cherry blossomsThe countdown is on — next Monday is the last day of classes for the spring of 2013; final exams will have been sweated out by May 15; and as of today, exactly three weeks remain till commencement. Spring fever is in full gear, the trees are bursting with frilly pink and white blossoms, and the students are spread out on towels and mats on every grassy surface, sunning while they (try to, or at least appear to) study.

One of the markers that the end has come happened yesterday afternoon, when all of the senior honors students presented their theses in posters and displays. Students, faculty, and administrators filled the Union Atrium and Gallery with conversation on topics ranging from intraspecific kleptoparasitism among common terns (Mark Fealey, biology major) to the satire of Swift and Wilde (Samantha Knoerzer, English major) to fair value accounting (Sutton Bantle, accounting major). And many more — there were 24 presentations from students representing 16 majors.

To give you a flavor of the breadth of Wagner student research, let me tell you about a few of the displays I checked out:

Gina Auricchio indicates an image of cilia in tumor cells.
Gina Auricchio indicates an image of cilia in tumor cells.

1. Gina Auricchio, microbiology, was presenting work she did while assisting a postdoctoral researcher at Johns Hopkins University, who was studying pancreatic cancer. Gina did this research during the summer of her sophomore year through the Wagner/Johns Hopkins/Spiro Partnership. She was specifically looking at the cilia in tumor cells, and she enthusiastically pointed out her favorite image. She will continue her education at Wagner next year, completing her master's in a year through the five-year BS/MS microbiology program. For her master's work, she would like to study microbes in cosmetics. In the future, she hopes to go to medical school.

2. Mary Somich, psychology and sociology, did a study on factors that predict how willing a person is to foster or adopt children. Specifically, she was looking at how a person's politics and religion would influence their attitudes toward fostering or adopting, and she found that people who hold conservative political and conservative religious views tend to have a negative view of fostering or adopting. That was an unexpected finding to me. Another interesting aspect of her study was her methodology: She created an online survey and quite successfully spread the word through Facebook. As friends posted her link on their Facebook pages, it reached more and more people, and resulted in a good demographic spread for her sample. Mary will be going to Columbia University in the fall for a master's in psychotherapy and mental health.

Brittany with her poster on abortion ethics.
Brittany with her poster on abortion ethics.

3. Lastly, I spoke with Brittany McCullough, a philosophy and Spanish double major with a minor in sociology. Her study's goal was to explore various views of abortion and to find the one that was the most logically consistent. She found her answer in L. W. Sumner's "sentience principle," by which any being with the capacity to experience pleasure and pain has moral standing. Brittany said she chose to study philosophy initially because she had heard it was great preparation for law school. In the meantime, she has lost her interest in becoming a lawyer, but she loves studying philosophy because of its emphasis on rational, logical thinking even on emotional topics — like abortion. After graduation, she plans to go home to Fort Hood, Texas, and work while she considers whether to go to graduate school.

"The honors program is quite selective," says its director, biology professor Horst Onken. "I am very pleased with the honors students, not only this year." Last fall, more than 90 first-year students entered the program, but only 61 have remained in the program. It's especially difficult for science majors with their lab work and prerequisites, so Onken was pleased that nine science majors persisted through the program to graduation this year. The honors program truly does represent the cream of the Wagner crop.

— Laura Barlament, Editor, Wagner Magazine

May 3, 2013