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Honors Program wraps up first year

Eight presentations concluding Southwestern Michigan College Honors Program’s first year address Flint-like water woes, big data, livestock exacerbating climate change, transgender discrimination and accounting for costs of construction trades/green technology students building a small house during 2015-16.

Aaron Neumayer from Constantine, who plans to further his education at Bethel College in Mishawaka, said cost accounting tracks expenses of products companies create — in this case a 504-square-foot dwelling stuffed with technology and energy efficiencies.

“Cost accounting has nothing to do with balance sheets, owners’ equity, dividends or investors. That’s financial accounting,” Neumayer said. “Cost accounting is for internal reporting. There’s no reason this information would leave a company. We analyze information and present it to managers and decision-makers so they can be more informed. We use that information to compare it to budgeted amounts to see where we were right and how we can improve.”

Cost accounting “falls into one of three information pools,” Neumayer said — “direct material, direct labor or factory overhead. SMC students were not paid. They did it solely for the experience. However, my job was to track as if we were a manufacturing company. They gave me all the time sheets for two academic years. I logged those hours, then went to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics web site and found the median wage that job position would have paid.

“Factory overhead is a catch-all of anything not direct materials or direct labor, but we have to allocate those costs somehow,” from professors’ salaries to building permits.

“If we were in the business of manufacturing small houses,” Neumayer said, “we would allocate other expenses, like utilities.”

Raneen Razick from Oak Lawn, Ill., will transfer to Western Michigan University to study behavioral science. She spoke on how red meat degrades the environment through deforestation, which leads to eutrophication of water, and, ultimately, global warming.

“If everyone in the world lived as average U.S. citizens do,” Razick said, “it would take five Earths to sustain us. In 2010, 34 billion tons of carbon dioxide were released into the atmosphere. It’s one of the most urgent issues we face. At the same time we add carbon sources we’re removing trees that filter. In the Amazon, 80 percent of deforestation is due to cattle farms. Brazil is the world’s fourth-biggest gas emitter. In the 1990s alone, 94,000 square kilometers of forested land — the size of Portugal — were removed each year that decade. It is projected 40 percent of the Amazon rain forest will be removed by 2050.”

“Carbon dioxide is not the only greenhouse gas of concern,” Razick said. “Methane is 84 times more potent, meaning it holds much more heat. Twenty-five percent of all manmade global warming is due to methane, of which cattle farms emit 29 percent.”

Nursing student Kaitlyn Ward from Buchanan spoke on big data.

“Information generated from the beginning of time until 2003 can now be created in two days,” Ward said, “and analyzed for insights leading to better strategic business decisions. Ten practical benefits have been realized,” including dialogue with consumers, risk analysis and product redevelopment.

“Data can’t be racist or sexist,” Ward said, “but the way it is used can reinforce discrimination.”

Psychology major Jordan Karsten, a Lakeshore High School product transferring to Grand Valley State University, analyzed transgender (“anyone who does not identify with the sex assigned at birth”) discrimination, which “stems from lack of knowledge.”

“Twenty percent of survey respondents are uncomfortable sharing a restroom with transgender persons,” Karsten reported. “Education, employment and housing are major issues. They have higher rates of alcoholism, drug abuse and suicide and twice the unemployment rate of the general population. One sixth live in abject poverty with annual income of $10,000 or less, turning to underground employment in drugs or sex work.”

Four talks revolved around research removing heavy metals from water by Dr. Douglas Schauer’s students, who addressed the American Chemical Society in San Francisco spring break.

Jeremiah Wilson of Edwardsburg is a pre-environmental engineering major headed for Northland College in Ashland, Wis.

Wilson spoke on “Sewage with a Little Spice” about the herb cilantro as a bioabsorbent.

“EPA determined five parts per billion of lead is a concerning amount,” Wilson said. “The highest concentration found in Flint’s water was 13,200. Flint is the publicized contamination instance, but it’s not just happening there.”

DeYonte Sullivan of Dowagiac will transfer to the University of Michigan to become a pediatrician. He analyzed lead in hair samples.

Matthew Reeves of Berrien Springs, moving on to Western Michigan University for chemical engineering, experimented with color strips in “Fifty Shades of Metal.”

“We’re very familiar with Flint,” Reeves said, “but there are 663 million people in the world right now without access to clean water. With 400,000 plant species, testing each is complicated.”

“Undergraduate students presenting alongside Ph.D. candidates and doctoral professors is a big deal,” said Mark Pelfrey, Honors Program co-advisor with mathematics colleague Gary Franchy.