Senior Thesis Symposium 2021

The Senior Honors Thesis Symposium provides student researchers an opportunity to present findings from their senior thesis work at an annual symposium. The 2021 Symposium was held virtually on Saturday, April 17. The event was held virtually and students were placed in groups during which time they presented for 8-10 minutes.

Symposium Outline

9:00 a.m. Introductory Remarks by L&S Honors Program Director, Sabine Gross

9:10 a.m. – 10:00 a.m. Session 1: Computer Science, Mathematics & Physics

10:10 a.m. – 11:20 a.m. Session 2: International, Cultural & Political Studies

11:30 a.m. – 12:40 p.m. Session 3: COVID-19, Social Injustice, Partisan Politics, Healthcare: Hot-Topics in the United States in 2020 and Beyond

12:40 p.m. – 1:20 p.m. Lunch

1:20 p.m. – 2:30 p.m. Session 4: The Body, Brain & Behavior

2:45 p.m. – 3:45 p.m. Session 5: Language, Literature & Art

3:45 p.m. – 4:00 p.m. Closing Remarks

Symposium Sessions and Presentations

Session 1: Computer Science, Mathematics & Physics


Qinjun Jiang: “Reducing Synchronization Overhead for Persistent RNNs”

Robijn Kleijwegt: “High Energy Gamma Ray Astronomy with the Prototype Schwarzschild-Couder Telescope”

Iris Park: “Inequality of Opportunity in the United States and South Korea

Anantha Rao: “Interactions Between Categorization and Intuitive Physics”

Session 2: International, Cultural & Political Studies


Henry Dern: “The Shifting Balance of Power: The American Presidency, Congress, and the War Powers Resolution of 1973”

Emily Janicik: “Xenophobic Policies in the Name of Gratitude: Refugee Experiences with the German and Austrian Governments”

Siyu Liang: “Education and news consumption among Chinese citizens”

Ben Novack: “Perspective and Purpose: The Changing Views of British Football Grounds”

Anitha Quintin: «Moyens Forts » de Revandication: Understanding Malian Youth Protests 1992-2012

Max Herteen: “North Division: Education Reform at Milwaukee’s Most Prominent High School (1960-2021)”

Session 3: COVID-19, Social Injustice, Partisan Politics, Healthcare: Hot-Topics in the United States in 2020 and Beyond


Susan Jiao: “Does Medicaid Expansion Crowd Out Private Insurance? Evidence from the Affordable Care Act”

Kaitlin Kons: “Crisis of the Dualist Democracy and the Unconventional Solution”

Alyssa Meurer: “Moral Framing Analysis of Solitary Confinement”

Logan Moore: “Presidents and Pandemics: The Role of Expertise”

Amanda Schiffman: “Understanding the Racial Impact of Ostensibly Race-Neutral Laws and Policies in the United States”

Dasha Yermol: “Face Masks Hinder Our Ability to Recognize Facial Expressions of Emotion”

Session 4: The Body, Brain & Behavior


Zachary Demko: “No Evidence for Behavioral Dysregulation in Video Game Addiction”

PJ Derr: “Synaptic Connectivity of the Dim-Light Neural Circuit in the Primate Retina”

Claire Girod: “Assessment of Fear of Negative Evaluation and Social Stress as Predictors of Cortisol Response and State Anxiety”

Alexis Johnson: “Identification of Phagocytizing Cells in Central Nervous System Tuberculosis”

Lauren Schilling: “More Than Meets the Eye: Sight Words in Early Reading Instruction”

Sebastian Piedra Rodriguez: “Explainable Artificial Intelligence for asset pricing in the stock market”

Session 5: Language, Literature & Art


Kendall Allen: “Fascism through the Eyes of Swedish Neutrality and Norwegian Occupation: Stig Dagerman’s Ormen (1945) and Sigurd Hoel’s Møte ved milepelen (1947)”

Tanvi Dhariwal: “Death and Sexual Violence: Constructing Female Identity in Italian Renaissance Art”

