Central College News

Featured: With Honors

May 29, 2013

Each year, senior honors students pour all their knowledge, skills and creativity into a year-long process of research and writing. The results—their senior honors thesis—showcase Central students’ ability to think outside the box, do long-term research and challenge prevailing assumptions objectively. The projects are often graduate-level work.

This year, 11 students completed theses—two in the fall and nine in the spring. Here are three examples of the compelling work typical of these honors students.


Melony McDermottMelony McDermott, exercise science

Stress, Coping and Injury in Basketball Players

Advisors: Cody Huisman, visiting clinical instructor of exercise science; David Pavlat, associate professor of exercise science; Leslie Duinink, associate professor of exercise science and class dean


As an exercise science major Melony McDermott knew she wanted to research athletes and their injuries, but she didn’t know what angle to take. That was until she ran into a 1995 study published by San Jose State University that found no relationship between life-event stress, coping and injury. With an interest in psychology as well as athletics, Melony found the results and decided to do her own version of the research.

Basketball has one of the highest overall rates of injury in non-collision sports. To see if the prevalence of injury was affected by the stress in a player’s life and their overall coping abilities, McDermott recruited players from both Pella High School and Central College to complete surveys throughout the season. Each week, they submitted an injury log that cataloged any event that caused a missed or modified practice, as well as any stressful events during the week.

At the beginning, middle and end of the semester, McDermott asked the players to complete two surveys: one that measured the amount of stress in their lives and one that evaluated their ability to cope.

McDermott’s results were not what she expected, though they did correspond with the previous study from San Jose State. She found that there was no significant correlation between stress, coping skills and injuries among players. She did note, however, that 10 of the 11 players who were injured during the season indicated major stressors in their lives.

McDermott believes that stress is still an important topic for coaches and athletes to be aware of, despite her results. And she learned a lot about research from her thesis, knowledge that will be essential for research projects at the University of Iowa, where she will be attending graduate school for physical therapy.


Greg EllingsonGreg Ellingson, economics and political science

The Labor Market in Context -The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act

Advisor: Brian Peterson, professor of economics

Second reader: Andrew Green, associate professor of political science


No matter your politics, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act has affected your life. In order to stimulate the economy after the 2008 downtown, President Obama signed the act into law in February 2009. It injected $787 billion into the economy in tax cuts; entitlement spending; and grants, contracts and loans. Setting aside politics and stepping into his economist shoes, senior Greg Ellingson analyzed just how effective the act was at lowering unemployment and jumpstarting the economy.

Ellingson developed two models for his thesis. The first showed the change in non-farm employment from July 2009-July 2011. The variables included home foreclosures, crude oil production, natural gas production, migration and state ideology. Ellingson’s second model, the labor market nonparticipation model, used the same variables.

Ellingson hypothesized that more funds going into a state would increase non-farm employment and decrease nonparticipation in the labor market (i.e. more people jumping back into the search for a job.)

His models provided several significant findings. For every $1 million injected into a state’s economy, about six jobs were created. For every four foreclosures in a state, there was one less job available. For every 100 barrels of crude oil produced, there was one more job. Finally, for every seven migrants entering a state, there was one more non-farm job. The findings for natural gas and ideology were not significant.

Using his second model, Ellingson found that every $1 million injected into a state’s economy resulted in nine more non-participants in the labor market. This was the opposite of his hypothesis. Confused by his findings, Ellingson added population to his model and his results switched— more funds did decrease the nonparticipation rate, as expected, but the finding was not statistically significant.

In general, Ellingson found that more stimulus funds increased non-farm employment (1.8-3.3 million jobs). That conclusion supported the short-term Keynesian economic theory that government spending can stimulate the economy. However, the numbers fell short of what the government predicted.

Combining both his economics and political science majors, Ellingson objectively evaluated the economic success of a new policy. Those skills will be essential for his career in graduate school.


Rhiley HuntingtonRhiley Huntington, biology


Advisor: Keith Ratzlaff, professor of English

Second reader: Russ Benedict, professor of biology


Relying on her writing minor for technique and creativity and her biology major for inspiration, senior Rhiley Huntington produced a collection of poems and non-fiction literary essays for her honors thesis. Titled “Migration,” the anthology was born from a sense of being in between—child and adult, student and employee, even daughter and wife, since she is getting married this summer.

The writing process allowed Huntington to work through ideas about landscape, self, other and nature. Tasked with producing 10 pages of writing a week, Huntington was forced to take on subjects she had normally rejected, such as love, and look deeper into her college experiences, like her semester abroad in Bangor, Wales.

Huntington’s poetic topics included: driving through the Iowa landscape, bird-watching, Welsh poetic forms, the things she could not write about and a circular poem of joy and thanksgiving. The collection also includes a prose piece about visiting St. Cwyfans Church-in-the-Sea in Wales, an experience that allowed her to explore both her faith and her childhood as a mini-biologist collecting rocks.

Huntington says that “Migration” is about movement, about continuing to new places. It is also about her passion for both fact (in her work as a biologist) and the nebulous and uncertain (in her work as a writer. “Science pushes writing to a place where not a lot of writers can go,” she says.

After graduation, Huntington is continuing to utilize both her scientific and creative sides as an iEarth Camp Educator and Overnight Leader at the Science Center of Iowa in Des Moines.