Skip to main content

Recent Capstone Projects


Student: Meghan Barrett

Mentor: Melanie Blood, Departments of English & Music

Title: Science on Stage

Abstract: Science plays are a unique medium in which to explore some of science's most difficult issues; the human element of the actors combined with the ability to narrowly focus on one particular issue in a fictionalized context, provide an urgency and complexity uniquely possible in drama. Two issues in particular seems to captivate most playwrights engaging with scientific material. The first is the interaction between faith and science; the second is the powerful danger that comes with knowledge. Theater scholar Glynne Wickham wrote that despite all the knowledge science has given to the world, "...few scientists today have any knowledge of how to prevent the fruits of specifically scientific discoveries being used to plunge mankind into an unparalleled chaos of suffering, destruction, and new-barbarism." From the earliest conceptualization of the science play, Christopher Marlowe's Doctor Faustus, to more modern plays like Tony Harrison's Square Rounds and Shelagh Stephenson's An Experiment with an Air Pump, playwrights continue to explore these fundamental issues.


Student: Michael Lamontagne

Mentor: Ken Asher, Departments of English & Philosophy

Title: On Assumed Illness: Proust & Woolf

Abstract: Virginia Woolf wrote that, “When we surface in the dentist’s armchair and confuse his ‘Rinse the mouth—rinse the mouth’ with the greeting of the Deity stooping from the floor of Heaven to welcome us… it becomes strange indeed that illness has not taken its place with love and battle among the prime themes of literature.” By investigating the texts, letters, and biographical accounts of contemporaries, this essay demonstrates that illness has not been neglected by literature, and that it is a central theme in the works of Virginia Woolf and Marcel Proust.


Student: Anna Winters

Mentor: Jo Kirk, Departments of Sociology & Political Science

Title: Progress & Backlash: Feminism & Patriarchy in the United States

Abstract: This paper explores the nature of patriarchy in order to determine how it has enforced women’s oppression and suppressed women’s movements in the past, with the aim of discovering how feminist movements can be more successful in the future. Each of the four waves of American feminism have been met with patriarchal backlash, through claims that feminism directly attacks social values, women are biologically or intellectually inferior, equality has already been achieved and society is now “post-feminist,” and feminism is ruining both women’s and men’s lives. Other tactics have included the commodification of feminists’ personalities in the media and even direct violence and threats. Such backlash is problematic as it reinforces women’s exploitation, marginalization, internalization of inferiority, and fragmentation. By exploring the tactics and outcomes of past feminist movements, it is possible to ascertain how feminism must proceed in the future to succeed. Particularly, inclusion of men in the movement, the promotion of bonds between women, increased inclusiveness and intersectionality, revealing and addressing internalized misogyny, and a multi-pronged approach targeting political, cultural, and economic change are necessary for patriarchy to be overcome.


Student: Yaela Collins

Mentor: Lisa Meyer, Department of Sociology

Title: Xenophobia in the Age of Secularization--The Effects of Dutch Security Policy on Minority Communities

Abstract: In the new millennium, the Islamist terrorism threat in the Netherlands has grown substantially from a limited classification to a permanent exogenous and endogenous risk. Post 9/11, the first key moment in Dutch thought and action, with respect to the terrorist threat, occurred in 2002 when two Dutch Muslims travelled to Kashmir to participate in jihad, and died during a violent confrontation with the army. Combined with the 2004 murder of cinematographer Louis Van Gogh by an Islamic fundamentalist, these events served to heighten awareness of radicalization processes within Dutch borders. The result has been the incitement of a new era of Dutch counterterrorism policy focused in substantive and criminal law, intent on defending liberal democracy against terrorist attacks. Enhanced security measures and preventative policy employing methods like racial profiling, have led an increased consciousness of the “other”. An analysis of security threats in the Netherlands, jihadist and Salafist terrorism, and failed immigration policies serve to explain this resurgence of xenophobia, previously popular in the World War II era. Thus, the increasing securitization of Dutch society has had a negative impact on minority communities, leading to their marginalization and the reduction of their civil liberties.


Student: Harrison Hatrsough

Mentor: James Moor, Department of Political Science

Title: Justice Versus Practicality--Improving Public Defense in New York State

Abstract: The growth of Black Lives Matter indicates a growing consensus that police practices must be examined in light of tragedies such as that of Ferguson, Missouri. I propose that not only police practices but the practices of how we defend the rights of the indigent accused, those who are too poor to afford an attorney, bear examination. Beginning by understanding our courts, where pursuing justice is forced to compete with the question of what is practical, I discuss this “judicial-practical” question at length to show that justice must be separated from practical concerns (monetary cost, e.g.). By examining the Supreme Court’s history with this question as it pertains to the Sixth Amendment’s right to counsel clause, it is clear that over time we have identified new rights that were either present or ancillary to developments in our legal system. The Court’s decision in Gideon v. Wainwright provides one such unmitigated standard of justice: legal representation for all regardless of wealth. Using a Student Ambassadorship, I provide a descriptive account of how New York State’s has not met the standard set forth in Gideon. I conclude that justice is a natural right that must be attached to a normative framework.


