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CMU Honors Program senior projects

Seeing research in a new way

Honors students spend academic year creating unique research projects

Contact: Emily Stulz

re·search (n.) - The systematic investigation into and study of materials and sources in order to establish facts and reach conclusions.

It may not be part of the dictionary definition, but at Central Michigan University research often means life-changing, hands-on projects designed and completed by students.

Students in CMU's Honors Program have spent the academic year creating individual research experiences, designed around their interests and completed with the guidance and support of faculty advisors. 

From studying gender differences in law enforcement to the diet of sucker larvae, here's a sampling of honors students and their research:


Brendan Wilk, right, meets with faculty advisor James Melton.

Brendan Wilk

Majoring in logistics management and marketing from Livonia, Michigan, Wilk focused his honors project on American and Japanese values in culture, communication and business practice.

Working with James Melton, an associate professor in the College of Business Administration, Wilk's project emphasized that to successfully engage with another culture, a person first must understand the differences in culture and social values.  

"If there's one thing I've learned from my time at Central, is that it's OK to accept changes and go with the flow," Wilk said. "Find something that works for you in your academic interests, and the rest will fall into place!"


Dyese Matthews discovered an African-American fashion trailblazer.

Dyese Matthews

fashion merchandising and design major from Chicago minoring in entrepreneurship, Matthews devoted her research to fashion pioneer Lois K. Alexander-Lane, founder of the Black Fashion Museum in Harlem. Don't be surprised if you don't know the name; Matthews didn't either. 

Matthews said Alexander-Lane is not in her fashion textbooks; she discovered her when looking for African-Americans who have made an impact in her area of interest.

"I just personally am passionate about uplifting the African-American community," she said. The Black Fashion Museum's collection now is part of the Smithsonian Institution. Faculty advisor Michael Mamp encouraged Matthews to contact a Smithsonian curator, whom she interviewed. "I would have thought that was way out of my reach," Matthews said.

Matthews learned perseverance through Alexander-Lane's story. "My research with Lois shows anyone can make an impact," she said. "She just stuck to it."

Her advice to incoming students? "I would say study what your heart wants you to study."


Ashley Howell, right, works with faculty advisor Shelly Hinck.

Ashley Howell

A senior from Mount Pleasant, Howell wanted to combine her passions of creative writing and fighting the so-called prison-industrial complex for her honors project. Howell, an English language and literature major, facilitated a 12-week poetry workshop for a group of eight incarcerated veterans in the Saginaw Regional Correctional Facility. 

"The most valuable thing I've learned through my project is that in the free world, we have a responsibility to use our talents and resources to fight harmful social institutions," she said.

Howell would advise incoming students to foster their own personal initiative. "If you want something, go after it, hard," she said. "Reach out to faculty members, create new positions, find a way to impact this world for the better, and never stop fighting."


Ashley Blackburn, left, works with her advisor, Caity Burnell, in CMU's Museum of Cultural and Natural History.

Ashley Blackburn

The senior from Gladwin, Michigan, wanted to learn about the laws and ethics surrounding the repatriation of cultural objects. Blackburn, majoring in public history with minors in museum studies and anthropology, is specifically interested in Michigan museums and the Native American populations whose items they display.

"The most valuable thing I have learned during my project is the importance of proper, ethical documentation in museums," she said.

Blackburn worked with Caity Burnell at CMU's Museum of Cultural and Natural History to learn more about the legality and ethics of museums returning cultural objects. She hopes the skills and knowledge she gained from the project will help her secure a career working with museum archives.

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Alexandria Marchi looks at cultures in the lab.

Alexandria Marchi

Majoring in neuroscience and biology/biomedical science at CMU, Marchi researched a senior project that found 20 percent of E. coli strains collected from sewage pipes in Wisconsin were resistant to at least one antibiotic, adding to research on the increase of antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

"My favorite part of the project has been the ability to work independently at my own pace on a project I was truly passionate about."

She advises incoming science students to volunteer in a lab as soon as possible. "CMU has great opportunities for undergrads wanting to work in research labs."


Zachary Deak researched spinal cord regeneration.

Zachary Deak

A biomedical sciences major from DeWitt, Michigan, Deak focused his senior project on creating stem cells in rat spinal cords as a potential spinal cord regeneration treatment. His research took him to the interdisciplinary neuroscience department, which gave him experience with molecular biology, microscopy and data analysis.

"My favorite part was that the project was very hands-on. I also gained experience working with stem cells and cell culture techniques."

He advises incoming students not to be afraid to ask a professor about research and request to join his or her lab.


Samantha Barlow explored the role of gender in law enforcement.

Samantha Barlow

psychology major with a minor in German, Barlow was curious to see how gender differences play out in law enforcement. As she hopes to pursue a career in the field, she hoped her project would prepare her for the realities of her future profession. 

"There is a difference between the ways male and female officers are treated, both by their co-workers and members of the public," she said.

She spent months working with her mentor — sociology faculty member Rebecca Hayes — and interviewing Michigan State Police troopers about their experiences on the job. She said the work was hard, but her passion for the subject matter boosted her enthusiasm and drive. 

"Make a calendar full of due dates with your advisor and stick to it," she advised future students. "That way, you know you will have enough time to complete each part of your research and won't be rushed through it."


Kayla Greene taught violin to students of all ages.

Kayla Greene

music performance major from Muskegon, Michigan, Greene put her expertise to work for her senior project by teaching a five-week violin class for all ages. The only requirement? That each student also attend classes with a parent or adult partner, so Green could gauge the impact of the Suzuki method in a child's musical development. 

"It was exciting to see the progress that each pair made during the week and built on their new skills in the following class. It was such a joy to be able to provide families with a new hobby to pursue together."

Her advice to incoming students is to find something you are deeply invested in, because putting in the effort to turn it into reality will come naturally and end up being so much more rewarding. 


Kourtney Koch works with faculty mentor Mark Potts.

Kourtney Koch

hospitality services administration major from Dexter, Michigan, Koch wanted to use her honors project as a way to learn more about Michigan and how entrepreneurship along highway M-22 has been affected by an increase in tourism. 

With guidance from faculty mentor Mark Potts, Koch met with business owners from Manistee to Traverse City. 

"One of the most valuable things I've learned while conducting my research is to have fun and be yourself," said Koch. "While my research was a required part of my degree, it really gave me the opportunity to learn more about myself and network with business professionals across the state." 


Austin Waddell explored autism spectrum disorder.

Austin Waddell

A neuroscience major from Howell, Michigan, Waddell focused his senior project on how abnormalities in the early neural cell cycle impact autism spectrum disorder-related brain changes.

He said the most valuable takeaways of the project were learning the research process and the importance of collaboration and teamwork.

His advice to freshmen is to work hard and never be afraid to ask for help or guidance.

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