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CAPS inducts 43 students into Alpha Sigma Lambda National Honor Society

Master’s Degree students share research on democracy in Africa and possible correlations between declining faith participation and rising deaths of despair

The historic Umrath Lounge was filled with joy and smiles as family and friends gathered to honor some of the top School of Continuing & Professional Studies (CAPS) students during the annual CAPS Honors and Research Night.

Forty-three students were inducted into the Alpha Sigma Lambda National Honor Society (ASL) during the ceremony and ceremonial cords were presented to ASL members who are graduating this May. ASL is a national honor society, with 300 chapters across the United States, designed to recognize and encourage scholarship and leadership among modern learners. The WashU chapter of ASL, known as Xi, was founded in 1960 and membership is noted in a member’s official transcript from the school.

You can watch the entire ceremony in this unedited video.

“We are really thrilled for all of our students,” said CAPS Director of Undergraduate Student Success Elizabeth Fogt. “It is just wonderful to be able to see them go through all of the steps of progressing to finally reach this big, big goal. The fact that they have joined Alpha Sigma Lambda shows their tremendous dedication and excellence. Our students are really impressive and we are so proud of all they do.”

New students inducted into ASL this year include: Chavez Aldridge, Nathan Barry, Melissa Batchelor, Stacy Bruce, Theodore Buzzard, Earl Clark, Laysha Clayton, Angela Clark, Stanley Cook, Sydney Cottrell, Jessica Cox, Megan Crowe, Sandra Dallas, Teri Dean, James Eisman, Chantille Fierro, Marnie Ford, Theresa Fortner, Darren Hampton, Ana Heermann, Kathleen Hentrich, Megan Just, Lauren Kot, Yvette Mahan, Delaney Moeser, Jamie Mullin, Natasha Orender, Katy Paglusch, Patricia Prewitt, Nicholas Price, Phraoura Proyaseng, Tavion Regans, Dylan Staudte, Tessa Van Vlerah, Demeyon Watie, Marna Weber, Natasha White, Germaine Williams, Jessica Williams, Tyrone Williams, Jun Xiong, Myra Yuan, and Lily Zhou.

ASL students planning to graduate who received recognition cords include: Munther Aburumman, Katherine Allen, Micah Ballard, Lauren Barsh, Mandy Byers, Earl Clark, Stanley Cook, Megan Crowe, Karen Cruise, James Eisman, Alex Held, Megan Just, Dennis Krazl, Elaine Macon, Yvette Mahan, Cassandra Marie, Telika McCabe, Natasha Orender, Lisa Owens, Danielle Perry, Dawn Pletz, Patricia Prewitt, Nicholas Price, Tavion Regans, Ashley Roberts, Heather Robinson, Kieara Seay, Dylan Staudte, Monique Stoves, Latonya Vallien, Luke Velasquez, Tessa Van Vlerah, Marna Weber, Natasha White, Gray Wilde, Benjamin Wilkinson, Catori Williams, Tyrone Williams, Atlee Winingham, Minghao Xu, and Myra Yuan.

CAPS Interim Associate Dean for Academics & Academic Director of Healthcare Studies, Professional and Community Education Kilinyaa Cothran said the awards ceremony was especially important for modern learners who may not have had a more traditional undergraduate experience.

“When you come back to school or start school later in life you do not have the same milestones that a traditional undergraduate student might have,” she said. “So any time there is an opportunity for us to be able to let students know they are valued and what they are doing is important, I think that makes a difference in their journey.

“My favorite part is seeing their faces when they get their cords and certificates,” she added. “It is something really tangible.”

Cothran said that many CAPS students qualify for ASL membership each year.

“I think we have an average 3.4 GPA at CAPS,” she said.  “All of our students are excelling In ways that I think are sometimes surprising to them but not so much for us because we know what they are capable of. Just removing the barrier to access really gives a lot of hope to a lot of people.”

Two Master’s Degree students present research

Following the ASL induction ceremony two CAPS Master’s Degree students presented their capstone research projects, highlighting the breadth of studies offered through CAPS.

Ibrahim Lajada, who is currently pursuing his Master of Arts in International Affairs through CAPS, presented research on why democracy is not working in Africa with a focus on his home country of Nigeria.

Lajada has worked for the Economic Community of West African States under Peacekeeping and Regional Security and contested for the presidential election in Nigeria in 2019 and 2023. He currently owns a small business that is into mining.

Lajada’s research focused on Niger and Nigeria as case studies and explored the legacy of colonial and post-colonial conflict and the impact of external factors on those countries.

“Europeans have gained a lot from African countries, mostly in terms of profiting from their mineral resources, which has not done anything for us in terms of development, making sure that our institutions are very strong, making sure that our legal system are strong, making sure that okay, the power would be transferred from one government to the next,” he said, adding that the vast ethnic and tribal diversity in the region has also made it hard for democracy to grow in these countries. “Then there is government corruption which undermines democracy.”

Lajada offered several suggestions to preserve democracy in West Africa.

“It is not enough to send just election observers to monitor elections,” he said. “There must be a strong stand against constitutional change whereby the incumbent will overstay his tenure. And then there must be a democratic system that would deliver the dividends of democracy. Only then will democracy sustain within the African region.”

Kathryn Groves, a CAPS Masters of Statics student, shared her research on the impact of religious adherence on the number of deaths of despair across the country.

Groves is originally from Louisiana, has a research background in finance, economics, and statistics, and currently serves as the Director of Research and Development at United Pentecostal Church International.

Groves said that her research project was inspired by an article she saw in The Economist last year which explored how areas with higher religious participation had fewer deaths of despair (deaths related to suicide, drug overdose, or other alcohol-related causes).

“This analysis was done at the state level, and I wanted to take this a step further into a county-level analysis for my practicum research,” she said, adding that her focus was not a particular type of religion but instead how religious participation created a sense of community that could help combat deaths of despair.

Groves shared the complex path she took to investigate the data, build meaningful statistical models, and then compare the results.

Because over 1,600 counties do not report deaths of despair, Groves had to figure out how to account for that missing data in her statistical analysis.

She used a binomial, generalized linear model (GLM) to help predict the missing data

“This model does a pretty good job,” she said. “It explains 68% of the overall deviance in our data.”

She then used a zero-inflated negative binomial GLM to consider the impact of significant variables.

Groves checked the dispersion in here model to ensure it was providing meaningful data.

“I found that the zero-inflated negative binomial GLM was a really nice natural fit to the data that we were working with,” said Groves. “There was a lot of missing data, a lot of 0 values. And it had this really big skew. And so this model was a really nice fit for what we wanted to do.”

She said her research showed that religious participation and economic variables both had an impact on deaths of despair.

“We do see a significant negative relationship with religious adherence which does support the hypothesis that areas with a lower level of adherence are going to be associated with higher levels of deaths of despair,” said Groves. “I’ve learned a lot from doing this research, picking the proper variables, scaling them and doing the right transformations and then just working with real-world data that’s kind of messy. I feel like I’ve really learned through this program methods on how to address nonlinearity, non-normality by thinking about binary variables and generalized linear models.”

Cothran said combining the research presentations with the ASL induction ceremony was a good way to showcase the work of CAPS students.

“We have a lot of students who are doing phenomenal research projects as part of their capstones and are exposed to a variety of research topics in their classwork,” she said.