Honors Students Create Flint Water App

H2OFLINTBy Miyako Jones
The City of Flint has been experiencing a lead-in-water crisis for over 27 months due to improperly-treated water flowing through city pipes. It has been necessary for residents to filter their water or obtain access to alternate sources such as bottled water. Unfortunately, locating these resources is sometimes not as simple as it ought to be.

Two Computer Science Honors students, Phil Boyd and John Collins, became involved in an outreach project to help Flint residents locate resources related to the water crisis at the request of Dr. Mark Allison. Phil and John are both members of the UM-Flint chapter of the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM), which Dr. Allison oversees as faculty advisor. They built an Android app called H2OFlint that assists residents with locating bottled water and water filter pickup locations, recycling locations, and blood testing locations. Icons representing the various types of resources appear on a map of Flint. Tapping an icon lists information about the location such as its name, address, and hours of operation.

The app was designed, developed, and launched in just a few weeks back in February. Both students gained valuable real-world experience and, in the case of Phil, working on the project confirmed his career path as an app developer. John learned “just how important being organized and good coding practices are to a project.”

The water crisis project has since been extended thanks to a $150,000 grant from Google. Phil continues to work on Android development while John intends to create an iOS app.


Six Win Maize and Blue

Six Honors Students won the Maize and Blue Distinguished Scholar Award this Spring, which is the highest academic award available to graduating seniors. Imad Aljabban will receive a B.S. in Molecular Biology and Biotechnology; Simran Bhatti will receive a B.S. in Biology; Amanda Kaspar will receive a B.S. in Elementary Education; Emily Krueger will receive a B.S. in Health Sciences; Erika Trigg will receive a B.A. in Communication; and Heather Workman will receive a B.F.A. in Studio Art along with a B.A. History.

Within the next five years, Imad hopes to begin medical school following the completion of a master’s degree in Immunology at Harvard Medical School while Erika intends to complete a master’s degree in Student Affairs Administration at Michigan State with the possibility of pursuing a Ph.D. Erika also plans to get married next summer.

Both Imad and Erika have enjoyed the opportunities that the Honors Program have made available to them. Being encouraged to research topics outside of his discipline has helped Imad gain insight and respect into fields unrelated to his own and has taught him to appreciate the value of diversity. Erika believes she benefitted the most from the off-campus study and thesis requirements as they allowed her to thoroughly explore the topic of new student programs and learn about the role that support networks play in first-year student retention and success. This knowledge has been used to enhance the development of UM-Flint’s new two-day, overnight orientation program.

Congratulations to our May 2014 Maize and Blue winners and good luck with all of your future endeavors!


Honors Student Presents at the 2014 APS March Meeting

Ayana Ghosh in ColoradoAs a physics student, Ayana dreamed of presenting her research at the American Physical Society March Meeting, which she learned about from her professors. Each year, it brings together nearly 10,000 physicists and students from industry, universities, and major labs throughout the world.

During her off-campus study at New Mexico State University in 2013, Ayana worked on two experimental condensed matter projects under the supervision of Dr. Stefan Zollner. Although her main task was to determine different optical properties of Germanium (Ge) grown on Silicon (Si), she was also able to build a theoretical model to support her experimental data. Similar work was completed for a Nickel Oxide (NiO) sample in order to explore the band structure of this material. She later obtained approval from Dr. Zollner to submit the abstracts of her work to the 2014 APS March Meeting. They were accepted, and she traveled to Denver with the help of the Honors Program; the Department of Computer Science, Engineering, and Physics; and the Fran Frazier Student Travel Scholarship.

Ayana gave two oral presentations at the APS March Meeting, which was held at the Colorado Convention Center from March 3rd to March 7th. The first, titled “Strain measurements of Ge epilayers on Si by Spectroscopic Ellipsometry”, introduces a theoretical model used to explain the different optical properties of the semiconductor Germanium, which is widely used in electronics such as cell phones. The second presentation, “Dielectric function of NiO and Si from 25 meV to 6 eV: What’s the difference?”, discusses how full-zoned band structure can be used to explain the small absorption peaks detected by a second derivative analysis of the NiO spectrum conducted by spectroscopic ellipsometry.

