The Official Student Newspaper of Tarleton State University since 1919

the JTAC

The Official Student Newspaper of Tarleton State University since 1919

the JTAC

The Official Student Newspaper of Tarleton State University since 1919

the JTAC

A groundbreaking thesis defense

First successful Tarleton State honors thesis defense by Bella Zapata

 For the first time in the history of the Tarleton State Honors College program, an incredible academic feat has been achieved: Tarleton’s first Honors thesis has been successfully devised and defended by none other than senior student, Bella Zapata. 

 Isabella “Bella” Zapata is a 22 year old Texas native from Cedar Park who majored in psychology, and simultaneously earned a minor in both chemistry and biology. 

 As of this past December, Zapata officially became a Tarleton State University alumni and graduated with Distinguished Honors while earning her bachelor of science degree. 

A thesis is a crucial component of the Distinguished Honors degree track at Tarleton State University, and it is comprised of a multitude of advanced work, research, and discipline on behalf of those willing to take up the intense – yet rewarding – challenge. Hopefully, Zapata is the first student of many to complete an Honors thesis.  

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“[The] Honors thesis is the product of meaningful research and advanced investigation/creation over multiple semesters. The thesis manuscript is the culmination of a student’s course of study and should be a document of pride for the student, the committee, and the academic program. The Honors thesis should be substantial in scope and result in original findings, new creative work, or a new understanding of a problem or issue,” the Tarleton State website describes. 

Predominantly, Zapata was approached by her mentor, Dr. Eileen Faulkenberry, about taking on an Honors thesis.

 “My mentor approached me asking if I would be up to the challenge since I had been working on the UDCE for 3 years. We thought it would be the perfect way to elevate the work I had done this previous summer. I personally wanted to do the honors thesis because I thought it would be a fun and challenging way to wrap up all the work I had done with Dr. Faulkenberry while also displaying my closed form methods,” Zapata stated.  “My work with Dr. Faulkenberry has been the hardest but most rewarding part of my time here at Tarleton and I am forever grateful to even have been considered to propose my thesis. Dr. Faulkenberry along with Dean Faulkenberry, Dr. Julia Xing, and Dr. Aho helped me so much with my confidence and broke down the entire process for me! Without them, I could not even imagine finishing my thesis!”

 Zapata’s Honors thesis follows logic that many outsiders to the topic would find rather baffling, however, with the research, time, and mentorship that was poured into her manuscript and presentations, Zapata was able to generate a thesis worthy of admiration and acceptance by many. 

 Zapata’s thesis and outpour of hard-work was ultimately dubbed with the title, “Closed-form methods for estimating parameters in response time models.”

 “My thesis describes a series of closed-form equations that I developed myself. I investigated the psychological phenomenon that occurs when two digit number comparisons occur, this is called the unit decade compatibility effect (UDCE). The purpose of this thesis was to investigate the cognitive mechanisms behind the UDCE by using ex-Gaussian modeling,” Zapata interpreted. 

   Zapata explained that there are two main components that her thesis was built upon, and how the ex-Gaussian method decomposes a distribution of observed response times into two separate components: a normal component with mean mu and an exponential component with mean tau. 

 “If the effect appears in the tail component tau, this implies that the UDCE involves analytic processes (e.g., thinking, decision making). If the effect appears in the normal component mu, this implies that the UDCE involves nonanalytic processes (e.g., stimulus driven automatic processes),” Zapata articulated. 

 Based upon the closed-form equations that Zapata devised using a unique “method of moments” technique, she was then able to estimate mu and tau directly from observed summary statistics of the ex-Gaussian distribution. Then, she applied her closed-form equations to an existing dataset of two digit number comparisons from students at Loughborough University. 

 “[The] results demonstrate that the UDCE occurs in the mu parameter, but no UDCE was observed in the tau parameter. Therefore, the UDCE reflects only non analytic processing,” Zapata concluded. 

 Zapata believes that her work ethic, determination, and self accountability helped her to ultimately conquer her successful Honors thesis. Moreover, she would love people to know that she is a strong advocate and believer in staying committed to personal growth. 

 “I have always strived to learn more and embrace new experiences, both inside and outside the classroom. Tarleton has not just been a place of education for me; it has been a platform for personal development and building lasting connections. I hope that I can be an example of determination and community that I carry with me. I will always strive to make a positive impact wherever life takes me,” Zapata explained.  “I am so grateful and honored to have been given this opportunity to present my research to the honors college, let alone an entire thesis! It was one of the most rigorous and rewarding processes I have ever done. To even be the first in Tarleton history is still so surreal. I hope that more students will now be encouraged to take on the challenge too!”

Overall, Zapata’s thesis process lasted around an exacting four months, and despite the challenges, stress, and difficulties Zapata encountered, she proudly stands firm in her belief that she would not have changed a single thing – except for reminding herself to be proud about her accomplishments along the way. 

 For information regarding the Distinguished Honors track at Tarleton State University and information about an Honors thesis, please visit https://www.tarleton.edu/honors/honors-thesis/.



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