Distinguished Master’s Thesis Award | Spotlight

Kinesiology alumna has thesis writing down to a science

Pictured: Jacqueline Kiwata.

For most, earning a Master of Science degree at Cal State L.A. in kinesiology would be motivation enough to continue their education, but for a student as dynamic as Jacqueline Kiwata, it took winning the 2010-2011 WAGS/UMI Distinguished Master’s Thesis Award to “validate” a true calling.

“I first felt honored, then elated when I discovered I received the award. I did not expect to win,” said Kiwata. “I was still uncertain if a research setting was a good fit for me. But having my thesis nominated by the University and receiving the award validated my decision to pursue a Ph.D.”

The WAGS/UMI (Western Association of Graduate Schools and University Microfilms International) Distinguished Master’s Thesis Award recognizes scholarly achievement based on originality, significance of the study, overall quality and outcomes, and accomplishments of the thesis. Kiwata’s master’s thesis was chosen from numerous entries submitted by 89 universities.

WAGS/UMI will honor Kiwata with the award during WAGS’ annual conference in Fort Collins, Colorado, taking place March 18-21. The award includes a $1,000 prize, and travel expenses for her and one of her advisers to attend the conference.

Her thesis is titled “The Effect of Vigorous Exercise on the Content of Cholesteryl Linoleate, a Novel Antimicrobial Effector Molecule in Upper Respiratory Tract Secretions.” Focusing on the areas of exercise and immunology, she wanted to confirm whether the American Heart Association’s recommendation for aerobic exercise boosted the immune response after exercise.

Kiwata received significant help in conducting the research that would become her thesis. She first developed the experimental design and secured approval to work with human subjects. She then conducted her research with guidance from Department of Biological Sciences Professors Edith Porter and Robert Desharnais, as well as School of Kinesiology and Nutritional Science Professors Andrew Cornwell and Nazareth Khodiguian. She also received technical assistance from undergraduate student Rabin Anouseyan for protein-related analysis.

Porter believes that Kiwata’s background as a “high-intensity athlete” was helpful to her performance in the laboratory in terms of ample endurance and having a “great team spirit.”

“Jackie is a rare, outstanding and unusual student, in that she combines intellectual flexibility, creativity, professionalism, intensity, high work ethics, as well as outstanding problem-solving, technical, and communication skills,” said Porter. “All these were essential qualities to conduct interdisciplinary research across two Colleges that involved human subjects, athletic equipment, and sophisticated biochemical analysis of small molecules in complex body fluids.”

Pictured: Jacqueline Kiwata.


From the Lab to the Keyboard

Many students, and others, who do not earn a degree beyond a bachelor’s are unfamiliar with the thesis writing process, particularly the amount of work invested in a science thesis. Even though Kiwata wrote the bulk of her more than 70-page draft in one weekend, it took three months to edit, rework and complete the thesis.

She started with data analysis—crunching numbers, running statistical tests, and developing graphs. Kiwata then addressed each section one at a time—materials and methods, results, discussion and the conclusion—before trudging through 11 rounds of revisions with Porter, who Kiwata worked with to interpret the results and refine the thesis.

“For me, the most difficult aspect of writing the thesis was starting the first sentence. I really had to learn to stop self-editing my thoughts before they made it onto the screen,” she said. “But once I wrote the first paragraph of the introduction, I just kept going.”

With the thesis complete, it was nominated by Porter as a submission from CSULA’s Biological Studies department, and formally nominated to WAGS by Alan Muchlinski, interim dean of the Office of Graduate Studies.

“When the award email went out, I was out of the country,” said Kiwata. “I landed at LAX the following night, and turned on my phone to find urgent voicemails, text messages and emails from my advisers. That’s when I started to get excited.”

Kiwata has applied to Ph.D. programs in physiology and bio-kinesiology at USC, the University of Arizona, the University of Oregon, UC San Diego and UC Davis.

A hardcopy of the award-winning thesis is available to read in CSULA’s University Library.

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