Honors Program : Research

Research Projects of Recent Graduates:


Mandy Blankenship

Ms. Blankenship completed two capstone alternative independent research projects.  The first, under the direction of Kevin Jones, was a paper that investigated the nature and extent of discrimination against female scientists throughout history.  She then examined the extent to which gender biases can still be found in the scientific world today.  Ms. Blankenship’s second project explored William Golding’s classic novel The Lord of the Flies as a conscious response to philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s educational principles.  Under the direction of Roman Zylawy.

Taylor Bryan

For his Honors senior capstone project, Mr. Bryan undertook a study of the American heavy metal subculture.  Although this musical genre is frequently associated with violence and unrest and devalued as a legitimate form of musical expression, Mr. Bryan’s research suggests that heavy metal has long served its practitioners (and their followers) as an important outlet for creativity, socialization, and political commentary.  His resulting paper provided a history of heavy metal and carefully examined song lyrics as sites of reaction, commentary, and negotiation in relation to contemporary events.  Under the direction of Eric Smith and Cindy Wilkey.

Tiffany Carter

For one of her capstone alternative projects, Ms. Carter designed and created costumes for a Seven Deadly Sins processional performance at the UVa-Wise Medieval/Renaissance Conference.  Under the direction of John Mark Adrian and Kenneth Tiller.  Ms. Carter’s second project focused on developing curriculum for teaching Italian Renaissance architecture to elementary school children.  Under the co-direction of Jeff Cantrell and John Mark Adrian, she created innovative lesson plans on the classical elements, mathematical basis, and modern impact of Renaissance buildings.


Zachary Holcomb

Mr. Holcomb completed two capstone alternative independent research projects.  The first was a reflective journal that he kept during a short-term study abroad trip to the United Kingdom.  For the second project, Mr. Holcomb used a Science and Religion honors course as a springboard for investigating the relationship between these two modes of thinking in the minds of UVa-Wise students.  Along with classmate Ashley Blaylock (and under the guidance of Witold Wolny), they developed a survey, collected data, and then analyzed and interpreted the different models (and their prevalence) here on campus.

Jessica Shartouny

For one of her capstone alternative projects, Ms. Shartouny conducted a scientific analysis of an algae bloom in an on-campus lake.  She studied the algae, ran a range of water quality tests, discovered factors contributing to the algae’s proliferation, and made treatment recommendations.  Under the direction of Kristine Hoffman.  Ms. Shartouny’s second project, completed under the guidance of Patrick Withen, investigated the views and attitudes of UVa-Wise students and local residents towards the Middle East.  After designing a survey and conducting extensive interviews in the area, Ms. Shartouny created a video presentation that synthesized and sought to explain her results.

Laura Stamper

Ms. Stamper’s first capstone alternative project examined how the University of Padua became one of the world’s leading scientific and medical universities during the Renaissance.  Her resulting paper looked closely at Padua’s curriculum, pedagogy, and groundbreaking anatomy theatre.  She also gave an oral presentation to her classmates just prior to their touring the University on a  study abroad trip to Italy.  Under the direction of John Mark Adrian.  For her second project, Ms. Stamper investigated the sophisticated camouflage systems of the cephalopod family.  Under the guidance of Robin Woodard, Ms. Stamper studied the latest discoveries in sensory biology and behavioral ecology, synthesizing these results into a paper that set forth the physiological “secrets” of these remarkably adaptive creatures.

Dakota Thomas

For his Honors senior capstone project, Mr. Thomas tested part of the Liberal Peace Theses to see if there is a correlation between the amount that a country spends on domestic social welfare programs and the likelihood that that country will engage in military action.  His methodology involved a statistical analysis (of states capable of international military action) of three main categories:  military actions since 1980, percent of GDP used for social welfare, and percent of GDP used on military expenses (with control variables).  Ultimately, Mr. Thomas found evidence for an inverse relationship between social welfare spending and military action and was able to suggest reasons as to why this might be the case.  Under the direction of Eric Smith and Patrick Withen.


Stephanie Cooperstein

Ms. Cooperstein explored the emerging field of gamification (the application of video game techniques to non-gaming contexts).  In particular, she examined the ways in which video game technology might be deployed in educational settings to motivate students and increase academic performance.  Ms. Cooperstein first identified the factors that draw people to particular games, sustain their interest, and “reward” their efforts.  She then tried to connect these dynamics to known patterns of student behavior and motivation in the classroom.  In doing so, she fruitfully combined cutting edge research from the fields of both computer science and education.  Under the direction of Daniel Ray and Jewell Askins.

Barklie Estes

Mr. Estes investigated the recent furor over SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act) and PIPA (Protect Intellectual Property Act)—two of the most popularly debated legislative movements in recent U.S. history.  Using his academic training in economics and political science, Mr. Estes sought to cut through the impassioned rhetoric of the bills’ supporters and opponents.  Instead, he carefully read and studied the bills in their entirety, and then attempted to analyze their real legislative consequences and economic implications. Finally, Mr. Estes used these insights to make his own recommendations regarding these bills (and future bills like them).  Under the direction of Zafar Khan and Eric Smith.


