Student News

Four outstanding undergraduates earn Honors distinctions

Photo of Lora DeWalt

Lora DeWalt, Highest Honors


Photo of Kate Kotik

Kate Kotik, Highest Honors


Photo of Melissa Jones

Melissa Jones, Honors


Photo of Kristin Riggs

Kristin Riggs, Honors

Four senior education students will graduate from Carolina with Honors or Highest Honors at the spring commencement on May 9, 2010. Lora DeWalt and Kate Kotik have earned the distinction of Highest Honors, and Melissa Jones and Kristin Riggs have earned Honors.

These recognitions are based on the students’ outstanding academic records as well as their successful completion and defense of independent research projects and senior honors theses.

All four students will earn Bachelor of Arts in Education degrees. Riggs is majoring in child development and family studies, DeWalt is an elementary education major, and Jones and Kotik are studying middle grades education.

The students were recognized at the School of Education faculty meeting on March 31. Professor Gerald Unks, director of the School’s Honors Program, introduced the students to the full faculty and announced their thesis topics and faculty advisors.

Dean Bill McDiarmid, himself a graduate of the University’s Honors Program, offered his congratulations. He presented the students with gold honor cords to be worn with their commencement regalia.

“Based on your thesis topics, it’s clear that you’re already engaged in important work,” McDiarmid told the students. “We look forward to your continuing contributions to education.”

Unks thanked the faculty members who served as advisors for the students and acknowledged the importance of their role. “Since the inception of the Honors Program in 1994, the program has depended on faculty who are willing to devote a considerable amount of time to advising these outstanding students,” he said. “The program couldn’t succeed without faculty who are willing to be advisors and readers.”

This year’s Honors graduates are listed alphabetically below, along with their faculty advisors and brief descriptions of their projects.

DeWalt, a native of Pittsburgh, Penn., completed a thesis titled “A Historical Overview of Montessori and the Movements in America.” She highlighted Maria Montessori’s background and the establishment of Montessori preschools in Italy based on: an atmosphere of respect, the belief that children are inherent learners, the role of the teacher as an observer of the child, and curricular materials based on Montessori’s understanding of child development. DeWalt traced the expansion of Montessori schools to America and around the world, and the formation of several different Montessori societies. She suggested that political clashes among these groups have limited the spread of the Montessori method in the United States and noted that recent accreditation debates have led to some steps that have the potential to bring together the various factions of the Montessori community. Her project was directed by Lynda Stone, professor of philosophy of education. Professor Rune Simeonsson served as the reader. After graduation, DeWalt plans to teach in a K-3 classroom in North Carolina.

Jones, who is from Mebane, N.C., completed a study titled “The Case Against Abstinence-Only Sex Education.” She reviewed the literature on the effectiveness and consequences of various kinds of sex education programs that have been taught in public schools in the United States. Her study examined abstinence-only-until-marriage education, which teaches adolescents to abstain from sexual behavior until marriage, and comprehensive sex education, which promotes abstinence but also provides information on topics such as sexuality, contraception and abortion. She concluded that although abstinence should be presented as a healthy option for adolescents, it is important to provide them with comprehensive information related to sex education.  Elise Barrett, clinical assistant professor of literacy studies, was the advisor for this project. Assistant Professor Jeff Greene was the reader. Jones plans to teach middle school mathematics next year; she says, “The closer to Chapel Hill, the better!”

Kotik, whose hometown is Cary, N.C., studied “The Dilemma of Offering In-State Tuition and Federal Aid to Undocumented Immigrant Students: A Review of the Congressional Record (2003-2007).” She analyzed the debates and testimonies related to the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act, as it was introduced in the U.S. Congress from 2003 to 2007. If passed, the DREAM act would provide undocumented students with in-state tuition, federal aid and a clear route to legal status in the country. She found that most of those who offered their remarks opposed the legislation on the basis of their moral beliefs. Most who supported the act focused on the benefit of an educated work force to the United States and its global competitiveness. Kotik also found that Congress overlooked many barriers to higher education that undocumented immigrants face, such as language barriers, cultural assimilation, poverty, separation from family and lack of resources. She suggested that arguments for passage of the DREAM Act could be strengthened if these factors were considered. Xue Lan Rong, professor of social studies education, was the advisor for this thesis. Professor George Noblit served as the reader. Kotik plans to teach in a local middle school next year.

Riggs, a native of Charlotte, N.C., conducted a project titled “An Exploratory Study of Kangaroo Care as an Effective Early Intervention Technique for Premature Infants.” She reviewed research on the immediate and long-term effects of using skin-to-skin contact with infants born before the full gestational period. She found that this technique has many benefits for premature infants, including promotion of bonding between parent and infant, reduction of stress and regulation of the infant's heartbeat, respiratory rate and body temperature. Sharon Palsha, clinical assistant professor of early childhood education, served as her thesis advisor. Assistant Professor Julie Justice was the reader. Next fall, Riggs plans to work in the Charlotte area as a teacher of infants or toddlers, while pursuing a Master of Education degree in early childhood education with a specialization in special education at UNC-Charlotte.