Honors Research Symposium

Highlighting our honors students and their honors thesis research

The completion of an honors thesis is the cornerstone of the O’Neill Undergraduate Honors Program experience. Each student, with a faculty advisor,  has conducted in-depth research on a topic of interest and relevance to public and environmental affairs. The Symposium celebrates their work resulting in research useful to both practitioners and academic scholarship.

Presentation Schedule

8:45 AM - Welcome Remarks

9-10 AM - SESSION 1

Panel 3: Environmental Policy and Management

Panel Chair: Laura Helmke-Long

Student: Sydney Granlund | Advisor: Aaron Deslatte

This study examines how local governments incorporate accountability measures into their climate action planning documents since mayors often appear to public plans that lack details on how to accomplish individual goals. This research evaluates two cities in Indiana—South Bend and Bloomington—that are considered progressive when it comes to environmental protection to see how similar their accountability mechanisms are by analyzing their climate plans.  These data are supplemented with interviews conducted with local leaders to understand why they chose specific accountability measures. Through these case studies, it appears that Bloomington’s climate action plan contains more mechanisms for accountability while South Bend’s plan provides more flexibility in how progress is reported. These results highlight the fact that not all sustainability and climate plans are created equal.  Local governments and citizens can use these findings to decide how to articulate goals in a way that enables better accountability mechanisms.

Student: Emma Schuster | Advisor: Jon Eldon

Dunn’s Woods, like other urban woodlands, is important for preserving biodiversity, mitigating local climate change impacts, and providing social ecological benefits for the surrounding community. However, Dunn’s Woods has been largely ignored in past years, allowing invasive plant species and small, less desirable tree species to take over the woodland and outcompete native, more desirable species. This research seeks to establish a clear, data-driven inventory of the current state of Dunn’s Woods, compare those findings to the last inventory completed in 2006, and offer a management plan base on woodland research. The tree inventory was conducted by identifying every tree above 10 centimeters by species and diameter at breast height, then tagging and recording each tree for further analysis. The current findings show that maple saplings dominate both the understory and overstory, accounting for about half of the total number of trees in the woodland. Based on the results from this inventory, a management plan that aims to create a woodlot with higher biodiversity, fewer invasive species, and more beneficial trees like oak and hickory can be established. This research is relevant to the university because it can be utilized to create a healthier woodland for students and community members to enjoy.

Student: Annie King | Advisor: Jon Eldon

Invasive species are the subject of growing concern. They cause substantial ecological damage and are costly to manage. The U.S. functions with a patchwork of state and local laws, regulations, and programs to manage invasive species. State laws tend to be narrowly focused, banning the sale of specific species, limiting their distribution and introduction, or responding to what is affected by the invasive species. In the last 11 years, five Midwestern states passed laws regarding expansive invasive species; Indiana’s was the least expansive in terms of species banned. This research assesses the regional impacts of statewide restrictive invasive species laws. Interviews and document analysis suggest some of the driving factors of the plant industry’s migration away from invasive species in the Midwest were identified. The study was limited to qualitatively analyze the trends in Indiana’s plant market based on responses from nursery industry experts. Experts identified important factors in driving invasive species bans and extrapolated on methods to mitigate the economic impact faced by nurseries when adapting to new species bans.

10-11 AM: SESSION 2

Panel 6: Public Policy

Panel Chair: John Stavick

Student: Benjamin Bledsoe | Advisor: Jill Nicholson-Crotty

Since the mid-20th century, several research efforts have explored how people respond to allegations of misconduct towards candidates during a campaign and election process. The findings of these studies provide opportunities for new research to address unanswered questions on this topic. For instance, past work has generally only considered one homogenous group of people and their responses to misconduct allegations. In contrast, the goal of this thesis is to explore how various demographic groups in America respond to allegations of sexual and financial misconduct toward electoral candidates. Capturing a range of demographic groups’ responses to misconduct allegations was achieved by using two versions of a survey experiment tool with randomly assigned groups, where one group was introduced to a sexual misconduct allegation and the other was given a financial misconduct allegation. The collected data were analyzed to provide information about whether certain demographic groups are particularly vulnerable to their voting behavior being influenced by allegations of misconduct toward candidates. This information has implications for the formulation and implementation of anti-defamation and election policies.

Student: Nicole Lewis | Advisor: Jill Nicholson-Crotty

This study explores the effects of targeted regulation of abortion provider (TRAP) laws on abortion accessibility in the United States. The existing literature on this topic focuses primarily on abortion incidence statistics in the U.S., legal literature pertaining to TRAP laws, or on a singular TRAP law or state. This research seeks to examine the effects of TRAP laws on abortion at the national level to fill a crucial gap in the literature. The study focuses on 16 of the most common and pertinent TRAP laws and measures abortion accessibility by the percentage of women in the state who have an abortion provider in their county. Results suggest an inverse relationship where states with more TRAP laws/more severe TRAP laws have lower percentages of accessibility while states with less TRAP laws/less severe TRAP laws have higher percentages of accessibility. These results demonstrate that TRAP laws effectively reduce abortion accessibility. At a time when courts around the nation are struggling to interpret TRAP laws and their purpose, this research can determine how TRAP laws affect abortion accessibility.

