoral research assistant experience and – hopefully soon – a doctoral degree in economics. Given the breadth of topics and the diverse set of skills involved in economics research, she is confident that she will never get bored. This summer, you will find Xinyu reading, writing, coding, and learning cool research techniques. You will also find her hanging out with friends, most likely at the Arb, or at her favorite ramen place.

Marley Hornewer | Philosophy

Marley is pursuing a double major in Philosophy and Biopsychology, Cognition, and Neuroscience. Their thesis project draws from both of these disciplines—philosophy and science—and from ethnographic research in order to understand a disease which is increasingly prevalent among high school and college students: anorexia nervosa. Through this project, Marley aims to answer previously inaccessible questions such as 1) How should we characterize the relationship between anorexia and a patient’s identity?, 2) On what basis can doctors involuntarily commit people with anorexia to treatment?, and 3) How much critical agency ought we attribute to patients in their recovery process? In considering these questions, Marley hopes to transform treatment paradigms and produce a concrete positive impact in the lives of those affected by anorexia. In addition to the Honors Summer Fellowship, Marley plans to spend their summer discovering hiking trails near Ann Arbor and continuing their organizing efforts to defund and abolish the police in Chicago, their hometown, and Ann Arbor.

Matthew Kipp | Microbiology

Matt’s research is concentrated on how the gut microbiome, or the collection of microorganisms that live within the human gastrointestinal tract, modulate and impact overall health. More specifically, his honors thesis focuses on one of the most prevalent and abundant bacteria found in the colon, Faecalibacterium prausnitzii. Low counts of F. prausnitzii have been correlated to higher risk for gastrointestinal illnesses like Crohn’s Disease. Knowing that the bacterium is a key species in the gut microbiome, it makes it a target for directed treatment. By further understanding the specific microbial interactions and environmental conditions that favor the growth of F. prausnitzii, an effective prebiotic and probiotic supplement can be developed to restore populations of the mutualistic bacteria.

Matt became interested in his research topic after completing a laboratory-based course on the human gut microbiome with Dr. Thomas Schmidt, whose lab Matt currently works in. Throughout the course, students experimented on their own microbiota and were exposed to novel research in the field that emphasized the wide medical significance of the gut microbiome. As a double major in Microbiology and Evolutionary Anthropology, Matt is also fascinated in the co-evolutionary role the human microbiome has played, and he hopes to blend ideas from both of his majors in the development of his honors thesis.

Sarah Klausner | Psychology

Sarah is a rising senior majoring in Biopsychology, Cognition, and Neuroscience, with the minor Crime and Justice. When first coming to U of M, Sarah did not think that she would have any interest in the Biopsychology. Although after taking Intro to Behavioral Neuroscience, Sarah became fascinated about attentional impairments, how they can cause disorders such as ADHD. During her time working under Dr. Martin Sarter, Sarah has been able to focus her research on how the cholinergic system can cause such attentional impairments. Sarah’s thesis focuses on the gene, I89V, which is known to cause deficits in the cholinergic system, and is also correlated with ADHD. Working with genetically modified mice, Sarah hopes to further understand the influence of the deficient I89V on attention task performance by conducting operant conditioning tasks. Sarah’s dedication to research has been recognized in the Honors Psychology department as she was awarded the Martha Muenzer Memorial Award to help fund her study. Sarah hopes to continue her research well after graduation in hopes of determining the mechanisms behind cholinergic impairments as well as the factors that may contribute to attentional disorders.

Akhil Kondepudi | Neuroscience

Cerebral autosomal dominant arteriopathy with subcortical infarcts and leukoencephalopathy (CADASIL) is a rare genetic disorder that affects small blood vessels in the brain, often leading to stroke and other related disorders. This disorder also affects a specific type of tissue in the brain known as white matter, which connects various parts of the brain and acts as an “information highway.” Proteins implicated in the pathophysiology of CADASIL often alter the white matter of the brain, and their effects can be highlighted by a specific type of stain called immunohistochemical staining. As a result of staining, these proteins have unique white matter expression patterns that make it extremely hard for quantification and analysis. Akhil is developing novel algorithms to be able to do just this, in order to give researchers a powerful tool to better understand the pathophysiology of CADASIL.

Akhil’s interest in biology and medicine started in high school, when he began working in biomedical labs during the summer. His research experiences spawned an interest in biomedical informatics, and his combined passion for research and medicine led him to pursue an MD-PhD dual-degree to become a physician-scientist. His goal is to bridge the gap between computer science and biology by developing novel informatics techniques to make new discoveries in the biomedical space. When he is not doing research, Akhil can be found playing basketball, listening to music, or walking in the Arb.

