A campus-wide colloquium of significant contributions to academia.

The goal of the symposium is to showcase the outstanding quality and diversity of research at AQ by providing students with the opportunity to put into practice and demonstrate the depth of their research skills with those outside of their disciplines. The symposium is also designed to demonstrate the importance of research and scholarship within our community via formal presentations, recitals, writings, poster sessions and art exhibits.

To submit a project for the Spring 2024 Symposium, use the link in the Undergraduate Student Research group on MyAQ.

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Biology & Health Sciences

Jessica Kean
Faculty Advisor: Dr. Robb Bajema
Investigating the Toxic Effects of Mineral and Chemical UV Filters on Coral Reef Ecosystems: Debunking the Current Reef-Safe Standards
Insignis Honors Capstone

Healthy coral reefs provide survival and thriving grounds for a myriad of aquatic species, including commercially harvested fish species. Many marine biota exhibit diverse patterns in their association with coral reefs, making them a mandatory source of food and habitat. It has become apparent that ultraviolet (UV) filters used in the production of sunscreens and other cosmetics are known causative agents to harm coral reef ecosystems. These compounds enter the environment of the coral through increased tourism and wastewater and have been found to harm a wide variety of marine and freshwater species. Mineral (i.e. zinc oxide) and chemical (i.e. oxybenzone) UV filters are identified as having adverse effects on the symbiotic microalgae (zooxanthellae) associated with coral, resulting in coral bleaching. Current studies show that zinc oxide (ZnO) contributes more to coral bleaching than chemical filters by causing greater damage to zooxanthellae. At present, ZnO is still marketed as a reef-safe active ingredient in commercial sunscreens, despite its stronger correlation to zooxanthellae degradation. Considering the critical role coral reef ecosystems uphold in the sustaining of biodiverse wildlife, the prevention of their deterioration should be of utmost concern, from high levels of government to the average consumer.

Jessica Kean, Michelle Thompson, Joshua Wierenga
Faculty Advisor: Dr. Rebecca Flaherty
Identifying Mechanisms of Cell Death in Keratinocytes and Macrophages in Response to Diverse Group B. Streptococcus Isolates
Mohler-Thompson Summer Research Program

Group B Streptococcus is an opportunistic bacterial pathogen that is most well-known for its ability to cause serious pregnancy complications and life-threatening infections in neonates. However, this pathogen is gaining increasing recognition as a major causative agent for skin and soft tissue infections, especially among immunocompromised individuals. We plan to explore GBS-mediated cell death in two important cell types that are both present in human skin, keratinocytes (HaCaT cells) and macrophages (differentiated THP-1 cells). Keratinocytes are the most abundant cell type in the epidermis, responsible for producing keratin. Macrophages are present throughout the body, initiating immune response to pathogens such as bacteria. We discovered that both caspase-dependent and independent forms of cell death are likely contributors to keratinocyte and macrophage cell death. Pertaining to HaCaT cells, ST types ST12 and ST1 seemed to be most virulent and therefore could be associated with more severe disease in skin and soft-tissue infection. Similarly, ST types ST17 and ST19 are likely to have shown more virulence concerning THP-1 cells. We are hopeful that this work will provide insights into how GBS leads to severe infections in the skin and why some strains tend to be more dangerous than others.


Noah Reilly, Lauren Whetstone
Faculty Advisor: Dr. Kevin Boyd
Categorization of Organic Compounds in Agricultural Soil
Mohler-Thompson Summer Research Program

This study aims to understand the main question of “how much carbon is absorbed by soil and particular land uses”. In this study, eight different agricultural fields were sampled throughout West Michigan. A positive correlation between less disruptive tilling practices and an increase in sequestered carbon was found as well as a positive correlation between a larger amount of organic compounds and a larger amount of sequestered carbon. The proposition that less disruptive tillage practices lead to more sequestered carbon within the agricultural soil was present in the literature and reaffirms the results that we found. Carbon is a large part of the foundation of agricultural problems regarding how researchers and scientists can be able to solve them. One way tillage practices can impact the amount of carbon being sequestered in the soil is through harsh and disruptive tillage practices. While that may be a seemingly obvious or well-known idea, the organic compounds present within the soil, and the characterization of them, are more complicated.

