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Seniors complete thesis projects

Marcela Berrios | Thursday, April 27, 2006

It must be that time of year again.

Most students are quick to pay respect to those sleep-deprived, caffeine-overdosed, vampire-like seniors who accomplish writing the somewhat mythical college thesis – a 100-page project with innumerable footnotes and annotations.

Seniors said writing a thesis project – aside from being a demanding commitment – can actually be an intellectually rewarding experience and an opportunity to explore in detail the most fascinating theme imaginable in their respective field of study.

“Writing a senior thesis can be a wonderful experience for the student because not only will his research and investigation lead to a deeper, more complete understanding of his discipline, but he will also engage in a unique learning process,” Dean of the College of Arts and Letters Mark Roche said.

Senior thesis projects can range from 50 to 100 pages in length, and students often begin preparing them at the beginning of the spring semester – if not in the fall. Some departments, like the history department, have sponsor students who begin research during the summer, or in other locations such as London, Poland and Rome.

The only students required to write a thesis are those who are part of the Arts and Letters Honors Program – but that does not mean they are alone in the endeavor. Most departments in the College of Arts and Letters offer students the option of writing a thesis project in exchange of credit for their work and the benefit of graduating with honors in their discipline.

“For students interested in attending graduate school, the intellectual experience of writing a thesis is immensely valuable,” history department chair John McGreevy said.

Students who apply to graduate school in the years following graduation can boast having completed an undergraduate thesis – which is highly commendable, he said.

“It feels great knowing I’ve completed something that is potentially publishable,” said senior Erica Williams, who recently finished an anthropology thesis.

Williams’ thesis project will be featured in an upcoming issue of the “American Journal of Physical Anthropology.”

Senior Noelle Teske wrote two thesis projects – one in psychology and the other in philosophy.

“What was great about this experience is that I finally had the opportunity to work on something I personally found interesting and relevant,” she said.

Senior Michael Vanden Boom said his thesis on mathematical logic gave him “a deeper understanding of mathematics.” He hopes he can share this knowledge with students when he participates in the Alliance for Catholic Education program after graduation.

Art students also have an opportunity to share their final projects with others.

“Part of being an artist is not just creating the artwork, but also exhibiting it,” art department chair Dennis Doordan said. “The fine arts program culminates every year with a display in the Snite Museum.”

The exhibit includes a variety of works including ceramics, photography, paintings, graphic and industrial designs and sculpture.

In every work, students had the opportunity to explore their individuality and put to work the skills and techniques acquired in the previous four years. Projects deal with such themes as the discovery of self-identity, society’s expectations and spirituality.

In other colleges, a similar flexibility is evidenced in the wide range of thesis topics selected by students.

Noteworthy projects from previous years include such diverse topics as “A Woman’s Fight for Suffrage in Britain in 1914,” “Genetics of Speciation in the Malaria Mosquito,” “The Future of Same-Sex Marriage” and “Molecular Evolution of Bacterial Proteins.”

Students are free to choose the argument and methodology with which they will construct the project, and they work closely with a faculty member throughout their investigations.

“Students are able to interact with the faculty, do archival research and follow up on theories taught briefly in a course curriculum,” Roche said. “They challenge themselves in ways that are comparatively rare in the classroom.”

For Vanden Boom, the most rewarding part of writing his thesis was the close interaction he had with his faculty advisor.

“We practically met every week, which was great because there were times when the workload was considerable, and she always encouraged me and helped me keep my focus,” he said.