Hannah Filippo: “The role of literacy in Chinese American adoptee identity”

McKenzie Maccaux: “Identifying an “Aesthetic” Function of Language”

Noah Mapes: “Supermarket Activism: Locating Identity and Red Power Rhetoric in Peter B. Jones’ Indian Brand Series”

Symposium Abstracts (Listed in Alphabetical Order by Last Name)

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Kendall Allen

“Fascism through the Eyes of Swedish Neutrality and Norwegian Occupation: Stig Dagerman’s Ormen (1945) and Sigurd Hoel’s Møte ved milepelen (1947)”

Advisors: Susan Brantly, Pernille Ipsen

Thesis Department: History and Scandinavian Studies


My thesis analyzes the portrayal of fascism in two novels—the Swedish author and journalist Stig Dagerman’s Ormen (1945; Eng. tr. The Snake [1995]) and the Norwegian author and literary critic Sigurd Hoel’s Møte ved milepelen (1947; Eng. Tr. Meeting at the Milestone [2002])—through the lens of the wartime experiences of Sweden and Norway. My thesis belongs to a new trend in the study of the Second World War in Scandinavia that focuses on the cultural memory of the war in different media forms. These two works shift their gaze from home, on Swedish neutrality and Norwegian collaboration, to the larger political climate of Europe during the Second World War as they investigate the true nature of fascism and warn against the coming of future authoritarian states. I use both historical scholarship and literary analysis methods, and I analyze sexual repression by the patriarchal family and by the state by utilizing principles of psychoanalysis and anarcho-syndicalism. Furthermore, I argue that both authors saw literature as the solution to stopping future fascist states from arising, as seen in the figure of the writer in both novels and the importance given to the individual in the fight against fascism.

Zachary Demko

“No Evidence for Behavioral Dysregulation in Video Game Addiction”

Advisor: C Shawn Green

Thesis Department: Psychology


There is current interest in whether to categorize video game addiction as a mental disorder. This study hypothesized that people who met criteria for video game addiction wouldn’t decrease their gaming when they had exams, which would suggest a lack of self-control. We identified two groups of gamers among college students, one who met criteria for video game addiction and one who did not. They completed weekly self-report surveys assessing their time spent studying and gaming. There were no significant differences between the groups in gaming time during weeks with and without exams. Yet, participants also massively underestimated the amount of time they spent gaming, which adds uncertainty to the findings. The underreporting of gaming hours has relevance for research that relies on self-reports.

Henry Dern

“The Shifting Balance of Power The American Presidency, Congress, and the War Powers Resolution of 1973”

Advisors: Patrick Iber, Howard Schweber

Thesis Department: Political Science & History


The War Powers Resolution of 1973 was intended to be consequential pieces of legislation passed in the last half-century. It attempted to redefine the relationship between two branches of the federal government and impact the President’s ability to conduct foreign policy independent of Congress by requiring consultation before introducing troops into hostiles and frequent reports on their status. A 60-day limit on deployments without congressional approval was intended to curtail the President’s ability to commit the U.S. to a prolonged war. Proponents argued that the Resolution was necessary to reestablish the intended balance of power between Congress and the President. At the same time, some detractors claimed that it unconstitutionally restricted the Commander-in-Chief powers. Still others believe that the Resolution was an unconstitutional measure that further delegated congressional authority to the President by allowing him to conduct military operations for 60-days without authorization. These concerns were echoed by members of Congress as well as Reagan and Bush administration officials as international crises arose. By analyzing the Carter, Reagan, and H.W. Bush administrations, my thesis aims to determine which foreign policy approach to the WPR (strict adherence, non-compliance, and semi-adherence) was most effective.