Jordan Begley

Ms. Begley brought the critical tools of Communication Studies to bear on Jane Austen’s classic novel Pride and Prejudice.  By looking at everything from characters’ interpersonal communications to parenting styles, Ms. Begley forged new insights into the dynamics of the Bennet family.  Ultimately, she argues that the parenting styles of both Mr. and Mrs. Bennet have a profound effect on the personalities—and marriage prospects—of each of the four Bennet daughters.  Completed under the direction of Rachel Tighe and Christopher Scalia.

Joshua Fleenor

For one of his capstone alternative projects, Mr. Fleenor developed an alter-ego, Miss Joshua Patricia Ray, a self-described “unapproachable, loquacious, and foul-mouthed hillbilly” who is also the lead singer of a rock band.  Then, using a combination of theatre and music, Miss Joshua performed her amazing life story in front of a campus audience.  Mr. Fleenor’s second project focused on homosexual identity in American culture and looked closely at how the creation of identity categories “normalize” and assimilate some gay individuals but further marginalize others.  He was assisted by Michael Hunt in conducting a forum to further explore these issues.

Tamara Haack

Ms. Haack completed two capstone alternative independent research projects.  The first was a paper, completed under the guidance of Roman Zylawy, that analyzes Ender Wiggin as a redeemer figure in Ender’s Game.  For the second project, Ms. Haack explored the different mediums—play, novel, film—used to present the story of Peter Pan.  Working with Marla Weitzman, Ms. Haack was particularly interesting in assessing which themes get modified (and why) as this classic story is adapted to different audiences and different purposes.

Chelsea Ratliff

Ms. Ratliff graduated in May 2011 and completed two capstone alternative independent projects over the summer.  The first was a  short story that blended historical fact and fictional embellishment to dramatize the role that the aging statesmen Henry Clay, Daniel Webster, and John C. Calhoun played in the Compromise of 1850.  Under the direction of Brian McKnight.  Her second project, guided by Matt Harvey, was a paper tracing the evolving relationship between astrology and geometry throughout various stages of Western civilization.  Ms. Ratliff ultimately argued that astrology’s decline from legitimate academic discipline to disreputable pseudoscience first occurred as a function of the changing nature of this relationship.

Allie Robinson

Ms. Robinson’s first capstone alternative project focused on the many extant ghost stories associated with the UVa-Wise campus.  After writing down these largely oral tales, she worked with anthropologist Wendy Welch to assess the cultural meaning of such stories (i.e. what these particular stories suggest about us as a campus community).  For her second project, Ms. Robinson kept a reflective journal during the first few weeks of her current job as a reporter with the Bristol Herald Courier—a rare opportunity to compare the theory of the journalistic classroom with the practice of actual reporting.  Under the direction of Michael McGill.

Joel Sprinkle

Working alongside classmate Chris Stamper, Mr. Sprinkle conducted a movie riffing project in the vein of Mystery Science Theatre.  This project, focusing on the movie Cherry 2000, blended together such disparate disciplines as theatre, filmmaking, creative writing, and social satire and culminated in a public viewing of the final product.  The second project, a graphic novella written and illustrated by Mr. Sprinkle, was completed under the direction of David Constable.

Chris Stamper

Working alongside classmate Joel Sprinkle, Mr. Stamper conducted a movie riffing project in the vein of Mystery Science Theatre.  This project, focusing on the movie Cherry 2000, blended together such disparate disciplines as theatre, filmmaking, creative writing, and social satire and culminated in a public viewing of the final product.  For his second capstone alternative project, Mr. Stamper sought to elucidate the complex interworkings of the human immune system by writing a nautically-themed allegory.  The two projects were assisted by John Mark Adrian and Robin Woodard, respectively.


Bruce Blansett

Mr. Blansett applies a scientific lens to Charles Chesnutt’s well-known literary work, The Conjure Woman and Other Tales (1899).  In particular, he shows how the stories use magic and the supernatural to first invoke but ultimately to satirize the widely-accepted 19th Century belief in the scientifically-rationalized inferiority of African Americans.  In doing so, he adds immeasurably to our understanding of this surprisingly subversive text.

Jade Bolling

Ms. Bolling completed two capstone alternative independent research projects.  The first was a reflective journal that she maintained during a study abroad experience at Oxford University.  For the second project, Ms. Bolling sought to facilitate her own growth as a poet.  Working independently with UVa-Wise professors, she explored the sources of her poetic inspiration, learned how to rigorously revise her verses, and eventually produced a body of original poems.

Kevin Fowler

Mr. Fowler’s project traces the impact of Ergot—a plant pathogen that affects agricultural grasses such as rye, wheat, and barley—on the development of Western civilization.  The severe neurological and vascular effects produced by Ergot have impacted historical developments as diverse as the geopolitics of medieval Europe, LSD and 1960s counter culture, and the French Revolution.  Mr. Fowler’s careful blending of science and history reveals the interconnectedness of knowledge and the necessity of understanding the smallest details that can affect human progress.

Marissa Jones

Ms. Jones explores antebellum black spirituals and the various meanings that they had for those who sung them.  By examining the music, lyrics, and particular biblical stories that the spirituals were based on, she uncovers a covert rhetoric of independence that functioned to provide strength and guidance to the enslaved.