Honors Capstone Project

Current Project Examples

As an opportunity to direct their own research, creative scholarship, or experiential learning experience, each University Honors student directs and defends a capstone project. Each project is either a thesis or a major project that is undertaken by the student and guided by a capstone committee consisting of a faculty mentor and two readers. Below are a few of the exciting projects put forth by students. Current students: to help you start your project, you can download and print the proposal and registration forms directly below.

Capstone Proposal Form

Capstone Registration Form


Elizabeth Williams

Miles City, Montana
Economics and Finance Management
University Scholar

Originally from Miles City Montana, Elizabeth was very involved in the Honors Program and Honors Club starting her freshman year of college. In The Honors Club she has served as the Social Media Officer, Vice President, and was President for her Junior and Senior years. Elizabeth was also involved in numerous other organizations on campus including Student Senate, Concert Choir, and Beta Gamma Sigma. She graduated in May 2017. After graduation, she received a position at Stockman Bank in Billings, Montana as a Junior Lender.

Her capstone titled, "Alleviating the Wage Penalty, the Effect of Regular Exercise on Wages of Overweight Women" explores the wage penalty that overweight and obese women see in America. Currently, a woman may have an eleven percent wage penalty for being overweight and up to a twenty-five percent penalty for being obese, while men see no such effect. She ran a data regression using data from The National Longitudinal Survey of Youth to determine if this penalty stems from internal factors, like a woman being less confident or less productive when they are overweight, or external factors like discrimination. She used data regarding these women's' exercise patterns to try and rule out the cause being internal factors.

"Alleviating the Wage Penalty, the Effect of Regular Exercise on Wages of Overweight Women" was successfully defended in May 4, 2017.

Michael Hurst

Spearfish, South Dakota
Chemistry and Biology double major
University Scholar

Michael was involved on campus through the University Honors Program, the Writing Assistance Center, and the Presidential Student Ambassadors. When he was not completely swamped with school work and extracurricular activities, Michael enjoyed hiking in the hills, clumsily shooting photography, drinking coffee, and petting dogs. After graduation, he is attending the University of Oregon for a PhD in Chemistry with environmental emphasis

Michael's capstone project is titled "Investigating the Effect of Ligand Substitution on Copper (I)Complexes in the α-Alkylation of Aldehydes." This study was conducted to examine the use of copper complexes as photocatalysts in a reaction methodology that most commonly utilizes ruthenium and iridium complexes, both of which are toxic, rare, and expensive. The copper complexes used to investigate this subject were formed by first synthesizing a number of ligands that follow an electron-donating/withdrawing gradient, then attaching each ligand to a copper center in homoleptic arrangements. By examining the resultant product yield in an exemplary reaction with each respective copper complex, a relationship was sought between the electron-donating/withdrawing potential of the ligands on a copper complex and the effectiveness of that complex in catalyzing the α-alkylation of aldehydes. After establishing and extrapolating a trend of catalytic ability in copper complexes, we hope to optimize our reaction methodology in an attempt to match the performance of conventional ruthenium- and iridium-catalyzed procedures.

"Investigating the Effect of Ligand Substitution on Copper (I) Complexes in the α-Alkylation of Aldehydes" was successfully defended May 4, 2017.


Rachel Crawford

Spearfish, South Dakota
Chemistry major with a Biology minor
International University Scholar

Rachel is a May 2017 graduate of Black Hills State University. After graduation, Rachel is attending the Medicinal and Natural Products Chemistry graduate program at the University of Iowa.

Her capstone title is "A lead small molecule for inhibition of Plasmodium falciparum." My efforts have been focused on identifying new molecules that have antimalarial activity against the most deadly form of malaria, Plasmodium falciparum. Malaria is an infectious disease transmitted by mosquitoes in Sub-Saharan Africa, Latin America, Asia, and parts of the Middle East. If not treated properly, the disease can be fatal. The malaria apicomplexan has been showing resistance to current medicinal therapies, putting more lives at risk. In order to identify and evaluate compounds with antimalarial activity, an in vitro assay is necessary. P. falciparum ismaintained in red blood cells. Parasitic cultures are treated with compounds and then the compounds are screened by using a fluoresence based cell culture assay. A molecule has been found to have activity against P. falciparum, and a small library of derivatives of this molecule has been synthesized. Each derivative has a different functional group with the aim of optimizingthe effectiveness of the small molecule. Five compounds have been tested. Results show that its derivatives have IC50 values in the e -3 M to e -5 M range, which are promising levels for an antimalarial drug

"A lead small molecule for inhibition of Plasmodium falciparum." was successfully defended in May 2, 2017.


Ella Vinal

Plainview, Minnesota
Political Science major with minors in Business Administration and Economics
University Scholar

Ella Vinal is a May 2017 graduate of Black Hills State University. After graduation, Ella is attending University of Saint Thomas School of Law and the Opus School of Business in Minneapolis, Minnesota to pursue a joint J.D./M.B.A. program. When she grows up, Ella wants to work in business law dealing primarily with torts or contracts. Ella is extremely devoted to herdog, and spends most of her free time on walks with him and at the dog park.