For Ayana, this experience was one of the best so far from both an academic perspective and a career perspective. She thoroughly enjoyed her time in the picturesque Rocky Mountains and looks forward to presenting her research at another APS conference in the future.


Physical and Analytical Chemistry in Germany – Alexander Khobeir, Honors Biochem/Molecular Bio & Biotech Major

khobeir1“One saying I learned that I will never forget is ‘traveling is not for the rich but for the bold.’ As I live here in the United States, I will live what I learned; I will teach what I learned; and most importantly, I will share what I learned.”

Alexander spent nearly a year searching for an off-campus study location at universities around the world, but had no luck. Just as he was about to give up and stay at UM-Flint, Dr. Thum approached him with an amazing opportunity. “How would you like to go to Germany for the summer?” His answer was an immediate “Yes!”

For over two months, Alexander worked in Dr. Thorsten Benter’s Physical and Analytical Chemistry Laboratory at Bergische Universitat Wuppertal in Wuppertal, Germany. During this trip, he had his first experience with culture shock. “Although I knew conversational German, it was not on the level of native fluency. The first day there I was physically and mentally exhausted! Everything around me looked like America, but it was not America!”

The first day in the lab was nothing like Alexander or his lab partner, another Honors student, had expected. They had both taken a class on proper German etiquette before leaving, but it failed to take into account the unique personality of their professor. When they politely addressed him as “Professor Dr. Benter,” he laughed and said, “Who is that? I am Thorsten!” Having been exposed to the casual style of the University of California, Irvine, he preferred it over the formality of Germany.

khobeir2Dr. Benter and his research group made Alexander’s experience unforgettable. He noticed that people loved working for Dr. Benter and that everyone functioned as one cohesive unit. His assigned project was based on physical and analytical chemistry, two courses that Alexander had yet to take. He and his partner spent the first week taking a crash course in chemistry, reading scientific papers and asking questions. “Professor Benter sat with us the entire week and explained everything at the most basic level and worked his way up. I learned more in that week than I would in one semester of chemistry classes.” Alexander was assigned to Professor Hendrick Kersten’s project to develop, test, and calibrate an analytical and sensitive method to detect explosives, narcotics, etc. in the air, which would then be integrated into a product to be used in airports, schools, and medical offices around the world. His specific task was to test various chemicals and create calibration curves for each chemical. Although Alexander plans to attend medical school, what he learned can also be used in medical biotechnology. “I was in love with the whole process and task. In fact, I loved it so much that the professor noticed and asked me to stay longer.”

Studying and research were not the only things he did during his stay. He traveled to over 20 cities in Germany along with Paris, Rome, Vatican City, Amsterdam, and Belgium. “Rome was the most beautiful city I have ever seen. The history you experience as you walk up and down a block is astounding!”

Alexander has received a job offer from Dr. Benter for next summer and looks forward to working in his lab again.


Honors has moved!

newhonorsuite1Thanks to a wonderful partnership between the Honors Program and the Thompson Library, Honors now has a new home!

The new suite consists of a reception area, manned by our wonderful assistant, Miyako Jones, two offices, a workroom/storage room, and a conference room. We are located inside the Library on the first floor, just left of the stairs and elevator.

There is still a lot of work to do, boxes to be put away, pictures to hang, and furniture to move in, but we are excited to have this new home to call our own.

A big thank you to Bob Houbeck, Becky Waller, the folks in Technical Services who had to put up with our dust, as well as the rest of the librarians and staff. We newhonorsuite2truly appreciate the sacrifices, time, energy, and funding that went into this project.

We would especially like to thank Dan Sherman. Dan is a wonderful person to work with, and made this project painless and fast. We’ve even had some laughs along the way. Thank you Dan, and facilities, for all you do.

Once we are all setup, we hope to host on open house. In the meantime, feel free to stop by and say hello!


