Transit Plan for Detroit

To meet his capstone requirement for his individualized major in Sustainable Urban Design, Aaron Johnson completed a project on Sauk Trail East and contributed the video below as part of his presentation for Frontiers Spring 2021, the exhibit of undergraduate student research.

Sauk Trail East is an urban mobility research and design study following a proposal for the world’s first public connected autonomous vehicle corridor (CAV-C). The intended route links Ann Arbor to the City of Detroit, whose residents have faced severe historic and ongoing issues surrounding transportation equity and access. This study examines CAV-C’s potential to relink Detroit communities via changes to land use, modal choice, and intermodal prioritization.

Aaron Johnson
Sustainable Urban Design

Predicting Outcomes of Soccer Games

“All my picks are locks, bro”
-Everyone who bets on sports

My first ever sports bet was Over 121.5 for the Virginia vs. Virginia Tech basketball game on February 18, 2019. Virginia scored a layup with 7 seconds left to win 64-58, meaning that my Over hit by half a point. Put another way, I was in hopeful agony for about 99.7% of the game before things just barely came together at the end. This is a fair metaphor for how my thesis, Predicting Outcomes of Soccer Games, ended up coming together.

For the majority of my time as an individualized Data Science major I thought that I would do a thesis on economics, the domain I chose for the major, but when the time came to choose a topic, I decided on soccer, my favorite sport. My thoughts then drifted to the most important question of any sports match: who will win? Draws occur rather frequently in soccer, so instead of a typical two-outcome classification problem, I was looking at a much more difficult three-outcome problem. Nevertheless, I found a Kaggle dataset with detailed statistics from the English Premier League and began to create a model that would predict the outcome of each league game.

English Premier League soccer

I made pretty good progress in a short period of time. After about six weeks of work, I presented my findings with a poster at the UConn Sports Analytics Symposium this past October. But I could hardly stop at just predicting winners – after all, even an octopus could do that. The natural next step was to use my model to make bets. So, I developed a comprehensive betting strategy using my model, in which I optimized for which outcomes to bet on and how much money to wager for each bet. This marked a key change in my process, in which I became more focused on decision-making when it came to bets as opposed to just trying to make the most accurate model. Decisions are what ultimately create impact, and the number I was most interested in was my account balance rather than the percentage of games predicted correctly.

My work culminated in a real-time betting experiment, in which I used my model and betting strategy to make actual bets over a four-month period using an initial balance of $200. This is the only true test of how any betting methodology performs. I am happy to say that I was relatively successful in this regard. After being in the red for the majority of the time, a strong showing in the final weekend of the experiment put the final balance at $223.40 for a slight profit. The sample size of 79 bets is too small to draw any meaningful conclusions, and I could go on and on about how poor my data was, but I learned a lot doing this thesis and I believe that I’ve set myself up for future success in this area.

by Jack Schooley
IMJR: Data Science

Capstone Thesis: Missile Defense

“I support development and deployment of a limited national missile defense. Few, if any of our duties surpass our obligation to provide for the common defense of our nation.”
-Former U.S. Senator Joseph Lieberman

Emilyn Tuomala, an Honors Scholar who graduated in May 2019, completed an individualized major entitled International Security. All Honors students must write a senior thesis, and Emilyn chose missile defense as her topic. The thesis was supervised by Evan Perkoski from Political Science and its official title is “Determining Defense: Bureaucracy, Threat and Missile Defense.” Below is a short synopsis of Emilyn’s work.

Emilyn presents at Frontiers

As I began exploring careers I realized I was not as interested in political science theory as I was in national security and defense. By creating an individualized major in International Security I was able to compare concepts from political theory classes with defense and national security decisions on topics like missile defense procurement, modernization of the nuclear weapons program and strategies for military deployment. The unique learning structure offered by the individualized major program gave me the skills that ultimately led to my internship with the Missile Defense Advocacy Alliance, which further solidified my interest in missile defense as a thesis topic.

When President Ronald Reagan introduced his Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) policy idea in 1983, dubbed “Star Wars”, he faced staunch criticism from scientists and policymakers alike, all of whom doubted the idea of intercepting Russian missiles and other weapons by shooting lasers from space satellites. While the technology did not exist at the time, the critics of the program did agree with the need to defend the U.S. against Russian nuclear weapons. Fast forward more than 30 years, where over 25 countries now possess missile defense capabilities and sales of such systems continue to increase.