Sydney Shenk
Faculty Advisor: Dr. Rebecca Flaherty
Anti-inflammatory effects of curcumin and its derivatives on macrophages in the presence of intestinal microbes and saturated fatty acids

The human body is host to trillions of microorganisms known as the gut microbiome. While the specific composition of microorganisms may differ between individuals dependent on factors such as age, genetics, pregnancy, and diet, it is well established that the gut microbiome plays important roles in metabolism, disease, the immune system and overall health. Saturated fatty acids alter the gut microbiome, increasing the number of Gram negative bacteria and disrupting the inner layer of the intestinal barrier. This leads to an increased level of blood endotoxins, specifically lipopolysaccharide (LPS), within the bloodstream. LPS is a compound found in the cell walls of Gram negative bacteria. LPS acts through TLR-4 receptors activating a variety of downstream proinflammatory effectors. Curcumin, a compound found within turmeric acts as an inhibitor to many of these proinflammatory effectors as do its derivatives. We sought to analyze the anti-inflammatory effect of curcumin, vanillin, and cinnamaldehyde on macrophages exposed to stearic acid (a saturated fat), LPS, and intestinal bacteria through analysis of the levels of proinflammatory markers NFκB, p38 MAPK, and IL-6 cytokines.

Jack Walch
Faculty Advisor: Dr. Rebecca Flaherty
Determination of the Antioxidant Capabilites of Different Green Teas

Green tea catechins, such as epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG), have proven to be effective in reducing internal reactive oxygen species (ROS) concentration as well as the systemic inflammatory response via their free radical scavenging and metal chelation properties. We attempted to determine if green tea’s antioxidant qualities are influenced by its preparation, whether as loose-leaf tea, leaves from tea bags, or in a powdered form. This will be accomplished by measuring the expression of the pro-inflammatory mediators nuclear facotr kappa-B (NFκB) and interleukin-6 (IL-6), with inflammation being induced via hydrogen peroxide (H2O2). NFkB measurments were obtained via immunofluorescence microscopy (IFM), while IL-6 concenration was determined through an enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA). In addition, EGCG concentration in each type of tea was determined via high-performance liquid chromatography (HPLC).


Katie Schneider-Thomas
Faculty Advisor: Dr. Kyle Hull
The Communication Environment of Fan Groups

Parasocial relationships, a one-sided relationship formed between media consumers and personalities such as musicians or actors, are commonly studied as a method of persuasion in marketing research. However, little is known about how parasocial relationships affect communities or groups such as fan bases. This study examines the potential for hostility in fan groups who share parasocial relationships to one common figure. Since fan bases often have high levels of emotional involvement, this study hypothesizes that those with higher levels of parasocial interaction, consumption of media containing the chosen persona, are more likely to commit hostility against others with similar parasocial relationships due to feelings of competition.

Geography & Environmental Science

Jared Dugener
Faculty Advisor: Dr. Jim Rasmussen, Dr. Rich McCluskey
Deer Involved Car Accidents in Michigan

This study investigates the relationship between both deer and human population variables and their effects on car accidents. There are strong correlations between population variables such as Traffic Density and Percentage of Population that is Urban. This study collects data from 53 counties from the state of Michigan’s lower peninsula. Data was collected from different sources consisting of the US Census, Michigan State Police, Michigan DNR, Michigan Department of Transportation, and Michigan Department of Health and Human Services. The data shows that more accidents occurred in counties where the population variables were higher, such as higher traffic and population density. Many sources of literature affirm the idea that more animal involved accidents occur in higher human population areas.

Taylor Mohr
Faculty Advisor: Dr. Jim Rasmussen, Dr. Rich McCluskey
Indoor Plants and CO2

The health of people who live or work indoors is significantly influenced by the quality of the air inside those buildings. Carbon dioxide (CO2) levels are one of the key factors in determining indoor air quality. Increased CO2 levels have been linked to negative impacts on alertness, comfort, and cognitive performance. Understanding and reducing the buildup of CO2 indoors is crucial. It is commonly known that plants absorb CO2 through photosynthesis, so they could serve as natural air purifiers. However, there is limited and contradictory information on this topic. I was able to obtain a CO2 sensor that collects data continuously, making it easy to track the differences. I then recorded the level of CO2 in parts per million (ppm) throughout Albertus Magnus Hall with and without plants to see if there were any significant differences.