PJ Derr

“Synaptic Connectivity of the Dim-Light Neural Circuit in the Primate Retina”

Advisor: Dr. Raunak Sinha

Thesis Department: Integrative Biology


Vision is a preeminent factor in forming a holistic perception of the world. The retina is the neural tissue lining the back of the eye that first absorbs and processes light. Rod photoreceptors, cells that initially capture photons in dim-light conditions, and their downstream partners change in density and morphology from the center of the primate retina to the periphery. Although the differences in densities and morphologies of rod photoreceptors across retinal locations is known, the differences in the wiring/connectivity of the dim-light neural circuitry remain unexplored. This study uses serial electron microscopy to identify differences in synaptic connectivity at different retinal locations providing much-needed insight into the arrangement of the dim-light visual pathway across space.

Tanvi Dhariwal

“Death and Sexual Violence: Constructing Female Identity in Italian Renaissance Art”

Advisor: Jennifer Nelson

Thesis Department: Art History


The art of the Italian Renaissance was largely created by male artists, and women during this period, much like in almost all other historical periods, remain largely absent as artists. Visual depictions of female identity in this period and place were, therefore, largely constructed by the male imagination. Furthermore, much of the art that survives was commissioned by elite male patrons. In general, non-elite works do not survive as well as their elite counterparts and those that do are not as frequently studied. One’s conception of female identity during the Italian Renaissance is, therefore, constructed by elite male patrons and artists.

Within this realm of male-constructed female identity, there was an emphasis on female suffering. Depictions of both exemplary chastity and female sexuality seem to generally be entangled with ideas of violence and unequal power structures and female suffering seems to become an integral part of female identity. Through case studies that visualize Ariadne and Dido, I will explore why female suffering was emphasized in representations of women and how these rhetorics of violence and death change with different contexts through close analyses of images guided by their social contexts of display.

Hannah Filippo

“The role of literacy in Chinese American adoptee identity”

Advisor: Eileen Lagman

Thesis Department: English


My thesis examines how Chinese transracial adoptees use literacy to negotiate their racial identities.  Research in literacy studies has argued that writing and other forms of symbolic mediation are important tools to navigate racism, citizenship, and exclusion for Asian Americans. But there is little known about how literacy has affected the lives of Chinese American adoptees specifically. To address this scholarship gap, I interviewed Chinese American transracial adoptees who were adopted after the implementation of China’s one-child policy. I also interviewed parents of adoptees and analyzed other primary sources including memoirs, documentaries, and institutional paperwork and guidebooks.  My findings show that adoptive parents’ use of literacy practices – such as cultural education, storytelling, and record-keeping – grew as language about adoption shifted from colorblindness to multicultural family-making. I also demonstrate how adoptees exhibit ambivalent and conflicting feelings about these parental literacies and how adoptees use other forms of literacy to strengthen their connection to their heritage.

Claire Girod

“Assessment of Fear of Negative Evaluation and Social Stress as Predictors of Cortisol Response and State Anxiety”

Advisor: Dr. Yuri Miyamoto

Thesis Department: Psychology


The Trier Social Stress Test (TSST) is a well-documented inducer of social stress, and cortisol is thought of as a reliable biomarker for research examining the TSST (Allen, 2013). However, chronic stress levels may cause dysregulation in acute salivary cortisol production in the presence of social stressors. There have been mixed findings: previous studies have found cases of higher social anxiety associated with both heightened and blunted cortisol reactivity. Despite cultural differences related to social stress and anxiety, these same mixed findings have been found when analyzing clinical populations in both individualist and collectivist cultures. Previous research has even documented varying health impacts related to social stress, including better biological health outcomes found in Japanese populations (Kitayama et al., 2018). This variation emphasizes the need to understand the biological component of social stress. In this open-ended study (N= 200) of both European American and East Asian participants, we investigated the correlation between social anxiety and cortisol baseline, reactivity, and recovery within and across cultures in response to the TSST. Through examinations of saliva samples and self-reports, we found that our social anxiety measure predicted cortisol recovery as well as baseline, anticipatory, and post-task anxiety levels across both cultures.