Ella's project is titled "Internationalization of the Supreme Court: A Constitutional Analysis and Comparison and Case Law Review." The Supreme Court of the United States is an entity formed of the Constitution to uphold the laws of this nation to the highest extent. There is increasing debate as to whether or not it is appropriate for Supreme Court Justices to reference foreign court decisions and foreign law in official opinions and dissents of the Court. A divide arises between the Justices when internationalization is employed in Court decisions and opinions. Some Justices believe that foreign law and precedent provides knowledge and understanding that might be lacking within the United States; other Justices believe that there is no foundation by which foreign law can have any relevance on the interpretation of the United States Constitution. This research sought to answer the question: Should Justices on the United States Supreme Court be allowed to cite and use foreign law in their judicial duties?

"Internationalization of the Supreme Court: A Constitutional Analysis and Comparison and Case Law Review" was successfully defended in May 2, 2017.

JLynn Miller

Piedmont, South Dakota
English Education
International University Scholar

JLynn Miller was actively involved in the Honors Club and served as the Vice President for a year. When she was not studying, JLynn spent her time chatting with friends over coffee, reading, and watching one of her favorite TV shows or movies. During her time at Black Hills State University, JLynn also had the opportunity to complete her student teaching in Dublin, Ireland. After graduation, JLynn is continuing her education and sharing that knowledge with her students.

Her capstone project, "Toppling Tradition: Integrating Young Adult Literature into the High School Classroom," focuses on different aspects on using young adult literature in the classroom. First, the project examines the current arguments for and against using young adult literature in general. Then, she focuses on a specific pairing of texts—Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban and The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark—and what that pairing can teach students. Finally, the project includes a unit plan for use in a 11th or 12th grade classroom using these two texts.

"Toppling Tradition: Integrating Young Adult Literature into the High School Classroom," was successfully defended May 4, 2017.

Ashley Ruegg

Gering, Nebraska
Spanish and History Education

Ashley's capstone project will focus on the influences of Moorish and Islamic culture on the architecture in the South of Spain. The Southern Spain was under Islamic control from the early 700's until the Reconquista in 1429 during which the Christian forces on the Iberian Peninsula took control of the area and brought us to the ruling of Ferdinand and Isabella. Over the period of about 780 years, the Moors and Muslims left a big imprint in Southern Spain and this can all still be seen today in the architecture still standing. Ashley will be spending a semester in Granada, one of the last cities under Islamic control to fall, where she will get the opportunity to go to the sites of the structures in person and conduct her research from there. The project with begin with how the area was first occupied, go into the Christian and Islamic struggle over the area, and then end with how the Islamic influences still shaped the architecture on the Iberian Peninsula and what the main features were and where they can still be seen today. Her project will consist of a traditional research project and a walking guidebook with photo illustrations.

"The Islamic Moorish Influence on the Architecture in the South of Spain" was successfully defended in May 2016.

Alicia Benz

Killdeer, North Dakota

"In vitro Nanoparticle Cytotoxicity on Buffalo Rat Liver Cells" was successfully defended in May 2016.

Cody Drolc

Spearfish, South Dakota
Political Science and Philosophy

Cody Drolc is senior political science and philosophy student from Spearfish, SD. Cody is involved in numerous organizations at BHSU and he currently serves as the Honors Club secretary/treasurer. When he is not studying Cody enjoys photography, drinking coffee over conversation with friends, and the trickeries of Francis Underwood on House of Cards. Cody has been interested in politics since high school and believes in the importance of a grounded civic education. After Cody graduates in May he plans to continue his education and hopes to one day be a college professor so he can continue researching and writing all while sharing the important facets of political science.

His project is titled, "Cracking the Hermeneutically Sealed Box of Structuralism: A Poststructuralist Reading of Nicos Poulantzas." Nicos Poulantzas – best known for his debate with fellow Marxist Theorist Ralph Miliband, which was published in the New Left Review – is consistently read as a structuralist, meaning he viewed the state and its maintenance as the product of a particular underlying base and subsequent structures. In his case it was the capitalist mode of production that constituted the base, which then caused superstructures – judicial, political, and ideological – to reproduce the capitalist mentality; thus capitalism was maintained. While the preceding constitutes significant portions of Poulantzas's work, the structuralist approach does not dominate what he has to say about the nature of the state. Poststructuralism was an emerging paradigm while Poulantzas was writing in the 60s and 70s, which moved beyond the ahistorical and deterministic approach of structuralism towards a focus on individuals and internalized aspects of a state with no clear underlying base. This work defines and critiques structuralism and produces a working methodology for identifying both poststructuralism and structuralism in theoretical texts. The working methodology for identifying structuralism and poststructuralism in theoretical texts is heavily based on consistent themes found in structuralist and poststructuralist works. This methodology is then used to identify the poststructuralist aspects of Poulantzas's work. Moreover, by identifying the poststructuralist facets of his theories, this work explains how the poststructuralist paradigm changes and enlightens the meaning of some of his examinations. Specifically, the poststructuralist reading of Poulantzas highlights a disconnect from traditional Marxist approaches and modernizes his theories of the state. This work concludes that the Miliband-Poulantzas debate created an "inflated" structuralist position for Poulantzas, which is a significant reason for the hermeneutically strong reading as simply a structuralist; and that portions of his examination are better placed under the poststructuralist paradigm.