Ryan Mulder
Faculty Advisor: Dr. Jim Rasmussen, Dr. Rich McCluskey
TreeWorks, Inc. Circular Economy Wood Waste to Biochar

Treeworks, Inc. is testing an innovative new strategy to deal with an industry-wide challenge: Dispose of wood waste by sequestering the wood carbon into compost. Waste wood from power lines and highways is split and baked in open pit ground kilns and quenched before burning to ash. That saved charcoal, referred to as Biochar, is mixed with composted wood chips and cow manure to create a variety of fertility products: Charpost, Moo-Mix, and Terra Preta soils. These fertility products return the sequestered carbon to the environment, boosting fertility, biodiversity, and the rural economy.

Charlize Vandenberg
Faculty Advisor: Dr. Jim Rasmussen, Dr. Rich McCluskey
Aquinas College Water Quality Analysis

This study aims to understand if drinking water at Aquinas College contains safe levels of lead, copper, and iron. The United States Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) maximum contaminant level (MCL) standards established for lead and copper were used as well as the EPA’s action level (AL) standards for lead, which is the amount at which remedial action is warranted. Iron was assessed through the EPA’s secondary maximum contaminant level standards (SMCL). In total, 55 samples were collected from 24 buildings using the first-draw method. Samples were then sent to a laboratory that specializes in the analysis of drinking water samples. The results revealed that 5 out of 55 samples surpassed the MCL established for lead, while 1 out of 55 samples surpassed the AL. Moreover, 0 out of 55 samples exceeded the MCL for copper and 3 out of 55 samples surpassed the SMCL for iron. Due to 5 samples surpassing the MCL standards for lead and one sample exceeding the AL, further testing should be administered to the locations at Aquinas College that surpassed the MCL and AL levels.

Finch Vanniman
Faculty Advisor: Dr. Jim Rasmussen, Dr. Rich McCluskey
The Correlations Between Tree Coverage and Wealth Variables in Urbanized Kent County

This research aims to develop the relationship between tree coverage and wealth related demographic variables in Kent County, Michigan by census tracts. The demographic variables analyzed were median household income, property value, and the percentage of individuals below the poverty line. A positive correlation was found between tree coverage and median household income, as well as between tree coverage and property value at a 0.05 alpha level for a two-tailed analysis. A negative correlation was identified between tree coverage and the percentage of individuals below the poverty line. Even though there is a negative correlation, it does not disprove the overall idea that there are more trees in areas of higher wealth. There is more evidence in support than against this idea. Prior literature regarding this topic displays that there is a positive correlation between tree coverage and wealth, and this research supports this idea in Kent County overall. Having more wealth allows for the ability to have more trees in the majority of cases.

Lauren Whetstone
Faculty Advisor: Dr. Jim Rasmussen, Dr. Rich McCluskey
Analyzing Environmental Education in Michigan Liberal Arts Colleges

This research project examines the landscape of environmental science teachings, or environmental education (EE) in private liberal arts colleges across Michigan. The study aims to determine the variation in EE offerings among these institutions and investigate the potential factors influencing these differences. The research question guiding this study is: Does environmental education at different private Michigan liberal arts colleges vary, and do institutional characteristics relate to the variety of environmental instruction offerings at liberal arts colleges in Michigan? Using a mixed-methods approach, data will be collected from various colleges and universities in Michigan, including institutional characteristics, faculty expertise, and academic programs related to EE. The presence of EE in each curriculum is evaluated using a dichotomous key. Additionally, hypotheses related to the presence of EE in relation to college affiliation, size, outside certifications, and faculty expertise will be explored. The findings of this research have the potential to inform efforts to enhance environmental education within universities, leading to a more informed and environmentally conscious future. The project also proposes integrating environmental literacy into core curricula, highlighting the importance of environmental education for all students, regardless of their academic pursuits.