Max Herteen

“North Division: Education Reform at Milwaukee’s Most Prominent High School (1960-2021)”

Advisor: Dr. Walter Stern

Thesis Department: History


My paper, “North Division: Education Reform at Milwaukee’s Most Prominent High School (1960–2021)” explores the nature of protest and reform at Milwaukee’s North Division High School, a large predominantly-black school. I explore how local and national influences shaped education reform at the school, and what consequences reforms had on the North Division community. I also ask what influence, and to what extent, grassroots actors had on protest and reform, and what lessons can be learned from the North Division story. Ultimately, the paper argues that local activists—particularly Black women and girls—were critical to reform at North Division. In multiple eras, the community stepped up to protest inequity and demand a greater voice in their school’s affairs. Even when governing structures failed to grant them real power, community activism never ceased. I explore several eras of protest and reform at North Division, from integration debates in the 1960s to the “Save North Division” and “New North Division” independent school district movements in the 1980s to the controversial charter schools implemented at North in the 2000s. Within each movement, local activists played the central role in debate and reform. Their experiences teach valuable lessons about community control for the city of Milwaukee.

Emily Janicik

“Xenophobic Policies in the Name of Gratitude: Refugee Experiences with the German and Austrian Governments”

Advisor: Professor B. Venkat Mani

Thesis Department: German, Nordic, and Slavic


The 2015 refugee “crisis” in the EU prompted various responses from national governments in order to help manage large flows of refugees and migrants, as the EU was considered a safe place for refugees to flee violence and persecution. More than 1.3 million refugees came to the EU, with 800,000+ people travelling through Germany and Austria. The German government has created language and culture courses, placed refugees in apprenticeships, and provided public benefits. In contrast, the Austrian government has decreased funding for German language education, imposed stricter asylum rules, and forced “Austrian” values on refugees. In this thesis, I examine differences in government policies, economic impact, and media coverage of refugees in Germany and Austria, demonstrating tensions between acceptance and xenophobia.

Qinjun Jiang

“Reducing Synchronization Overhead for Persistent RNNs”

Advisor: Matt Sinclair

Thesis Department: Computer Sciences


Recurrent Neural Networks (RNNs) are an important category of Deep Neural Networks (DNNs) that are widely used in speech recognition, sentiment analysis, and many other major applications. However, their efficiency is hindered by sequential data dependencies on outputs from previous timesteps for each timestep. Persistent Recurrent Neural Networks (PRNN) exploit kernel fusion and the GPU’s memory hierarchy to reuse network weights over multiple timesteps. PRNNs have been shown to outperform regular RNNs. However, since PRNN condense the entire RNN, which normally spans hundreds of GPU kernels, into a single large kernel with multiple phases, requires explicit synchronization at the end of each phase within the kernel. Unfortunately, synchronization in GPUs, such as global barriers, is extremely inefficient. This problem worsens for more complex RNNs such as Gated Recurrent Unit (GRU) and Long Short-Term Memory (LSTM) because they require additional global synchronization for more sub-computations than vanilla RNNs.

The key to our project is to reduce the overhead of explicit synchronization for persistent RNNs. We observe that PRNNs have independent partial computations that do not depend on each other in the GRU algorithm. By co-locating these independent computations, we can replace the expensive global synchronization with faster local synchronization, improving performance and scalability.

Susan Jiao

“Does Medicaid Expansion Crowd Out Private Insurance? Evidence from the Affordable Care Act”

Advisor: Matthew Wiswall

Thesis Department: Economics


A debate in the implementation of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) has been whether expansion of Medicaid eligibility, a joint federal and state insurance program, would result in an overall decrease in uninsured people, or would a drop in private insurance offset such desired effect. In this paper, I estimate the amount of reduction or “crowd out” of private insurance from the ACA expansion of Medicaid among low-income people over the 2010 to 2019 period. Using panel data from the American Community Survey, I conduct quasi-experiments including contiguous border county pairs and synthetic control groups. I find statistically significant evidence of crowd-out, with places where Medicaid expanded losing around 6% of private insurance coverage compared to places where Medicaid expansion did not take place.