Student: Kelsey Colberg

Mentor: Brian Morgan, School of Education

Title: Images and Words--Creating a Children's Picture Book

Abstract: When most people think of children literature they automatically think of picture books. Picture books are the most common form of children’s literature because of their accessibility and the pleasure that viewing images provides. Pictures attract attention and excite interest. By reviewing past book’s illustration styles and story themes I have created and illustrated my own picture book. I have taken into account the relationship between images and words as well as style, medium, and format. Looking at past successful picture books and current cultural trends has resulted in me creating a visually appealing, fun book that can be enjoyed by children and parents alike.


Student: Jack Jenkins

Mentor: Kazushige Yokoyama, Department of Chemistry

Title: Modeling Protein Structural Stability

Abstract: Amyloidogenic proteins, acting in assembly, are responsible for age-onset neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's disease. The formation of oligomers - relatively few protein molecules bound together - is a critical step towards the formation of yet larger fibrous structures associated with the critical onset of disease. The surface potential from gold nanoparticles in solution can be used as a diagnostic tool to encourage the formation of oligomers, allowing experimenters, including students at SUNY Geneseo, to study protein folding mechanisms. The purpose of this study is to gain physical intuition about the aggregation of protein molecules through mathematical modeling.


Student: Meghan Kearns

Mentor: Gillian Paku, Department of English

Title: Talking Coffee: How 18th Century It-Narratives Can Repair Fair Trade Marketing

Abstract: Much of the advertising surrounding the fair trade movement ironically relies on a rhetoric that reinforces the power imbalance between producers and consumers by framing the choice to buy “fair trade” or similarly branded products as an act of “saving” inhabitants of a developing country. In this model of advertising, the product becomes a stand-in for the impoverished employee; the “object” of purchase becomes the producer him or herself. If those promoting ethical sourcing could tell the stories of products without relying on traditional capitalist constructs of ownership, the motivation for buying “fair trade” goods could become more about the irreversibly communal nature of the product even after purchase, rather than the pleasurable feeling of using economic privilege to “buy” an objectified person’s wellbeing. Eighteenth century “it-narratives” provide a useful starting point from which to examine the way that giving voices to objects can deconstruct the dichotomy between “subject” and “object” and allow for a more fluid relationship between the human and non-human. This deconstruction would allow for objects to exist not as rightful extensions of a single person upon purchase, but as facets of a shared external world.


Student: Kate Hesler

Mentor: Joan Zook Department of Psychology

Title: Perfectionism, Social Support, and Social Anxiety in College Students

Abstract: The study examined the effect of maladaptive trait perfectionism and social support on college students’ social anxiety and perfectionistic behavior. One hundred twenty nine Geneseo students, who were primarily first year, white females, completed online self-report questionnaires assessing their socially prescribed perfectionism, social support, social anxiety, and perfectionistic self-presentation. Socially prescribed perfectionism is the perceived need to attain the exact standards and expectations of perfection prescribed by others. Perfectionistic self-presentation is a behavioral manifestation of maladaptive perfectionism in which one engages in impression management to create the image being perfect. It was predicted that the effect of socially prescribed perfectionism on social anxiety will be stronger among college students with low levels of social support. Preliminary results indicated that socially prescribed perfectionism was positively associated with social anxiety and with perfectionistic self-presentation and negatively associated with perceived social support. Perceived social support was negatively associated with social anxiety and perfectionistic self-presentation. The study aims to promote awareness for counselors, clinicians, educators, and parents about the dangers of expecting perfection from college students and about the importance of providing social support to reduce social anxiety and decrease maladaptive perfectionistic behaviors.


Student: Tamara Kurek

Mentor: George Briggs, Department of Biology

Title: Iroquois Healing Practices

Abstract: The topic of study I chose for my Edgar Fellows capstone project is Iroquois healing methods. I looked at this topic from both a biological and an anthropological point of view. I learned about how the Iroquois approached physical and mental ill health –this included herbalist practices, witchcraft, voodoo, and an understanding of their philosophies of health and illness, respectively. I also tested the antibiotic properties of the plant Asarum canadense, or Canadian Wildginger, which is native to this area and was used ubiquitously by the Iroquois as a common cold medicine, an eye medicine, and as a treatment for scarlet fever, among other things. While studies had been done as to the antibiotic properties of the plant in general, I did not find any that made a distinction between root and leaf extracts, so I sought to make that distinction in my study. A further, wider purpose of my study was to show that Iroquois medicinal practices still have relevance today. Ancient herbalist practices have potential as supplemental or alternative forms of treatment, so we need not be limited to pharmaceuticals in our search for cures.