Student: Kulsoom Tapal | Advisor: Beth Cate

This paper examines Congressional rhetoric surrounding the Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) Program created by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to assess the level (or lack) of concern surrounding Islamophobia. The scholarly and practitioner literatures establish that CVE disproportionately targets and surveils Muslims and that the program has failed to demonstrate its effectiveness in preventing or identifying potential acts of terrorism. These findings have been made known to members of Congress. This research aims to evaluate their reaction and response such findings and compares these responses with demands for legislative action coming from activists and watchdogs.

11 AM-12:20 PM: SESSION 3

Panel 9: Environmental Science

Panel Chair: Wesley Zebrowski

Student: Mallory Babcock | Advisor: Landon Yoder

This paper examines the disproportionate distribution of climate change effects across the U.S. and how vulnerability differences might indicate a person’s green behavior. Climate scientists are searching for ways to lessen these effects, and recent studies cite green behavior as a solution and policy tool. Current green behavior research focuses on what factors shape a person’s willingness to engage, including income, values, norms, demographics, exposure to media, and spatial dimensions. However, it fails to explore a relationship between an individual’s green behavior and exposure to climate extremes due to their location. Communities within the U.S. are becoming more vulnerable to the effects, with some being more at risk than others; California faces extreme forest fires and Florida coasts experience flooding due to sea level rise. In this study, college students from four universities around the U.S. with differing levels of vulnerability were given a survey to report their environmental attitudes, behavior, and risk perceptions. Preliminary findings suggest that certain green behaviors are higher in more vulnerable areas. If green behavior can act as a tool to fight the climate crisis and increasing risks, it is crucial to understand how vulnerability may impact behavior.

Student: Ellen Bergan | Advisor: Avram Primack

Indiana has undergone dramatic climatic changes over the past million years, each change leaving behind geographically isolated populations of species. Climate relicts are the remnants of much wider past distributions, persisting through changing environmental conditions and now mostly occurring in small, isolated habitats. Indiana contains numerous climate relict species that reflect its past climates and ecosystems. Eastern Hemlock (Tsuga canadensis) covered most of Indiana after the Wisconsin glacial retreat. It is now limited to several small populations within isolated habitats that are disjunct from the main population that lies further to the north and east. Phylogeographic analyses show that Indiana’s disjunct populations have less genetic variation but are genetically distinct from main-range populations. Comparative analysis of habitats in the main range and disjunct populations shows that disjunct populations occupy a narrower range of habitat conditions. Relict populations in Indiana are limited to steep slopes, low flooding frequencies, and fewer soil parent material types. Main-range populations are able to occupy flatter terrain, higher flooding frequencies, and wider varieties of soil parent material types. As eastern hemlocks face changing climate and land use conditions, the relict status of Indiana’s hemlock populations underscores its ecological importance and the need for monitoring and protection.

Student: Liam Bules | Advisor: Todd V. Royer

The purpose of this research is to explore the dynamics of chloride pollution from deicers in the context of U.S. Environmental Protection Agency guidelines and the state of Indiana acute and chronic chloride water quality standards. U.S. EPA guidelines are fixed values whereas the Indiana chloride standards are a function of total hardness and sulfate concentration. The study stream is Campus River, a small stream that drains the Indiana University campus. More than 35 percent of the watershed is impervious surface and numerous storm drains discharge to the stream. We used high-frequency sampling of specific conductivity and discrete sampling of chloride, total hardness, and sulfate to determine exceedances of acute and chronic standards from 2018 to 2021. During winter storms, the Indiana acute chloride standard ranged from 620-717 mg/L due to variation in hardness and sulfate; the chronic standard ranged from 383-444 mg/L. Between October 2019 and February 2021 there were 18 exceedances of the Indiana acute standard and 9 of the Indiana chronic standard, and a peak chloride concentration of 5,817 mg/L at the furthest downstream site. The heavy use of deicers on campus results in chloride concentrations that are harmful to aquatic life.

Student: Emma Hand | Advisors: Richard Phillips and Kimberly Novick

Elevated nitrogen (N) deposition due to human activities has substantially increased soil fertility in forest ecosystems, with the potential to alter soil carbon (C) storage. Increased availability of N has been shown to both increase and decrease C storage in soil organic matter (SOM). To predict how N deposition influences soil C, a better understanding of how microbial and plant communities respond to increased N and influence SOM dynamics is needed. This study assesses changes in the C and N content of microbial, root, leaf and SOM pools in a temperate hardwood forest after eight years of N fertilization. The type of mycorrhizal fungal symbiont a tree associates with can influence soil C and nutrient cycling, so plots were established in forest stands dominated by trees that associate with either arbuscular (AM) or ectomycorrhizal (EcM) fungi. N fertilization was found to alter microbial enzyme activity and microbial N, while the effects of N fertilization on plant and SOM chemistry depended on the type of mycorrhizal symbiont present. Understanding the effects of N deposition on storage of C in forests is increasingly important as we confront consequences of climate change and look to forests for their potential for carbon sequestration.


12:30 PM - Closing Remarks

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