Alexis Johnson

“Identification of Phagocytizing Cells in Central Nervous System Tuberculosis”

Advisor: Dr. Matyas Sandor

Thesis Department: Pathology & Laboratory Medicine


The manifestation of Mycobacterium tuberculosis (Mtb) infection within the central nervous system (CNS) is a rare and devastating form of extra-pulmonary tuberculosis. Currently, little data defines the disease mechanism, specifically what cell populations phagocytize the bacteria. To investigate this knowledge gap, the localization and phagocytic activity of infiltrating peripheral macrophages, residential microglia, and neuronal progenitor cells (NPC) were analyzed using immunohistochemistry, confocal microscopy, and Bitplane Imaris image analysis software. When Mtb was administered through an intracerebroventricular injection, NPC quickly engulfed the bacteria. Following an intracerebral injection, the density of infiltrating macrophages, not microglia, increased at and around Mtb lesions. They also played a substantial role in the phagocytosis of Mtb following a weeklong infection period. These data suggest that the disease mechanism may initially start with the uptake of Mtb via NPC in the ventricles. However, once the bacteria invade the brain parenchyma, macrophages invade from the vasculature and respond to the growing infection. Collectively, these data inform us how the immune and nervous systems work together to control an extra-pulmonary Mtb infection.

Robijn Kleijwegt

“High Energy Gamma Ray Astronomy with the Prototype Schwarzschild-Couder Telescope”

Advisors: Justin Vandenbroucke, Brent Mode

Thesis Department: Astronomy


Imaging Atmospheric Cherenkov Telescopes have resulted in a breakthrough in gamma-ray astrophysics since 1989 by detecting very-high-energy (VHE) gamma ray photons through the detection of Cherenkov radiation. These telescopes provide a large detection area which assists in reconstructing important attributes of air showers caused by cosmic rays and VHE gamma ray-initiated showers. The Cherenkov Telescope Array (CTA) is an international consortium that is constructing a new generation of ground-based gamma-ray instruments that is projected to be ten times more sensitive than previous instruments and is designed to have unprecedented accuracy in its detection of high-energy particles. CTA consists of three different sizes of telescopes that are built to study three different ranges of energies. The Schwarzschild-Couder Telescope (SCT) is one of two proposals for a medium-sized telescope studying energies from 150 GeV – 5 TeV. A prototype of the SCT, the pSCT, was inaugurated at the Fred Lawrence Whipple Observatory in 2019, where the first campaign of observations took place in early 2020. Findings on one particular aspect of the data acquisition as it appears in the data itself will be discussed as it underlines the importance to enhance the operability of the camera that was designed by the UW-Madison CTA team and other collaborators.

Kaitlin Kons

“Crisis of the Dualist Democracy and the Unconventional Solution”

Advisors: Howard Schweber, Amy Gangl

Thesis Department: Political Science


The Constitutional Convention of 1787 has defined following 230 years of constitutional politics in the growing and most successful democratic-republic of the modern day, the United States. The work of the Founding Fathers has be hailed and largely untouched to major modern criticism. In the present day politics of hyperpartisanship and polarization, the work of the Founders is often looked to for reference and quoted out of reverence. Contrastingly, this thesis argues that the follies of present polarization and problems in our democracy stem from the work of the Founders. Throughout American history, Constitutional politics has been malleable to account for its own original sin– the institution of slavery– by maintaining selective representation through the exclusion of political participation to create an entrenched systemic political problem. Today, political entrenchment is fueled by strong division and lack of constitutional constraints for political parties, which have largely replaced the system of separation of powers in our government. In an effort to solve these structural failures in our democracy as well as shape the spirit of the Constitution to further democratic ideals, a Second Constitutional Convention is necessary to demand again the earnest consideration the higher lawmaking system deserves to maintain the Great American Experiment.