Lauren Whetstone, Noah Reilly
Faculty Advisor: Dr. Jim Rasmussen
Soil Carbon Sequestration Variability Across Agricultural Land Management Practices in Michigan
Mohler-Thompson Summer Research Program

We conducted physical and chemical research in west Michigan on soil carbon sequestrations link to land management. Our study involved analyses of soil attributes and different agricultural practices, shedding light on soil's potential in climate change mitigation. The U.S. Government supports sustainable farming under the Inflation Reduction Act, yet there's no universal solution to farming sustainably. Our research spanned diverse soils in Newaygo and Kent counties near Lake Michigan, we collaborated with farmers who generously shared their fields, allowing us to take core samples and gather valuable data and conversation. While being non-exhaustive and inconclusive, our study assessed soil carbon content across various tillage practices, emphasizing the need for a sustainable future where soil possibly plays a larger role in combating climate change.

Julia Williams
Faculty Advisor: Dr. Jim Rasmussen, Dr. Rich McCluskey
Does winter bird population presence in various park sizes support island biogeographic theory in Portage, Michigan?

This survey aimed to explore the island biogeographic theory of winter bird populations in various park sizes. In which, four different parks of varying sizes were assessed all within Portage, Michigan. Resulting in data showing that the larger the park, the greater number of bird species found. Also, there seemed to be a difference in the number of species found in one location rather than in the other two locations within the parks.


Rebecca Beltran
Faculty Advisor: Dr. Mike McDaniel
Fundamental Theorem of Elliptic Wallace-Simson Lines
Mohler-Thompson Summer Research Program

When a point projected onto the sides of a triangle has collinear feet, the line is called a Wallace-Simson line. Given a projection point F and its Wallace-Simson line J on non-self-polar triangle ABC, we prove the existence of another projection point G and Wallace-Simson line K such that the polars of F and G serve as Wallace-Simson lines for triangle ABC and its polar triangle. Also, the poles of J and K serve as projection points with Wallace-Simson lines for both triangles.

Edin Mehanovic
Faculty Advisor: Dr. Joe Spencer
An Investigation of Stone Movement in Mancala
Mohler-Thompson Summer Research Program

Using the Mancala sowing mechanism on a finite number of stones in an infinitely long row of pits, we will explore what patterns arise for the arrangement of stones. Additionally, we will explore how to efficiently move a select number of special stones along a row of pits that each contain a set number of stones.


Julian LaFontsee
Faculty Advisor: Gary McCourry, Barbara McCargar, Dr. Tom Polett, Mary Hurd
How can you prepare for a music recital successfully?

The Aquinas Music Department requires all music education or performance students to take the recital seminar course in order to complete their senior capstone requirements. If you take the class, you are able to prepare and hold a recital after given approval from the department. I have worked with my private lesson instructor, Gary, to hold a junior recital, which is not done very often. I have prepared nine different selections with separate styles of literature. The student holding the recital is responsible for planning, running, and playing the recital. This has been a project that I have been working on since last summer and I am performing on April 20th, 2024. With over a year in planning, scheduling, practicing, and rehearsing, this has been a challenging but rewarding project. This has helped me develop skills for becoming a better musician as well as performing as a professional musician


Laura Krueger
Faculty Advisor: Dr. Daniel Wagner
On the Superior Nature of the Rational Soul: Aristotle and Thomas Aquinas on the Human Soul
Insignis Honors Capstone

Thomas Aquinas posits that the soul is “defined as the first principal of life of those things which live” in agreement with Aristotle. This definition covers the general concept of soul as applied to all natural beings. But it is evident through sense perception (because we can use reason to logically assert facts from that which we observe) that there are different types of natural beings that live. Because of this difference, it now becomes necessary for further definitions of soul. One of these further definitions of soul is the definition and explanation of the uniquely human soul. This research will present the composition of the human soul and its relation to the human being as a body soul composite according to the thought of Aristotle in the De Anima and Saint Thomas Aquinas in the Summa Theologiae, and summarize the thought of modern scholars on these theories of the soul. This research posits the superior nature of the rational soul as immortal, and the importance of this fact present in human persons.