Angelina Little | Philosophy, Politics, and Economics

What is the purpose of an education? Do students view the pursuit of knowledge as an opportunity for self-growth or simply a necessity for competing in today’s market? These questions have taken on new weight in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, which interrupted school as we know it and uprooted longstanding educational norms. Amid such changes and ever-rising tuition costs, this past year saw a dialogue regarding the true value of education come to the forefront of the national conversation. As students prepare to return to campus this fall, rising senior Angelina Little plans to explore how her peers make sense of the meaning of education.

Angelina is pursuing an honors degree in Philosophy, Politics, and Economics with a focus on education and a minor in Writing. Grounding her research in political theory, Angelina plans to conduct interviews with undergraduates at the University of Michigan in order to gain insight into their relationships to learning. After realizing the disparity between the writings of Plato in her education philosophy class and her conversations with friends reevaluating their education amidst the pandemic, Angelina was motivated to learn more about what today’s students understand the purpose of education to be. By offering a window into real students’ experiences, she hopes to provide direction for the future of higher education.

Anna Nedoss | Sociology

Anna Nedoss is a rising senior double majoring in Sociology and Political Science, with a sub-plan in Law, Justice, and Social Change. Originally from Chicago, Illinois, Anna chose this path of study due to her interest in alleviating social inequities through the combined efforts of policy and community organizing. After graduation, she hopes to continue into law school in order to pursue a career in redefining the way our nation approaches criminal justice by reversing the trends of mass incarceration, oppressive policing, and the lack of quality defense for those who cannot afford legal counsel. Anna will be spending her time as an Honors Summer Fellow clearly defining what she would like to discover through her Sociology honors thesis, drawing on her interests in sociological studies of class inequalities and criminal justice.

Amy Nowack | Psychology

While traditional childhood developmental studies often track the gradual acclimation of children to the social norms of their community, we now have unprecedented questions on how children interpret how people who do not follow COVID-19 norms, like anti-maskers, allow potential harm for themselves and the community. Mask-wearing is a special circumstance where the act is perceived to be uncomfortable or inconvenient to the self but prevents harm for another. This study aims to explore how children evaluate intentional and accidental violations of prosocial behaviors similar to mask-wearing. Identifying the situations under which children are more or less likely to adhere to COVID-19 rules has important theoretical implications for understanding how social norms surrounding the pandemic are perceived.

Amy Nowack is a rising senior majoring in Psychology and minoring in Applied Statistics and American Culture. During the pandemic, she became fascinated with observing how people adapted to new norms and how that influenced their perceptions of norm violators. While working with children during the spread COVID-19, she believed a greater understanding of perceptions of COVID-19 rules can be crucial to the implementation and adherence to these rules. Amy will continue her interests in the origins of social behaviors working as a research assistant in Dr. Felix Warneken’s Social Minds Lab.

Vincent Pinti | Political Science

Vincent Pinti is a rising third-year senior in LSA with a major in Political Science and minor in Spanish. Over the course of Pinti’s experience at the University of Michigan, he has constantly been intrigued by the question over who has access to what rights and privileges in their society. From his perspective in a wheelchair with the genetic neuromuscular condition, Spinal Muscular Atrophy, Vincent has had to go to great lengths to navigate the halls of the University of Michigan in pursuit of an answer to this question - both literally and metaphorically. Pinti has been a lifelong advocate for individuals with disabilities and has attempted to elevate the voices of marginalized peoples of all identities. From studying voter behavior, to legal rights of individuals with disabilities, immigrants, and sexual abuse victims, to resolving state casework, to understanding and creating educational materials on power and historical narratives, and living the life of a disability activist and lobbyist, Vincent has converted his struggle into action to explore and find ways to make the world a more accessible place. 

There is an unprecedented national Personal Care Assistant shortage, massive healthcare disparities, and a growing crisis that disabled and elderly Americans do not have access to the resources that they need to participate in American society. It has been thirty years since the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act, forty-eight years since the passage of the Rehabilitation Act and Section 504, and thirteen years since the Americans with Disabilities Amendments Act, but millions of Americans with disabilities still are not supported with the resources that they need to be a part of the social fabric of the United States. Pinti wishes to study what could have made the ADA more effective, what worked about the program, and what do Americans with Disabilities feel did not work. By analyzing the Americans with Disabilities Act as an unfunded mandate in comparison to other types of legislation, Pinti plans on looking at how devolution and varying types of legislation molds what kind of impact civil rights legislation will have. Pinti wishes to make sense of civil rights policy and how these types of policy can be the most effective for its constituencies.