Siyu Liang

“Education and news consumption among Chinese citizens”

Advisors: Andrew Kydd, Amy Gangl

Thesis Department: Political Science


The internet is one of the most fast-developing technologies in recent years. Among worldwide internet users, China has the largest amount of internet users in the world. A few western media also have entered the market in the past decades. For instance, BBC, the New York Times, and the Washington Post had Chinese websites, but were blocked in recent years due to tensions between Washington and Beijing. In 2010, the Chinese government introduced “internet sovereignty,” requiring all Chinese citizens, including foreign organizations, to abide relevant regulations (The Internet in China, n.d.). However, Chinese citizens can still access foreign media via the Great Firewall, a project used to block foreign websites and filter keywords by the Chinese government. Approximately 18 million out of 600 million people bypass the Great Firewall and utilize diverse information sources (Mou et al., 2016). What populations are more likely to bypass the Great Firewall then? This thesis fills the gap in knowledge about the effect of education on Chinese citizens’ trust level towards Western media and Chinese media to for the purpose of better understanding media consumption behavior in the authoritarian regime.

McKenzie Maccaux

“Identifying an “Aesthetic” Function of Language”

Advisor: John Mackay

Thesis Department: Philosophy


In his paper, “Aesthetic Responses and the “Cloudiness” of Language: Is There an Aesthetic Function of Language?”, linguistics professor Paul Rastall argues that an aesthetic function of language does not exist because “the aesthetic quality [of a particular linguistic unit (a single word, a poem, etc.)] and the response to it seem to be more matters of the use or exploitation of linguistic features by speakers and hearers in context than properties of the linguistic entities themselves.” (123) However, if we take a poem, for example, as a linguistic unit, we might still think that it is striking or powerful in and of itself, regardless of who is reading it. In his paper, Rastall doesn’t seem to offer a strong enough argument for why we shouldn’t believe that this is the case. In my thesis, I develop a more detailed account of what an aesthetic function entails and through it, argue that although the aesthetic properties of language can vary from context to context, this doesn’t seem to entail that language has no aesthetic function whatsoever. I maintain that it is consistent with language having some function, that the way that function manifests itself varies from context to context.

Noah Mapes

“Supermarket Activism: Locating Identity and Red Power Rhetoric in Peter B. Jones’ Indian Brand Series”

Advisor: Anna Andrzejewski

Thesis Department: Art History


In 1968, Onondaga artist Peter B. Jones produced his Indian Brand Series, three sculptures that mimic the visual language of mass-produced goods featuring Indigenous mascots. Therefore, the series owes a debt to Pop art, an artistic movement that confronts contemporary society and all its triumphs and failures through the appropriation of quotidian and commercial imagery. Yet the series also coincides with the rise of Red Power, as Indigenous activists and advocates leveraged their unique cultures and experiences to assert self-determination in the face of a settler colonial United States. Placing Jones’ sculptures at the intersection of these two movements, this paper examines how the Indian Brand Series utilizes the commodified imagery of Pop to explore identity and reflect the rhetoric of concurrent Indigenous activism.

Alyssa Meurer

“Moral Framing Analysis of Solitary Confinement”

Advisor: Nicholas Pedriana

Thesis Department: Sociology


According to moral psychologist Jonathan Haidt’s Moral Foundations Theory, political affiliation can strongly predict endorsement of 5 moral foundations, explaining why partisan divides may occur. One issue that highlights the strong political polarization in the United States, particularly in Wisconsin, is solitary confinement, a type of punishment used in corrections settings. This project examines interviews with Wisconsin state legislators about criminal justice, punishment, and solitary confinement, as well as opinion-editorials largely opposing the use of solitary confinement. The arguments are analyzed for word choice relating to the 5 major moral foundations, and discussion is provided on the implications of how Democrats and others who oppose solitary confinement frame the issue.