Matthew Stace
Faculty Advisor: Dr. Daniel Wagner
Nature, Philosophy, Greek and Latin: Aristotle’s Physics and St. Thomas Aquinas’ De Principiis Naturae
Summer Scholars Research Program

The primary goal of this project was twofold. First, the student acquired a basic understanding and the habits of Greek forms, grammar, syntax, and vocabulary necessary for producing philosophical translations of the work of Aristotle in conjunction with the faculty mentor. Second, the student and faculty mentor collaborated to produce a philosophical translation of the first and second books of Aristotle’s Physics. The student, using previous knowledge of Latin, then compared the translation of the Physics with the relevant parallel texts in St. Thomas Aquinas’ De principiis naturae as previously translated in three summer scholars projects. This was done in order to bring about a coherent whole that created a continuity of language between these two interrelated texts. This allowed for the student to develop technical skills for giving philosophical interpretations of the text, taking proper account of the primary source text language of both Aristotle and the Angelic Doctor (St. Thomas Aquinas).

Political Science

Jenna Daschke
Faculty Advisor: Dr. Roger Durham
Unpacking American Exceptionalism: Exploring Its Influence on College Students' Global Literacy
Insignis Honors Capstone

This research project aims to determine how American Exceptionalism as an ideology influences college students’ knowledge of international affairs. The project measures and assesses students’ knowledge of international relations and their attitudes toward American Exceptionalism using the American Exceptionalism Index through a two-part survey. The hypothesis proposes that strong adherence to an American Exceptionalism ideology correlates with limited international affairs knowledge among college students. The data was collected via convenience and volunteer sampling at Aquinas College, resulting in 65 responses. The analysis employed thematic and regression analyses to identify overarching patterns and behaviors. The analysis revealed a statistically significant negative relationship. Higher international knowledge scores are associated with lower (more critical/disagreeing) American exceptionalism perception scores. However, the relatively low R-squared indicated that international knowledge alone does not fully explain the variation in exceptionalism perceptions, and other factors likely play a role. The findings have implications for policy, education, and research, providing insights to enhance global awareness among students. Understanding the interplay between American Exceptionalism and college students’ knowledge of international affairs enriches discourse on ideology and societal impact.

Grahm Staib
Faculty Advisor: Dr. Roger Durham
Neo-Imperialism, Religion, and Authoritarianism: The Russian Orthodox Church in Putin’s Russia
Summer Scholars Research Program

This paper is a qualitative investigation into the relationship between the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC) and the Putin regime. While acknowledging the asymmetric power dynamic of the relationship favoring the state, it is clear that both the ROC and the Russian state are independent actors who collaborate in order to build a monopoly on power in each realm of their symphonic relationship. This study concludes that the ROC and the Russian state achieve this by building domestic and global support for one another, eliminating domestic opposition, and by expanding the power of the Russian state through neo-imperialism.


Marie-Louise Abild, Lauren Cooper, Beth Martinez
Faculty Advisor: Dr. Jennifer Meador
Willingness to Donate Organs in Emerging Adults

The purpose of this research is to investigate current Aquinas college students, above the age of 18, regarding their willingness to donate organs. According to literature, the three most recurring factors impacting emerging adults' willingness to donate organs is religion, education/knowledge and personal affiliation . This research study seeks to gain a greater understanding and knowledge about emerging adults' willingness to donate organs, and increase both attention and awareness towards organ donations.

Selena Melillo, Maggie Hall, Brylee Boyd
Faculty Advisor: Dr. Jennifer Meador
The Use and Presence of Mobile Smartphones: The Impact on Social Relationships

Since its introduction to the consumer market in 2007, smartphones have completely transformed the way we engage with the world around us. According to Statistica, 95% of 18-30-year-olds are utilizing a smartphone and have the most smartphone usage of any other age group. Today, smartphones have become a prominent part of the culture and benefit how people communicate and connect with others as they offer a landscape of information, entertainment, and communication. Although smartphone use has undeniable benefits, there are also negative aspects, such as changes in social behaviors and too much reliance on the device, ultimately leading to group disconnectivity. This shift in social behaviors has led to the constant connectivity provided by a smartphone, causing most users to check their phone when they first wake up and last thing before bed, looking for calls, texts, notifications, and more. The current study explores how smartphone use influences in-person social interactions, satisfaction in interpersonal relationships, friendships, and social connections.

