Current Recipients

2017-2018 Outstanding Thesis Award Winners


Jason Jung

Jason Jung, M.S. in Biology

Although the ink on his diploma is barely dry, Jason Jung is already recognized as an expert in paleontology. His work is outstanding for its contribution to our understanding of the evolutionary history of vertebrate species and the relationship between these earliest reptiles and many of the terrestrial animals we see today. Considering these early achievements, it is only fitting that his thesis, Redescription and Phylogenetic Analysis of the Materials Assigned to the Taxon “Captorhinikos” chozaensis, written for his Master of Science in Biology, earned him the Outstanding Thesis Award for 2017-2018.  

Captorhinikos chozaensis is a member of a family of early reptiles called Captorhinidae, and one of the earliest creatures to live completely on dry land. It predates dinosaurs by 60 million years, having roamed what is now north-central Texas approximately 280 million years ago during the Permian period. It is his interest in the Permian Period that led Jason to study at CSUSB under his mentor, Dr. Stuart Sumida.
“Dr. Sumida is very well-known in the field,” Jason noted.  “The period he works in – the Permian period– is when interesting things were happening. Things started to walk on land and flying animals began to evolve.  I like to say that the ‘cool kids’ in paleontology study dinosaurs, but I am interested in the Permian period, when things were really changing.”

In his thesis, Jason sets out to identify the evolutionary relationships of Captorhinikos chozaensis and its placement in the phylogentic tree.  After receiving fossils from two major museums, the Chicago Field Museum and the Smithsonian Institution, he went to work on performing an anatomical redescription:  “My analysis involved constructing a table of traits belonging to the species, (called a morphological character matrix) then plugging in the features you actually see in the fossils and making a comparison,” he explained.

“My study confirmed two things: that the fossils I received from the two museums were of the same species, and that the species’ genus had previously been misidentified and so, was wrongly named. What has been called Captorhinikos chozaensis occupies its own branch on the phylogenetic tree of Captorhinidae, and is a new species that needs to be named.”
Jason’s next step is to submit his work for review and publication, and he hopes his work will be corroborated by others in the field.  He is presently exploring Ph.D. programs while he serves as the academic coordinator for the Biology department and teaches two labs: Human Anatomy and Cell Biology.

Jason’s interest in paleontology took root when he was a child, but his career path took a detour about the time he started high school.  “It all started when my grandfather brought home a software program on dinosaurs. I was super into it, up until I was 12. I wanted to be a paleontologist. As I got older, my parents pushed me away from paleontology because they didn’t really see how I could make a career out of it. By high school I had put it aside.”
After receiving his Bachelor of Science in Biology at CSUSB, Jason had every intention of pursuing a career in medicine. He was on the cusp of attending medical school at Western University when he came to realize that his heart wasn’t in it.  At first, he was unsure of what to do. “Then it dawned on me that I could continue as a graduate student in biology here, and focus on paleontology. I love it. I lose track of time doing it. In a way I’ve come full circle, back to my first passion.”
Jason’s thesis is available on ScholarWorks. We look forward to hearing more about his achievements in the coming years.


Kamiya Stewart

Kamiya Stewart, M.A. in Psychology

Dorris Kamiya Stewart’s groundbreaking thesis, Losing Control: The Consequences of Individual- and Group- Based Social Exclusion on Latina Women’s Self-Regulation of Unhealthy Eating earned her the 2017-2018 Outstanding Thesis Award for scholarship, originality, and contribution to the field.  Written for her Master of Arts in Psychology, Kamiya’s work may be the first published research that compares the consequences of individual and group based exclusion. The complexity of her hypotheses required a unique approach, and Kamiya proved she was up to the task.
Kamiya’s thesis examined social exclusion and its effects on self-control and eating behavior.  Within the field of psychology, there is an ongoing discussion as to whether individual or group-based exclusion is more harmful. Kamiya suggests that the two theories are not at odds but are instead complimentary. The outcome depends on a third component – whether the exclusion is fair (e.g., based on skill level or ability) or unfair (based on ethnicity, gender, or race). Kamiya predicted that fair social exclusion would especially impair self-regulation when it was related to individual identity, and that unfair social exclusion would especially impair self-regulatory ability when it was related to group identity (e.g., ethnicity).  
 “Not being able to control your eating behavior might lead to many health problems, like obesity,” Kamiya noted. Thus, it’s important to understand the situations that might lead to unhealthy eating behavior.”

Testing this hypothesis was a complex process that involved developing a video game, training more than a dozen research assistants, and studying the results from 229 research participants. To test her theory, Kamiya decided to create a group player video game that allowed her to manipulate who would ultimately be excluded from the game, followed by a seemingly unrelated taste test for chocolate candy.  The study tested four categories of exclusion: 1. Individual fair exclusion; 2. Individual unfair exclusion; 3. Group fair exclusion, and; 4. Group unfair exclusion.     

After playing the game, participants completed a survey which included a measure of negative emotion, and were invited to taste test chocolate candies in what they thought was an unrelated study. Kamiya then measured calories consumed to determine levels of self-control after experiencing social exclusion.  As predicted, those who were excluded “fairly” based on individual ability, as well as those who were excluded unfairly based on race, showed greater negative emotion and a higher consumption of calories. Her findings not only reconciled two different psychological theories, but were the first to explore the moderating role of perceived fairness.

“I was excited to learn that the findings provided support for the hypotheses,” Kamiya said. “Not only is my project a major theoretical contribution to the social psychology field, but it provides avenues for future research.”

Kamiya has a few words of advice for future CSUSB Psychology students: “If you’re considering an MA in Psychology, speak with faculty members who share your interests. CSUSB has plenty of faculty members in the Department of Psychology who are experts in their respective fields.  They can guide you in the right direction based on your academic development, your research experience, knowledge, interests, and your future career goals.”

Having received that guidance from her committee chair, Donna Garcia, Kamiya is now beginning her second year as a Ph.D. student in Social Psychology at Tulane University, where she serves as a graduate researcher, teaching assistant, and mentor to students from underrepresented populations. She plans to become a university professor and research scholar, and is well on her way to reaching her goals.

The Office of Graduate Studies offers a hearty congratulations to Jason and Kamiya. We wish them the best in their careers!