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SMC Honors Program showcases projects

Southwestern Michigan College’s finest students put their finest work on display during the college’s second Honors Showcase Dec. 12 in the art gallery of the Dale A. Lyons Building on the Dowagiac campus. Fourteen students enrolled in SMC’s Honors Program presented posters and answered questions, simulating a professional conference experience unheard of for most college freshmen and sophomores.

Projects represented research done as honors students in SMC classes, ranging from chemistry, calculus, economics and graphic design to popular culture.

The event was organized by Honors Program coordinators Gary Franchy and Mark Pelfrey.

“The work presented was truly phenomenal for students still at the associate level,” Vice President of Instruction Dr. David Fleming said.

Pelfrey’s student Tanner Bohan of Marcellus, flanked by Mickey Mouse’s animated evolution since 1928’s hand-drawn “Steamboat Willie,” noted that with computer technology advancements, graphic design can use complex calculus equations such as derivatives and integrals to create three-dimensional images, mimic real-world physics and create images that could be mistaken for real.

“Not only have advancements brought about realistic CGI (Computer-Generated Imagery) environments seen in movies like In the Heart of the Sea, Disney has even used CGI to create people indistinguishable from the original as seen in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story,” resurrecting Carrie Fisher as Princess Leia and Peter Cushing as Grand Moff Tarkin.

“As technology continues to evolve, so will graphics. At some point computers will be able to handle an increasingly larger number of complex calculus calculations, making digital media indistinguishable from reality,” said Bohan, torn between engineering and animation.

Michaella Lei-Sam of Berrien Springs, another Pelfrey student, showed how math is integral to her major, communications.

Her research relied on regression analysis to determine how videos go viral, using 2007’s “Charlie Bit My Finger!” YouTube clip as well as the music video “Despacito,” first to log 3 billion views.

A viral video today represents 5 million views in three-five days.

Lei-Sam can use her understanding of exponential logistic functions when she transfers to Michigan State University and beyond as she considers law school.

The broad applicability of mathematics to careers outside the traditional science realm was evident in Angela Smith’s presentation on frequency analysis detecting fraud.

Smith, from Mendon, explored the difference between people’s perceptions about randomness versus actual randomness by analyzing 100 coin flips.

This project, developed in Franchy’s statistics class, will create a lasting impression on this book-loving accounting major whose ultimate goal is a library science master’s degree.

Madison Walker from Paw Paw applied her personal interest in issues affecting the LGBT community to Dr. Maria DeRose’s pop culture class.

Walker’s poster features a 1912-2017 timeline placing important movies, such as 1961’s “The Children’s Hour,” starring Audrey Hepburn and Shirley MacLaine, alongside historic moments, including one she witnessed.

In June 2015, when President Barack Obama bathed the White House in iconic gay pride flag rainbow colors to celebrate the Supreme Court ruling in favor of same-sex marriage, Walker was there with her gay godparents.

“People were proposing to each other in front of the White House. It was amazing, best day of my life,” said Walker, interested in international business and public affairs.

Another Paw Paw student, Hannah Wilson, business major and president of Sigma Psi Chapter of Phi Theta Kappa, the international community college honor society, chronicled the national debt and its effects on the economy.

Wilson, whose project came from an economics course with Leon Letter, argued dramatic changes to Social Security and Medicare are possible solutions.

 “They consume 39 percent of the budget,” the aspiring accountant found. “It is estimated they are valued at $48 trillion — (more than double) the national debt. Suggestions include raising the eligibility age of Social Security to match the increases in longevity and correcting the cost-of-living adjustment, so the impact on beneficiaries can be better measured. Then raising the Medicare eligibility age so it matches Social Security, because seniors with high incomes already pay a higher share of their own Medicare costs.”

Dowagiac’s David Brogan, who aspires to teach high school math, drew on his experience in Keith Klann’s Union High classroom to investigate for Pelfrey if multiple teaching and learning methods improve student success.

Brogan learned using free YouTube calculus tutorials are good supplements to lecture, group work and other traditional in-class methods.

“Half the students I surveyed preferred a general presentation with PowerPoint or whiteboard,” Brogan said. “But half prefer working with other students instead of listening to a lecture. Most students saw incorporating YouTube videos as bringing a different perspective in addition to the instructor for a different way to get into material.”

Melanie Becker of Edwardsburg worked with Tom Beaven to investigate ways to remove lead from Cass County waterways.

Her research has applications to cleaning drinking water, which often contains lead from old pipes or industrial dumping.

Her experience will inevitably open doors when she transfers to MSU to pursue becoming an OB/GYN.

Matthew Reeves of Berrien Springs can use several semesters of chemistry research with Dr. Doug Schauer to launch his chemical engineering career at Western Michigan University.

Reeves’ poster continued work he and Schauer conducted at the University of Notre Dame last summer focused on the organic Horner-Wadsworth-Emmons reaction.

Cross-discipline collaboration was evident in Brooke Essig’s presentation.

Essig, from Bridgman, compiled hypothetical costs associated with SMC’s small house built by construction trades students.

Essig used accounting knowledge deepened in Chip Weeks’ course to delve into expense records, scholarship information and accounts payable, preparing her for the eventual finance and accounting bachelor’s degree she will seek after SMC.

Nursing student Jenna Proud of Buchanan presented on the importance of healthy nutrition during pregnancy — knowledge gained through Debra Green’s course.

While most people probably know healthy nutrition is necessary, she focused on accuracy of healthy choices. For instance, no additional calories need be gained through the first trimester, where that is much less important than what is gained the final two trimesters.

For Proud, the real value of her research came applying it directly to pregnant women at the Niles Women’s Center.

Bill Rothwell’s student Allison Richcreek, graphic design major from Edwardsburg High School, had the added onus of making sure her poster reflected precisely what she researched — the importance of layout and design to create aesthetically-pleasing products for potential clients.

Richcreek, who also displayed business cards and pamphlets, hopes her upcoming internship gives direction toward working in the design field or continuing her education beyond an associate degree.

Hartford’s Michael Heinisch analyzed the 2008 financial crisis in conjunction with Letter’s economics class.

Heinisch recounted how the recession was closely tied to the housing market, centered on mortgage-backed securities and subprime lending. Clearly, this knowledge will serve him well completing a finance degree.

Jennifer Hinton of Monticello, Ill., researched solar energy to better understand how it works, its production and uses, benefits and challenges.

For her project in faculty member Deirdre Kurtis’ environmental science class, Hinton focused on investment and economic perspectives —experience that will serve her well when she transfers to her intended four-year institution, Wisconsin Parkside.

Unfortunately, winter weather prevented Lawrence resident Sierra Millword from fielding questions about the “cow of the sea.”

Following guiding principles of such an environmental science class, Kurtis’ student focused on threats to manatees and protections these creatures can be afforded.

The annual SMC Honors Showcase celebrates how Honors students participate in graduate-style research early in their academic careers, ensuring they are at the front of the line for transfer scholarships, internships and job opportunities.

To learn more about the Honors Program, check out eligibility requirements and benefits and learn about full-ride scholarships available to incoming students at