Patrick Potoczak | Anthropology

Stunting, defined as being much shorter and smaller than average due to recurrent infection or malnutrition, is very prevalent and often a result of experiencing poverty in the United States and throughout the world. It is associated with many poor outcomes, such as lower educational achievement, higher infant mortality, economic losses, and much more. Stunting is unique in the fact that it is influenced by epigenetic imprinting mechanisms, meaning that undergoing malnutrition or recurrent infection causes changes that are transmitted down to offspring, even if nutrition improves, stress decreases, and infections subside. For his honors thesis, Patrick is investigating the role of imprinted long, non-coding RNA genes on stunting.

Patrick is studying evolutionary anthropology with an interest in computer science. He became interested in evolutionary anthropology after taking Prof. Strassmann’s course on biomarkers and became a member of her lab in 2020. Prof. Strassmann’s unique longitudinal research cohort is a highlight of this project and allows for the analysis of the generational component of epigenetic stunting. Using RNAScope® technology, he will continue to visualize the spatial distribution of RNA molecules in human placenta tissue. Patrick hopes that his work will contribute to the field of spatial transcriptomics, epigenetics, and imprinting specifically with the placenta, an understudied organ. Outside of the lab, Patrick enjoys running, lifting weights, and drinking coffee (not simultaneously).

Samantha Ratner | Biology, Health, and Society

Streptococcus pneumoniae, also called pneumococcus, is a major cause of childhood mortality worldwide. One unique characteristic of S. pneumoniae is natural competence, which is the ability of bacterial cells to take up free DNA from their surroundings and incorporate it into their genome, allowing this bacterium to adapt rapidly. To accomplish this, S. pneumoniae uses bacteriocins, a type of antimicrobial peptide, to target neighboring strains and acquire DNA.

Samantha is a rising senior majoring in Biology, Health, and Society and has a longstanding interest in infectious diseases. In order to explore this interest, she joined the Dawid lab as a freshman. For her thesis, Samantha is working to characterize the function of the gene sepM and its role in the competence mechanism of Streptococcus pneumoniae. Her hypothesis for this project is that the gene sepM encodes a protease (SepM) which is responsible for cleaving the peptide BlpC, an important regulator of bacteriocin production, into its active form.

Jessica Stout | Psychology

Jessica’s thesis will look at the effect of depressive symptoms on brain activation in people with social anxiety disorder (SAD). Specifically, Jessica will be looking at attention-related regions of the brain using fMRI data to study attention bias associated with depression symptoms and SAD. People with depression and SAD tend to have an attention bias toward socially negative and/or generally negative information in their environment, so Jessica hypothesizes that these participants will experience abnormal brain activation in response to negative stimuli. More precisely, she expects that participants with more severe depressive symptoms will have increased activation in attention-related brain regions compared to participants with low depression symptoms, due to their attention bias.

Jessica came to choose her topic because she is eager to be more familiar with fMRI data, and she finds the co-occurrences of multiple mental health disorders fascinating to study. While there is much research done on individual mental health disorders, there is much less research focused on co-occurring mental health disorders. With many people in her generation affected by one or more mental health issues, Jessica feels this is an important area of study with lots of learning still to be done.

Jagienka Timek | Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology

Jagienka is a rising senior studying MCDB and Music. Her studies in musicology and molecular biology have led her to find an interest in the smallest parts that make up a whole whether that be the way in which notes and phrases are constructed in a symphony, or the way certain molecules influence chronic pain cascades in humans. She is very excited for the opportunity to write her Honors thesis on the molecular profile of minocycline administration in surgical constructs for chronic nerve injury. 

Pain is a universally perceived sensation. In some cases, such as chronic nerve injury or amputation, it leads to long term suffering and decreased quality of life. Unable to properly regenerate, the damaged nerves often form a neuroma- an irregular growth of axons which results in a highly painful benign tumor. The Neuromuscular Lab, led by Dr. Paul Cederna and Dr. Stephen Kemp, has developed novel surgical constructs, namely the regenerative peripheral nerve interface (RPNI), to address neuroma pain and muscular reinnervation in nerve injury patients. This construct, however, is a clinical discovery, and its influence on the cellular and molecular profile of the peripheral nervous system (PNS) and spinal cord, two locations that most often undergo molecular changes within the pain cascade, remain unknown. The antibiotic minocycline has shown alternative uses for treatment of nerve injury and neuroma pain, but this drug has never been used in combination with RPNI. This study combines the use of RPNI and minocycline to determine which genes are upregulated within the PNS and spinal cord. The goal of Jagienka’s Honors thesis is to elucidate which molecular pain pathways are being targeted by the RPNI and minocycline to better understand the molecular nature of chronic nerve injury.