Genevieve Moore, Elisabeth Leiva
Faculty Advisor: Dr. Jennifer Meador
Investigating Psychosocial Factors and Rates of Binge Drinking Among College Students (21 Years of Age or Older)

This research aimed to see if there is a relationship between certain psychosocial factors (gender, ethnicity, student athlete membership, and parenting styles) and binge drinking rates among 21+ Aquinas College students. 47 participants successfully completed the survey via Google Forms. All participation in this survey was voluntary and responses remained confidential and secure.

Megan Rushlau, Avery Conners
Faculty Advisor: Dr. Jennifer Meador
The Impacts of COVID-19 on the Mental Health and Academics of College Students

The COVID-19 pandemic has had major impacts on various aspects of life for college students, such as education, internet use, and mental health. Through existing research, we identified how students were impacted by the COVID-19 lockdown. Specifically, we explored how students’ education, internet use, and mental health were affected by focusing on the impacts COVID-19 has had on students. After reviewing the literature, the current study examined the question, “How do college students perceive the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has impacted their academics, internet use, and mental health?” We chose to do this using a survey that had participants identify the extent to which they experienced specific mental health and academic issues during and following the COVID-19 lockdowns using a Likert scale. Participants were also able to provide any additional information they found relevant to each question to employ a combination of descriptive and quantitative data for analysis.

Abigail Vallance
Faculty Advisor: Dr. Jennifer Meador
The Correlation Between Self-Talk and COVID-19
Ronald E. McNair Post-Baccurelate Program

Anxiety and depression are the two most common psychiatric illnesses, which are also the leading impediments to academic success. Spending six hours a day or more using computers is associated with higher risks of depression, with this time constraint pervasive even in present-day academia. Along with many hours on the computer, common issues the COVID-19 pandemic had on students’ academic performance during online schooling included technical difficulties, poor support services, and difficulty adapting to online learning. Besides the prevalent effect of COVID-19 on mental health, many studies show a correlation between mental health, COVID-19, academia, and sports performance. Academic research showed that negative self-talk, in relation to one’s self-efficacy, correlated with negative academic performance. Overall, motivational self-talk, by oneself and through teammates and coaches, correlated with better performance than regular self-talk in sports. This study aims to understand how self-talk influences peoples’ perception of the world, emphasizing athletics, mental health, and how the COVID-19 pandemic affected this.


Marie-Louise Abild
Faculty Advisor: Dr. Satya Lendrum
Cannabis Use among Student Athletes

Due to increased legalization of cannabis in the United States, the overall reported use of cannabis has increased. This research examines cannabis use among student athletes: what are the perceptions, motivation factors, and stigma around cannabis? The research draws on the existing scholarship focusing on stigma connected to student athletes dealing with mental health issues, perception of using cannabis as a student athlete, and motivation factors that influence cannabis use. This qualitative survey employed a sample of 103 current college student athlete participants. Forty-eight percent of respondents reported monthly use of cannabis with the primary motives being a social motivator and to cope with mental health difficulties, sleep, and pain management. Another finding is the “double stigma”, as student athletes report stigmatization of mental health issues and also with using cannabis to cope. Furthermore, the emerging “athlete-first perception” considers student athletes' primary identity being related to athletics which offers challenges to academic identity and time-management. The findings indicate that these factors are pushing back the dominant narrative of cannabis users being lazy, gross, pot–heads. This research highlights an underprioritization of student athletes’ mental health and recommends additional attention to cannabis policies and mental health support and resources.

Madison Bennett
Faculty Advisor: Dr. Satya Lendrum
The Role of Social Institutions & Intersectional Identities in Shaping Americans Perceptions of Latinx Immigrants

This study uses critical race theory and a social constructionist approach to understand Americans’ perceptions towards Latinx immigrants by examining the role of social institutions and an individual’s intersectional identity. Scholars have shown that perceptions of Latinx immigrants may differ between an individual’s race, class, gender, age, and geographic location. Other scholars have demonstrated the different roles that social institutions, such as the media, religion, family, and politics, play in shaping Americans’ perceptions. A survey study was conducted on 69 young adults and explored the themes of anti-immigrant perceptions on a continuum. The implications of the varying perceptions towards immigrants has systemic effects in society. Including, how social policy is constructed, Latinx immigrants internalization of their social standing in society, as well as the prevalence of racial inequality in the United States. This study aims to identify how the varying intersections of identities are influential or predictors of the continuum of anti-immigrant attitudes towards immigrants coming across the southern border. The outcome of this research provides strategies for Americans, especially white Americans to develop a deeper cultural awareness and to challenge the perpetuation of negative racialized stereotypes towards Latinx immigrants from social institutions.