"Cracking the Hermeneutically Sealed Box of Structuralism: A Poststructuralist Reading of Nicos Poulantzas"" was successfully defended in May 2015.

Lucas Fralick

Gillette, Wyoming
Political Science

Lucas's capstone project will focus on analyzing and synthesizing various theories regarding President Harry Truman's decision to drop the Atomic Bomb. In the end he hopes to gain a new insight into that horrific choice. He chose this because of his historical interest in President Truman and one of the most controversial events of his Presidency. The actual decision to drop the bomb has been researched by a number of historians and political scientists, who have laid out a number of interpretations. Generally, these theories fall under two categories: the first interpretation holds that American casualties would have been too high if the Japanese homeland had been invaded. The second argues that President Truman wanted to use the bomb as "atomic diplomacy" to ensure that the Soviets would not have a large stake in the Far East and that the United States would have a bargaining chip to use at Yalta. Lucas's project will argue that these two are not mutually exclusive and will analyze and synthesize these theories to contribute to the discussion.

"Harry Truman and the Atomic Bomb: A Complex Historical Analysis" was successfully defended in May 2015.

Kristin Prescott

Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin
Human Service & Sociology

Kristin's capstone project focuses adolescent sexual behavior. Using data from the 2011 Youth Risk Behavior Survey, she will analyze the relationship between sports participation and age of first onset of sexual activity and the prevalence of sexual violence with both male and female athletes. Her findings will dictate a proposal for a peer-mentoring and embedded education program for implementation in middle and high schools to help offset risk behavior. The project will also include presentations at NCUR (National Council for Undergraduate Research) and the Black Hills Research Symposium.

"Just Do It: Sports Participation and Onset of Sexual Behaviors in Adolescents" was successfully defended in May 2015.

Myranda Mattke

Huron, South Dakota
Elementary Education

Myranda Mattke grew up spending most of her time between a soccer field and her grandparents' farm in Huron, South Dakota. As she grew older, she started to spend more free time in her mother's classroom. It was there that she grew a love for educating children. Her favorite subject, both in school and to teach, is mathematics. This is where she found her thesis for her Capstone Project. Her project is a secondary research study of how students score with an inquiry-based math approach that has been in place for many years compare to students who are just now being exposed to inquiry math. She will be student teaching in Galway, Ireland to witness firsthand how the inquiry-based approach that has been in place since 1999 looks like. It is there that she hopes to gather information that leads to why inquiry mathematics helps students to better understand mathematical operations and numbers and how they correlate with each other.

"Mathematical Instruction: Change is Sometimes Good" was successfully defended in May 2015.

Kaitlin Schneider

Sturgis, South Dakota

Kaitlin's idea for her capstone project began in a research methods class as she learned about the field of experimental psychology. Once she learned how to utilize the scientific method, it was easy to start exploring her own ideas and questions. With a minor in art and a major in psychology, she was interested in how the two could potentially be related. Kaitlin reviewed literature within the field of art therapy and found a few studies pertaining to drawing and stress. Her project explores two conflicting outcomes (Curry & Kasser, 2005; Smith, 2011) to test whether meditative benefits of art are a result of drawing within the borders of a circle, or whether the act of free-form drawing is sufficient to reduce stress. It was hypothesized that if the act of drawing alone induces the meditative state, then both the circle and the freeform drawing groups would show more significant decreases in anxiety than participants who did not draw.

"Distinguishing the Meditative Benefits of Drawing Within and Without Borders on Acute Stress" was successfully defended April 25, 2014

Nicole Faas

Rapid City, South Dakota
Political Science and Speech, with minors in Economics and Philosophy

This project looks to analyze the current situation regarding domestic surveillance by the federal government, specifically the National Security Agency. It will describe a few of the surveillance tactics which most clearly demonstrate how American rights have been infringed upon. It will then describe the philosophical basis for why privacy ought to be valued, and how the behavior of the average citizen can help restore some of the privacy that has been lost. Nicole is interested in this topic because the issue is current and pressing, and the variety of factors associated with the issue tie into every aspect of her degree programs.

"The Surveillance Industrial Complex: America's Privacy Crisis" was successfully defended April 25, 2014

Jordan Louks

Spearfish, South Dakota
History & Political Science

Jordan's capstone project will culminate in the crafting of an allegorical novella that depicts current political events. It will employ universal themes that readers can use to understand the world and find solutions to the problems in our society. He will begin by researching allegories to understand the social and psychological functions of allegory before developing his own definition as the basis for his allegorical novella. This project will allow him to to use the knowledge he has gained from both of his disciplines in a unique, creative way that he has not been able to do before in typical research papers. He believes that the use of storytelling to reflect on certain issues and themes is one of the best ways that people can understand the world around them. Jordan plans on attending seminary after graduation from Black Hills State University, and storytelling is an integral part to pastoral ministry.

"On Finding Hope: The Modern Allegory" was successfully defended December 4, 2014.