Logan Moore

“Presidents and Pandemics: The Role of Expertise”

Advisor: David Weimer

Thesis Department: Political Science


This thesis examines Presidential decision-making during pandemics. The Presidential administrations and their respective outbreaks compose of Woodrow Wilson (1918 Spanish Flu), Gerald Ford (1976 Swine Flu), Ronald Reagan (HIV/AIDS), George W. Bush (SARS), Barack Obama (2009 Swine Flu), Barack Obama (2014 Ebola), and Donald Trump (COVID-19). These cases are used to evaluate three hypotheses. The first is that Presidents who rely on greater use of external experts will be more successful in managing pandemic threats. The second is that Presidents who search for wide scientific consensus in making policy decisions will be more successful in managing pandemic threats. The third is that for Presidents whose scientific staff/advisors have a role in the development and prioritization of the policy agenda relevant to potential pandemics will be more successful in managing them.

Ben Novack

“Perspective and Purpose: The Changing Views of British Football Grounds”

Advisor: David McDonald

Thesis Department: History


The sport of football (soccer) has long captured the imagination for the storylines it creates and the fervent support following close behind. During the modern history of British football, from 1923-2018, expansions in spectatorship saw stadiums sprout across the landscape and take on a variety of shapes and sizes. But, the physical shape of stadiums has changed much less in comparison to the impact of supporters and how they perceive the space. As a result, it becomes worth asking: How have spectators defined purpose, and what purposes were most important? In this history of stadiums, a different chronology introduces a new set of important moments to the evolution of modern football. Instead of relying on major matches to guide this development, the economic, social and political situation becomes more impactful in presenting a new image of the football ground.

Iris Park

“Inequality of Opportunity in the United States and South Korea”

Advisor: Jeffrey Smith

Thesis Department: Economics


In this study, I estimate the inequality of opportunity in the United States and South Korea using dataset from the Panel Study of Income Dynamics (PSID) and the Korean Labor and Income Panel Study. The purpose of this study is to compare the composition of income inequality in each country by using the estimated opportunity inequality and providing useful measure for public policy. The results show us that about 20% of the general income inequality in both United States and South Korea is caused by individual’s opportunity and that opportunity played a bigger role in the composition of the income inequality in South Korea compared to the United States. Regional difference of the composition of inequality was also proven to exist especially in the United States. The empirical result shows us that while opportunity inequality of south region of United States is approximately 0.0278, the opportunity inequality of north east region is about 0.0667 which is more than twice of south region.

Sebastian Piedra Rodriguez

Advisors: Ivan Shaliastovich, Matthew Malloy

Thesis Department: Finance, Electrical & Computer Engineering


Explainable Artificial Intelligence (XAI) is a revolutionary tool that makes it easy for non-tech people like doctors, policy-makers, activists, financial planners, and scientists to use Artificial Intelligence’s insights. Previously, AI models were limited to technical domains, mostly because machine learning models use a plethora of parameters that tend to make the models work as a black box.

This thesis project worked on an XAI model for asset pricing in the stock market. In particular, we developed a model that combines 178 macroeconomic variables with 49 firm-specific characteristics to formulate the Stochastic Discount Factor (SDF) of a sample portfolio. The goal is to combine the SDF with the individual portfolio weights to build an optimal portfolio. Moreover, the model aims to learn the risk factor loadings to understand how the previous 227 characteristics generate the model’s output, which reduces the black box nature of machine learning models.

Anitha Quintin

“Between Military Reigns: Understanding Malian Youth Movements”

Advisors: Dr. Scott Straus, Amy Gangl

Thesis Department: Political Science


Throughout the development of Mali’s democracy one group has been ever present and active in demanding change: Mali’s youth. Whether it be students demanding scholarships and a higher quality of education, or youth calling for the implementation of a peace agreement, Mali’s youth are an undeniable force of change. As of 2018, the 15-29 age group made up just over 50% of Mali’s adult population– defined as ages 15 and older (Population Institute). Though this number will continue to fluctuate, “the 15-29 age group by 2050 will still constitute nearly 45 percent of the total adult population” (ibid). With Mali’s youth comprising a majority of the population, understanding the reasons why Malian youth choose to interact with their government in the ways they do becomes paramount to understanding how Malian politics function as a whole.

