Honors College Graduates Win F. Ray Wilson Award for Best Thesis

April 24, 2024
Ray Wilson Winners

Honors Program graduates Robbie Ridder, Sophie Cope, and Rahul Banka (pictured left to right) were recently named the 2023 recipients of the F. Ray Wilson II Award for Best Thesis, honoring undergraduate thesis writers in Baylor's Honors Program.

Honors College graduates Rahul Banka, Sophie Cope, and Robbie Ridder were recently named the 2023 recipients of the F. Ray Wilson Award for Best Thesis, a recognition that rewards excellence in scholarship of undergraduate thesis writers in Baylor’s Honors Program. 

This named award honors the life of F. Ray Wilson II, Ph.D., beloved Baylor professor of biology, Master Teacher, and Director of the Honors Program, who directed 37 honors theses during more than 30 years of teaching at the University. Each year, the award recognizes outstanding theses in physical and life sciences, social sciences, and humanities. The winners are invited to return to campus to deliver remarks to Honors Program graduates. 

Banka, Cope, and Ridder were honored during this year’s Honors Program and University Scholars Banquet on April 17. The three winners received an “Outstanding” designation following their thesis defense during Honors Week in 2023, and then were selected through a competitive review by a multi-disciplinary faculty selection committee. 

Rahul Banka

Rahul Banka, the winner in physical and life sciences, graduated in 2023 as a University Scholar concentrating in Physics, Astrophysics, and Mathematics. As an undergraduate, Rahul conducted research under Dr. Lorin Matthews on complex plasmas, which introduced him to the topic of plasma physics. His work in plasma physics has been published twice and he has had the opportunity to present his work at multiple conferences.

His thesis, “Studying Complex Plasmas Through Computational Modeling,” provides an overview of how computational methods are used to model complex plasmas and is an amalgamation of various research projects he worked on during his undergraduate degree. His thesis combines a study on crystalline structure stability with a study tracking dust particle trajectories in fusion devices to studying ion motion and how they form wake structures. 

Banka is currently a first-year graduate student at Auburn University pursuing a Ph.D. in physics. 

Sophie Cope

Cope, the winner in the humanities, graduated summa cum laude in 2023 as a University Scholar concentrating in English and Great Texts and minoring in Chinese. She currently works as an Enrollment Services Advisor at the University of Texas at Dallas, serving on the National Merit team in the Office of Admissions and Enrollment. 

Her thesis, “Pro Patria Mori? A Case Study of Classical Reception in the War and War-Adjacent Poetry of Wilfred Owen, W. H. Auden, Michael Longley, and Seamus Heaney,” examined four British and Northern Irish poets’ responses to the changing nature of combat in the twentieth and early twenty-first centuries through their poetic receptions of classical epic and myth. She sought to elicit a redemptive trajectory: while Owen and Auden criticize the conflation of outdated classical modes with modern warfare, the Northern Irish poets Longley and Heaney seek to capture classics’ universalizing themes of hope and reconciliation in the midst of the “Troubles.”

While completing her undergraduate degree, Cope worked as the Assistant for Student Recruitment in the Honors College and participated in the Crane Scholars program, the Honors College Leadership Academy, the Carr P. Collins scholarship program, and the Chinese Language and Culture Club. She interned with the U. S. State Department as a bilingual content creator showcasing American university life to prospective international students in Mandarin-speaking countries. Cope will begin applying to master’s programs in international education this fall. 

Robbie Ridder

Ridder, the winner in social sciences, graduated summa cum laude in December 2023 with his Bachelor of Arts in Psychology and a minor in Religion. During his time as a student at Baylor, Ridder served as the Head Coach of Baylor’s rowing team and the supplemental instructor for statistics in psychology. 

His thesis, “Social Support Moderates the Relationship between Extracurricular Activity Participation and Depression, Anxiety, and Stress Symptoms in College Students” is currently in press at College Student Affairs Journal, a peer-reviewed journal for research in higher education. He will also present his thesis research at the Matheny Center for the Study of Stress, Trauma, and Resilience this May.

Currently, Ridder is employed as a research assistant by Baylor’s Center for Research in Human Growth and Thriving Science, where he primarily studies the intersection of faith and character development with mental health and well-being. In addition to his thesis research, he has presented empirical work at international conferences. He has manuscripts under review at peer-reviewed journals like Psychology of Religion and Spirituality and Review of Religious Research. Ridder will apply to graduate school this Fall, but until then he and his wife, Naomi, will remain in Waco.


Each winner and thesis director will have their names engraved on a nameplate affixed to the F. Ray Wilson Award for Best Thesis plaque that hangs in the Honors Program suite in Draper Academic Building.

The award honors Wilson, who died July 9, 2004, shortly after he had been named director of the Honors Program at Baylor. The establishment of the award also coincided with the 50-year anniversary of the Honors Program in 2009.