Arabella Cummings
Faculty Advisor: Dr. Satya Lendrum
Public Spaces, Connectivity, & Well-Being: An Ethnographic Study of Grand Rapids Aquinas College Summer Scholars Program

By many reports the city of Grand Rapids is faring well. The metropolitan area is among the fastest growing areas in Michigan and among the most diverse. However, the fast-paced growth has added to strains in the area. Further, the well-being of residents of the city of Grand Rapids is dependent upon factors including intersections of socioeconomic status and race and gender identity. For example, while approximately 85% of white respondents report high quality of life, 63% of Hispanic residents, and about half as many Blacks (48%) report the same quality. In other words, well-being largely depends on who you are and where you live. This ethnographic research exploring well-being asks how people use public spaces such as parks, bridges, and third spaces as well as the kinds of barriers people experience in accessing and using these spaces. This research also asks about opportunities and barriers for biking. To answer these questions, we employed ethnographic methods during the summer of 2023, conducting participant and non-participant observations on bicycles. Our findings highlight both opportunities and barriers to public spaces as well as the nuances of how and when people access public spaces.

Halee Holman
Faculty Advisor: Dr. Satya Lendrum
Healthcare and Reproductive Care Access

Reproductive healthcare barriers result in the lack of information, education, and access to procedures. For this research project, I examined the barriers that women face to healthcare and abortion access. I surveyed 44 women over 18. This research explores the question: what barriers to healthcare and reproductive care are women experiencing? This research will draw from three main themes: Healthcare Barriers, Reproductive Healthcare Barriers, and Stigma. The results show 68% of women surveyed are sexually active and only 32% of sexually active women are regularly getting tested. Only 25% of the women who responded report having regular access to an OBGYN. These findings highlight a general lack of access to healthcare and reproductive care. The significance of this problem has continued to grow from the reverse of Roe V. Wade by the Supreme Court of the United States. The main two recommendations would be for women to have better access to healthcare and to further education on reproductive healthcare and sexual education inside the education system.

Hannah Kohn
Faculty Advisor: Dr. Satya Lendrum and Dr. Mike Lorr
Effects of Social Media on College Students

This research examines the effects of social media on college students and asks, how does social media influence college students’ self-identity and social well-being? In particular, this research explores the complicated effects of social media on college students including social factors, social well-being, and self-identity/mental health. The purpose of this research is to develop a better understanding of the effects that social media is having on young people and bring more awareness of these effects and implications, to future students, educators, and researchers. According to research, “those between the ages of 19 and 29 are the most active on social media”. “Social media creates several barriers for students in their daily lives such as depression, anxiety, lowered self-esteem, as well as problems associated with social well-being, envy, and self-comparison”. This research draws findings from a qualitative survey conducted among currently enrolled students between the ages of 18-25 at Aquinas College.

Haleigh Miller
Faculty Advisor: Dr. Satya Lendrum
The Impacts of Social Media on Women's Well-being

There is a correlation between frequency of social media use and well-being, in particular, for women, poor(er) overall well-being has been documented by several scholars who study the effects of social media use. Scholars have indicated that there are significant emotional, mental and physical impacts on women’s health and the use of social media is related to anxiety, stress, and depression, poor well-being correlated with social media can also manifest as eating disorders, harassment, bullying, etc., and the use of social media may increase the drive for thinness, becoming vulnerable for eating disorders. This research aims to seek: How does social media affect women’s well-being? How is women’s self-esteem impacted? The purpose of this study is to gain more insight on the effects of social media use on women's overall health. I conducted a qualitative survey method to sample Aquinas College women students, staff, and faculty, ages of 18-23 (n=42). This research shows how social media is impacting women’s overall health and that the media is contributing to underlying factors that contribute to poor well-being in women.