Anantha Rao

“Interactions Between Categorization and Intuitive Physics”

Advisor: Joe Austerweil

Thesis Department: Psychology


In everyday life, we must attenuate to the physics of objects in order to function. Is my stack of books stable? How far could someone throw this object? A core property of objects which governs their dynamics is mass. Although mass cannot be directly perceived, it can be inferred using perceptual cues such as size and material. Here, we examine how people predict an object’s behavior when its material is unobservable, but predictable from cues learned via category learning. Some work has shown that people tend to infer properties of ambiguous categories based on the property’s propensity in the most likely category. However, more recent work has found that given an ambiguous cue, people will integrate over categories (as rational agents should) in a variety of contexts. In our study, we investigate how uncertainty in category induction affects continuous judgment in the domain of intuitive physics. We incorporate real materials (like wood and iron) into a category learning framework and then test people’s judgments about the distance a payload travels in a virtual 2-dimensional physics environment before and after category learning. Our results are equivocal, but suggest that people do integrate in these scenarios.

Amanda Schiffman

“Understanding the Racial Impact of Ostensibly Race-Neutral Laws and Policies in the United States”

Advisor: Michael Light

Thesis Department: Legal Studies


Racial inequalities permeate America’s legal institutions; race affects the likelihood of being stopped by the police, the severity of a criminal sentence, and the odds of facing the death penalty. Several recent high-profile incidents of police shootings have sparked questions regarding basic equality and racial discrimination against minorities in the United States.  Despite legislative reform for the creation of ostensibly race-neutral policies, the manner in which justice officials – judges, prosecutors, officers, etc – are able to interpret and apply these laws continues to perpetuate clear racial disparities in America’s criminal justice system. The purpose of this thesis is to analyze and address the current racial impact in three distinct stages: policing, conviction, and reentry. By examining how legal actors enforce current laws and court precedent, this thesis aims to offer a poignant awakening focused mainly on low-income, African-Americans in the United States. In doing so, this paper assesses contemporary, empirical research on policing, prosecution, and collateral consequences to consider how these largely separate bodies of scholarship overlap. This writing concludes with a call for political action and legislative change to abolish racially discriminatory policies, and to limit the discretion afforded to law enforcement and justice officials.

Lauren Schilling

“More Than Meets the Eye: Sight Words in Early Reading Instruction”

Advisors: Mark Seidenberg, Matt Cooper-Borkenhagen

Thesis Department: Psychology



To become skilled readers, children must fluently recognize the words they encounter in texts. In many reading curricula, teachers provide instruction about sight words, words that are high in frequency and contain irregular sound-spelling correspondences. Teachers often encourage students to memorize these words rather than sound them out. However, little is known about which words should be taught and how they should be delivered. As a result, the quantity and qualities of sight words vary greatly across popular curricula and supplemental instructional materials. The present study investigates the sight word lists and teaching methods of several early reading instructional programs. Seven measures of word qualities were computed: word frequency, length, imageability, age of acquisition, orthographic-phonological regularity, number of syllables, and number of morphemes. Our results indicate that there is little agreement about the relevant characteristics of sight words and how to teach them. These findings point to a need for developing clearer criteria for the selection and delivery of sight words.

Dasha Yermol

“Face Masks Hinder Our Ability to Recognize Facial Expressions of Emotion”

Advisor: Dr. Paula Niedenthal

Thesis Department: Psychology


With government-mandated social distancing, virtual meetings, and overall limited face-to-face contact, our everyday social interactions have drastically changed. As people continue wearing face coverings to help reduce the spread of COVID-19, a newly masked world presents itself with social challenges. For instance, will we still be able to communicate emotions effectively with nonverbal facial cues when the lower half of our faces are covered? In other words, does the recognition of emotion from facial expressions depend on the entire face, or do the eyes alone carry enough information? The present study considers the influence of face masks on the interpretation of facial expressions and the importance of various portions of the face in emotion recognition.