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Honors thesis gives ASU Barrett students jump-start on grad school, career

November 12, 2013

Engaging in research as an undergraduate and completing a thesis was a highlight of Andrew Albert’s academic career ASU's Barrett, the Honors College.

Albert, a 2013 Barrett Honors College graduate and recipient of the college’s Outstanding Graduate Award, was among 760 Barrett Honors College students who completed the culminating project of an honors thesis or creative project in 2013.

Barrett students must complete a thesis or creative project in order to graduate from the college. Students may choose their own project focus. On average, each student spends six to 10 hours per week over the course of two semesters on their honors thesis or creative project. Most start their research in the second semester of their junior year.

A kinesiology major, Albert used his love of cycling as inspiration for his thesis, which focused on the effects of cycling exercises on the improvement of cognitive and motor function of persons with Down syndrome. In his sophomore year, Albert took a class offered by Shannon Ringenbach, associate professor of kinesiology and director of ASU’s Sensorimotor Development Research Lab. She was launching a research project examining the effects of Assisted Cycling Therapy (ACT) on the motor, clinical and cognitive function of adolescents with Down syndrome. Albert signed on as a research assistant.

“Throughout high school and the first few years of my college experience, I was heavily involved in competitive cycling. As a kinesiology major, I was thrilled to hear that a professor was doing research examining the cognitive and motor benefits of cycling as a mode of exercise,” Albert explained.

“Some of the most important lessons I learned while doing my thesis came from the discussions I had with Dr. Ringenbach, who was my thesis director," he said. "We often had conversations covering a wide variety of topics, from the research process to career politics and balancing home life and work life. Seeing the research process from the study design to manuscript submission is an entirely different experience than simply volunteering in a research lab. As a future physician, I look forward to carrying my knowledge of the scientific process with me in my career."

A thesis or creative project is an integral part of the Barrett Honors College student experience and gives honors students a jump-start when pursuing graduate studies or entering the professional arena, said Mark Jacobs, dean of the college.

“The thesis lets students synthesize what they have learned, as well as gain self-knowledge and self-confidence. It’s also a huge leg up, when applying to graduate school, PhD programs and jobs, to be able to say that you’ve already done relevant and important work in your field,” Jacobs said.
Such is the importance of the thesis or creative project to the pursuits of honors students, that Barrett Honors College offers workshops and advising to prepare students to launch their research and projects. The college also provides funding to cover expenses essential to students’ thesis investigation, design or execution. The funds may be used to cover costs such as travel, library and copying fees, lab equipment and supplies, and art supplies. The maximum amount available per student is $500.

While the demands of completing a thesis or creative project are significant, the rewards for doing the work are great. Undergraduates receive hands-on research experience usually reserved for graduate students, and some projects that were done in conjunction with community or business organizations are translated into real-world applications.

For example, just in this calendar year students from Barrett have:

• created a survey for Habitat for Humanity of Central Arizona to use in evaluating its programs

• devised a marketing campaign targeting millennial consumers for a top movie studio

• evaluated data from the Arizona Youth Survey to give representatives from the Arizona Criminal Justice Commission insight into high rates of youth prescription drug abuse and information on prescription drug abuse prevention and intervention

• worked with the Community Action Research Experiences Program at ASU in collaboration with the Maricopa Association of Governments on an assessment of how training and support services can help domestic violence victim advocates better serve clients

• mentored teens at the Boys and Girls Club, focusing on leadership development, skill-building and success

• developed and marketed an application for the iPhone

• founded an organization to alleviate hunger in Arizona by raising funds and food donations

• started a program using technology and a microbusiness model to distribute clean water in Bangladesh

“The thesis or creative project gives every student the opportunity to engage in substantial collaboration with a faculty member on a focused problem and get a sense of what it means to find meaningful solutions,” said Margaret Nelson, vice dean of the college.