Abigail Vallance
Faculty Advisor: Dr. Satya Lendrum
Sexual Health Among College Students

There is an overarching lack of comprehensive sexual health awareness in young adults. College students are currently the largest age group (20-24) to contract an STD, yet the least likely to show symptoms. This research study aims to understand which barriers college students are experiencing in their ability to access sexual health knowledge and condoms. The criteria for being included in this study were a minimum age of 18 and current college enrollment, n=91. There is a clear shortage of comprehensive education on sexual health knowledge, leading to a lack of extensive knowledge on how to contract an STD, participants who identify religiously are more likely to have the least amount of sexual health education but are more sexually active, and there is an underlying stigma and financial barrier to accessing condoms. Considering the fact that sexual health is a public health matter, yet these results indicate that sexual health among college students is severely lacking, there is only one real conclusion to be made: college campuses need to give immediate attention to this issue by establishing comprehensive sexual education programming and provide free sexual health resources such as condoms to their college communities.

Sophia Wunsch-Lugtigheid
Faculty Advisor: Dr. Satya Lendrum, Dr. Mike Lorr
The Influence Intimate Partner Relationships Have on Personal Well-Being

Over 61 million women in the US face emotional abuse by an intimate partner in their lifetime according to the CDC. While there is general awareness around the issues of intimate partner violence (IPV), there are few resources dedicated to understanding forms of coping individuals develop to handle relationship stressors. Importantly, there is a lack of consistent definitions of IPV and acknowledgement that it encompasses more than physical violence; this is in part because mental and emotional violence is harder to identify. Ultimately, the goal of this research is to understand personal well-being in intimate relationships while broadly examining IPV. This research surveys women in the Grand Rapids metropolitan area who are between the ages of 18-25 (n=26). The findings show that some women feel “manipulated”, “isolated”, and “stressed” in their romantic relationships. Further, an overwhelming high percentage of women indicate that they experienced emotional abuse in their household growing up, which increases the likelihood of experiencing abuse in adulthood. Overall, romantic relationships can affect well-being in both positive and negative ways. This research highlights the importance of preventive access to early education about relationships, violence, and what healthy relationships look like.

Studio Art

Grace Giroux
Faculty Advisor: Dr. Dana Freeman
Barbie in the Real World: Women Photographers and the Female Gaze
Insignis Honors Capstone

This series of 12 prints explores the theme of women in photography. After researching female photographers, I decided to use my Pentax K1000 film camera to create a series of double exposures. At the heart of this series is the idea of the female gaze. What can be said when women control the narrative of their own stories? These prints are double exposures that create a collage-like image to emphasize that women are multidimensional. The prints depict one image of a Barbie doll superimposed on a snapshot of a cityscape. In doing so, I contrast the “ideals” represented by the Barbie doll in a made-up world with the “ideals” of the real world. By following in the footsteps of women photographers like Vivian Maier and Daniella Zalcman, my creative process shows how women in photography often use their personal female gazes to combat gendered double standards in the real world–those same standards that a Barbie doll both upholds and rejects. This project ultimately alludes to how women photographers use their photos not just as art, but as activism. In creating a print that doesn’t show the viewer something entirely realistic, I invite others to start a conversation.

World Languages

Mary Grace Green
Faculty Advisor: Dr. Stéphane Bédère
In Living Memory: Operation Condor and Physical Monuments to Los Desaparecidos

The primary purpose of this research will explore the consequences of US involvement with Operation Condor, and the continued lack of accountability on the side of the government and the role that it played. This is an important ongoing debate between the United States and Latin American allies, as the lack of public memory and acknowledgment in the US risks a repetition (or diminishing) of such events. The secondary aspect will be based in the concepts of public history and the practical need it fulfills by providing a sense of closure or justice in cases of human suffering, such as the disappeared ones—los desaparecidos.

Jean Tissot
Faculty Advisor: Dr. Katharina Häusler-Gross
Examining autonomy and sovereignty in educational policy: A comparative analysis of German and U.S state dynamics

This study delves into the comparative autonomy and sovereignty of specific states within Germany and the United States regarding the implementation and reform of educational policies. Amidst contentious educational reforms in both countries, the research endeavors to elucidate the entities wielding authority to influence education directly. Beyond a mere constitutional examination, it seeks to evaluate power dynamics between federal institutions and selected states' governments concerning educational affairs. Additionally, it explores the extent of cooperation among these institutions and the influence of political ideologies and ensuing agendas on their respective education systems.