Jack Toor | Biochemistry

Fibroblast growth factors (FGFs) are a family of signaling proteins that help coordinate a number of multicellular processes. One plasma membrane receptor for FGFs, known as Fibroblast Growth Factor Receptor 2 (FGFR2), is particularly important in the development of the skull. There exist a number of disorders where a mutation in the gene encoding FGFR2 causes the sutures of the skull to fuse prematurely, leading to a misshapen midface and other craniofacial anomalies. Jack’s lab studies Crouzon syndrome as a model of aberrant FGF signaling. Cell cultures with wild-type (normal) and mutant (Crouzon) FGFR2 are probed with assays to find differences in molecular function. These dissimilarities help uncover the elusive mechanism of FGFR2 signaling in cranial development.

Jack is a rising senior majoring in biochemistry with a minor in writing. He enjoys investigating the chemical reactions that give rise to human life. After meeting his research advisor at the School of Dentistry two years ago, Jack grew fascinated with the biochemical aspects of dental research. His thesis project is a natural biochemical extension of the larger biological work that takes place in his lab.

Al Vicente Riano Lisboa | Chemistry

Carbon (C) and nitrogen (N) are just two of the most abundant elements in the human body. Chemical bonds between them (C–N) make up the building blocks of life, such as  DNA and proteins. Moreover, most industrial products possess a nitrogen-containing group in their scaffold that enables their versatility and functionality as bioactive compounds in pharmaceuticals and agricultural chemicals. Thus, studies focused on synthesizing C–N bonds have been relevant in scientific research for the past decade.  Conventional methods in the construction of C–N bonds involve the use of transition metals (e.g., palladium [Pd] and copper [Cu]), but this approach often requires expensive reagents, demands vigorous reaction conditions, and yields toxic residues. A highly efficient, mild, and sustainable alternative is photocatalysis, a technique that harnesses the energy from light to induce the coupling between elements of interest. In his summer project, Al will be investigating the role of molecules with conjugated pi systems in promoting light-mediated C–N bond formation. 

Al Lisboa is a rising senior majoring in Chemistry at the College of Literature, Science,  and the Arts. He first became interested in synthetic chemistry while taking laboratory courses at the University of the Philippines, where he engaged in experiments that produced and characterized polymers, organic dyes, and drugs. In line with the advocacy of the Sanford group, Al hopes that his research will contribute to the growing field of green chemistry toward the advancement of practical and sustainable synthesis.

Jade Wurst | Residential College Creative Writing and Literature

Jade Wurst is a rising senior in the Residential College. As the culmination of her studies in Creative Writing and Literature, her thesis will consist of a poetry collection that approaches sight critically. Of particular importance are power dynamics manifested in sight, relationships between the visual and notions of reality. and ways in which self and exterior are constructed. This collection will draw from Critical and Cultural Studies as well as reflections on sight in varied disciplines. Sight as a line of inquiry came to her attention when she realized how dependent her writing was on it. More specifically, she has come to recognize the photographic quality of her earlier poetry, seeking now to explore and subvert these dynamics. She hopes this project will challenge her as a writer and open new avenues of inquiry.

Ceciel Zhong | Women's and Gender Studies

In this project, Ceciel seeks to understand gendered and ethnicized fantasy through Otome games (乙女ゲーム, literally "maiden game"), a category of visual storytelling game marketed toward women. Originated in Japan, these games differ in plots but share a common goal to develop a romantic relationship between the player character and one of several traditionally male characters. Through conversations with English-speaking fans about their experience surrounding the game(s) and analyzing forums and blogs, this project is situated on this cultural and economic phenomenon while exploring social and behavior questions surrounding games and game use through a multi-dimensional and intersectional approach.

Ceciel is a dual-degree student studying Women’s & Gender Studies and Information at LSA and the School of Information, respectively. Her research interest lies in gender and interface design. She first became interested in studying and writing about fantasy from taking a first-year seminar “Fantasizing Japan”, where she learned about the complicated realities intertwined with popular representations and the social effects from them. Ceciel chose to focus on Otome games because of the industry’s origin and expanding impact. Through this project, she hopes to connect game, culture, and gender studies with a better understanding of the ways in which fantasy is created, facilitated, and lived.