Three Win Maize and Blue

Three Honors Students won the Maize and Blue Distinguished Scholar Award this fall, which is the highest academic award available to graduating seniors. Kayla Cornell will receive a B.A. in Communication, Salaam Tarakji will receive a B.S. in the Mathematics Teacher’s Certificate Program and a B.A. in Psychology; and Miri Weidner will receive a B.S. in Health Care Administration.

Within the next five years, Kayla would like to begin working in marketing for higher education somewhere on the east coast while beauty blogging on the side; Salaam plans to obtain a master’s degree in Educational Administration and become part of positive movements to help revitalize Flint; and Miri hopes to continue her education and make progress in her chosen career.

When asked about their time in Honors, all the winners agree that the program has helped equip them with the skills necessary to succeed in life. Kayla believes that she greatly benefited from being pushed beyond her comfort zone in writing while in the program. Salaam is grateful for her trip to the Netherlands, which she believes would not have been possible without her participation in the program. Miri feels thankful that Dr. Thum helped her discover her hidden potential in areas she would not have considered prior to joining the program.

Congratulations to our December 2013 Maize and Blue winners and good luck with all your future endeavors!


Little Shop of Horrors

“The most important thing I learned during my off-campus trip is how significant the very act of going on an off-campus trip is.” Kelly’s topic for her Off-campus Project was “Designer Research Methods and Outside Influences, and Specific Scenic Design Research for Little Shop of Horrors, at the University of Michigan –Flint, Fall 2013”

Kelly Skyline

Kelly Burge, Theatre Major

Kelly and Assistant Professor Shelby Newport traveled to Chicago to see three plays, visit the Chicago Museum of Art, and the Museum of Contemporary Art. The objective was to gather research for the fall 2013 University of Michigan-Flint Theatre production of Little Shop of Horrors. Kelly has been given the honor of designing the set as part of her Honors Thesis. “Student design opportunities are very serious in our department, and must be earned, so being given this opportunity is tremendous for me, and was sparked and made possible by my need for a thesis project in the Honors Program.”

“We chose Chicago, because I had never been there, and it was a great place to see a lot of art and theatre all in the same place. It also allowed for primary research of physical elements that could be included in my set design.” Kelly was able to see the contrast between an elaborate set with many expensive mechanical elements, and a simple set with limited props, and few design elements. She learned the importance of paying attention to every detail in order to get her point across to her audience.

“We also took the time to explore the neighborhoods of Chicago as an opportunity for first hand research. I took a lot of pictures of store front windows, signs, awnings, and of the decay of buildings, and other textural elements that I might include in my project.” Included in their trip were an architectural boat tour on the Chicago River and a tour of the midcentury masterpiece Farnsworth House in Plano, IL that directly linked Kelly’s off campus research to her in class work in one of Professor Newport’s courses, Modernism (THE 241).

Not only was Kelly able to gather artistic data for her project, but she was able to meet with professionals in her field. Professor Newport introduced her to friends and colleagues from the various theatres, and Kelly was able to talk with them, ask questions, and learn about their work and life. “It made me think differently about what I will do when I graduate next year.”

Spending time with Professor Newport was invaluable as well. “Everything I did on this trip, I did with her, and so was able to ask every question I could think of, and get her professional opinion/insight on everything we saw. Not to mention, when we were in the car together, I was able to talk through my project with her, from my ideas to my struggles, and she helped me come up with a lot of new ideas, and get through some mental obstacles I was having in this, the earliest stage of my project development.”

Professor Newport added, “My time with Kelly in Chicago was shelbykellyboat tourequally as enlightening and exciting for me as a professional designer; teaching a student to open their eyes to the world around them, and then to use all that visual stimulus for design inspiration is what I strive to do, so to watch it all come together for Kelly was really rewarding.  I also took tons of research photos and gained new ideas from the productions we saw; as designers we are always learning and always looking!”

Regarding her off-campus experience, Kelly stated, “I am so grateful for this opportunity and for the support of the Honors Program and the Department of Theatre and dance for making it possible.” See Kelly’s off-campus research at work on the stage of the University Theatre November 1-3, 9, 15, 17.