What changed between 1981 to now? What caused interest in the U.S. missile defense systems to change over time, starting as an impossible idea and now a multi-billion dollar reality? The common belief is that national security decisions and technological choices are rationally determined in response to external threats. Is it possible that technological defense decisions are shaped by bureaucracy and political ideology as well? Was funding poured into SDI due to pressure from Russian threats? From U.S. policymakers with close ties to defense contractors? I measure interest in missile defense through the amount of money allocated to these projects, evaluating how it has changed since Ronald Reagan first announced the Strategic Defense Initiative in 1983. To assess why it changes over time, I evaluate congressional and presidential politics, national security strategy reports, and other documents to determine the relative influence of each. While I find that the decision-making process underlying missile defense is obscure and often opaque, both threat and ideology shape interest in these systems.

By Emilyn Tuomala
IMJR: International Security

Capstone: Emma Sifre

Thesis: Committed to Inequality? How Learning about Inequality Changes Preferences for Redistribution

Thesis Supervisor: Thomas Hayes, Political Science

Over the past forty years, economic inequality in the United States has increased to such extreme levels that it has distorted the American economy and the health of American Democracy. Research on the effects of inequality on our economic and political institutions has been comprehensive, but recent events have shed light on the importance of studying public opinion on economic inequality as well. The Occupy Wall Street movement in 2011, for example, was a grassroots campaign focused on inequality. Although division along class lines in politics is not new, this year’s election cycle has mobilized huge groups of American voters around the issue of economic inequality. It has tapped into deeply rooted sentiments about how much people have and what they feel they deserve. The significant consequences of economic inequality, and the newfound vigor with which people are mobilizing around the issue, has prompted me to focus my Honors thesis on public opinion about it.

I used a survey to test how participants’ beliefs about the fairness of the economic system affects their preferences for inequality-reducing policies. I then tested whether increasing the saliency of inequality by prompting participants to engage in learning tasks has a long-term effect on preferences. One major problem with designing a survey experiment is that public opinion is easily swayed by inflammatory rhetoric or trigger words. It was important that, in testing preferences, I used very carefully selected language to ensure that the results were not skewed by emotionally-charged reactions to words like “welfare” or “socialism.” Creating the survey required intensive research into public opinion data and a pilot study using different variations of words.

Emma Sifre at Frontiers
Emma Sifre at Frontiers

I found that participants who held meritocratic beliefs were slightly more supportive of programs intended to reduce inequality, but that the effect of learning tasks was only significant in the short-term. This finding was particularly interesting in a time when economic inequality has become a highly visible issue; it indicates that increasing the saliency of the issue may not follow citizens into the polling booths.

by Emma Sifre
Individualized Major: The Interdisciplinary Study of Economic Inequality

Capstone: Jessica Topper

Jessica Topper
Jessica Topper

“What is at stake is nothing less than the survival and well-being of a generation of innocents.”
– Antonio Guterres, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees

Throughout my final year at the University of Connecticut, I have dedicated my Honors senior thesis to researching the latest crisis in the Middle East. The political and economic ramifications of oppressive regimes and the emergence of extremist non-state actors are important, but it’s the dire position of the Syrian people that is the focal point of my thesis.

The Middle East, as a region, has overwhelming numbers of displaced people due to political instability and its resulting terror and destruction. At the beginning of 2016, for example, over half of the Syrian population had been forced to flee their homes in search of safety. Unfortunately, it is all too common for those who have fled to end up in limbo. Their lost identity and sense of not belonging is difficult enough, but refugees are often objects of sluggish bureaucratic processes and incoherent immigration policies in the nations in which they are seeking asylum. My thesis will explore the refugees’ migration patterns and the ramifications of their arrival in other nations. A vital aspect of this research will be a comparative study of how the United States and countries in Europe and the Middle East grant refugee status and asylum to people from Syria.

The violence and oppression utilized by the Syrian government has escalated a domestic issue to one of international scope. Countries concerned with their interests in the region, and with threats to their security, must balance military response with isolationism, and judge the political consequences associated with accepting the victims of this crisis. This problem has been at the forefront of leaders’ agendas around the world. As each country responds to this crisis, the range in immigration policies has become increasingly polarized. What are the actualities of Syrian immigration? Is the heightened concern over Syrian refugees and asylum seekers just a wave of paranoia? How does the United States compare to Europe and the Middle East when it comes to assisting those displaced? This thesis will explore the realities of the Syrian civil war in terms of statistical data, policy changes, and the impact on countries involved in the conflict. It is inarguable that the Syrian civil war has caused the people of this country trauma many cannot imagine. With much confusion around the world over Bashar al-Assad’s regime, the development of proxy wars within the country, and how these refugees will actually affect other nations, it is imperative to understand the entirety of this international crisis.

by Jessica Topper
Individualized Major: International Relations (focus on the Middle East)