Student: Erin O’Brien

Mentor: Rose-Marie Chierici, Department of Anthropology

Title: International Service Learning: Fostering Student-Community Interaction in Haiti

Abstract: The purpose of the Geneseo – Haiti project is to build a course model that responds principally to the critique that Service Learning favors the student over the community and perpetuates stigmas of social and cultural hierarchies, especially in the developing world. While the usual complexity of intercultural interaction is rendered more delicate by way of the dramatic socio-economic gap that often differentiates university students from community partners in developing countries, this course will create a pedagogy that seeks to overcome this gap and facilitate meaningful connection between the partner institution and host community. In order to do this we will develop a pedagogical approach that promotes project-specific language learning and an interactive and ongoing cultural orientation that endeavors to explore and challenge students’ stereotypes about Haiti in the hopes of ultimately transforming the students’ perception of not only Haiti, but also their identity and role as world-citizens.


Student: Lauren Pszonak

Mentor: Andrew Herman, Department of Communication

Title: Working with Social Media in the Nonprofit Sector

Abstract: The research for this project was largely through hands-on experience. The researcher completed research in existing literature. Through this, the researcher sought to gain insight into how non-profit and profit-seeking corporations use social media to further their campaign, and advertise their organization. With the background knowledge of existing trends in using social media, the researcher was able to use these theories in practice through an internship as a social media manager for LoGOFF, a small nonprofit business based out of New York City. As the internship progressed, the researcher was able to compare how the theoretical compared to the hands-on experience involved in producing the social media necessary to remain relevant. The internship focused mainly on Twitter and Pinterest. These platforms were used to make the LoGOFF brand more relevant to followers and potential supporters.


Student: Suraj Uttamchandani

Mentor: Chris Leary, Department of Mathematics

Title: Hilbert's 10th Problem: A guided tour of what we can and cannot calculate

Abstract: In 1900, David Hilbert put forward twenty three problems that he hoped the mathematical community would attack in the coming century. Of these, the 10th is the only one that asks for an algorithm – specifically, one to find solutions to any polynomial. In 1970, Yuri Matiyasevich completed the work that others began and proved that no such algorithm exists. In this talk, we will look at what all this means. What is an algorithm, really, and how does our intuition line up with mathematical rigor? And how, exactly, can one go about proving that an algorithm doesn’t exist? This talk will be accessible to an audience without a significant mathematical background.


Student: Neal Plofker

Mentors: Ted Everett, Department of Philosophy and Kurt Fletcher, Department of Physics

Title: The Conscious Mind and Quantum Measurement: A Philosophical Analysis of Entanglement and Other Phenomena in Quantum Mechanics

Abstract: The Cartesian doctrine of mind-body interactionism has long been ridiculed for being philosophically ‘spooky’ and therefore subject to skepticism. Many modern philosophers have adopted physicalism in order to avoid the problems associated with interactionism, and more importantly to remain consistent with recent developments in neuroscience and psychology. Scientific developments are essential in driving research in philosophy of mind. One experiment in quantum mechanics, originally conducted by John Bell in 1964 and inspired by the thought-experiments of Einstein, Podolsky, and Rosen in the 1930s, gave rise to the theorem that a purely physicalist theory of science cannot adequately account for the predictions made through quantum mechanics. This work, known as Bell’s theorem, produced controversy in the scientific community at the time of its publication, for it experimentally confirmed the Copenhagen Interpretation of quantum mechanics and therefore rejected local realism through the phenomenon of entanglement. Bell’s work suggests that physicalism does not provide a complete picture of reality and some non-physical component of the universe may be necessary to explain quantum phenomena. This analysis of Bell’s theorem provides a scientific basis for the existence of a kind of non-physical entity which yields an ‘intelligent observer’, and therefore ontological grounds for interactionism.


Student: Kate Ostroot

Mentors: David Aagesen, Department of Geography and Scott Giorgis, Department of Geological Sciences

Title: Green Building: Home Auditing; Retrofitting and Government Subsidies

Abstract: We live in a world where energy efficiency is becoming more important and relevant every day. The United States consumes more energy than any other country on the planet, and the U.S. Energy Information Administration predicts that energy prices will increase overall in the next twenty years. There are many ways for us to approach this problem, from ideas as elaborate as government-funded clean energy development to making minor lifestyle adjustments. Home audits are a critical first step to improving residential energy efficiency. While professionals can be hired to perform accurate, technologically advanced tests, there are also many sources available to guide homeowners through a “do it yourself” (DIY) energy audit. This project involved a DIY energy audit of my childhood home in Williamsville, NY. It consisted of an assessment of the energy consumption of different components of my house (heating, cooling, ventilation, appliances, etc.), as well the house as a whole. Using this data makes it possible to pinpoint the areas that consume the most energy and are the least efficient. This presentation explains my auditing process, as well as the retrofitting options I identified as most cost-effective and energy- efficient.