The Observer is a student-run, daily print & online newspaper serving Notre Dame, Saint Mary's & Holy Cross. Learn about us.



More seniors do thesis projects

Molly Madden | Friday, January 22, 2010

The senior thesis has in the past been associated with math and the sciences at the University but the College of Arts and Letter is making strides to create what they call a “thesis culture” within the college.

The College of Arts and Letters has made changes to the thesis program and process in order to attract more students to complete a thesis. The efforts appear to have been successful because the number of students completing a thesis has risen.

“Last year we had 10 percent of our undergraduates in the college completing theses,” Arts and Letters Associate Dean Stuart Greene said. “This year that number has risen to around 15 to 18 percent.”

Greene said the new focus will allow students to explore an area of interest they normally wouldn’t get to study in-depth in their given major.

“An Arts and Letters thesis is something that develops out of the student’s interests,” he said. “Not only is it a part of the overall effort to enhance undergraduate education, it allows them to develop life-long skills.”

Cara Nazareth, a senior Anthropology major who is in the process of completing her thesis project, said she decided to do a thesis because it enabled her to delve in-depth into a topic she was passionate about.

“Completing this thesis is a way for me to study issues that are not really touched on in our classes,” she said. “I would have never have had the opportunity to do this project if it hadn’t been in the form of a thesis.”

Nazareth is working on a thesis that examines how bicultural students in the United States compare to their bicultural peers in other countries. The project requires Nazareth to interview students and gather a significant amount of information.

“I’m writing every week and that keeps you self-motivated, which is something that the thesis definitely pushes you to do,” she said. “But I feel like it’s a capstone for my education.”

Senior Renee Rinehart, a Sociology major and a Education and Schooling in Society minor, is working on a thesis examining the politics of local education policy and community engagement in education and seeing if those factors can minimize negative political influences in the school system. Rinehart said the inspiration for her thesis came from her two summers of internships.

“One summer I worked at the Indiana Chamber of Commerce as an educational policy intern and then last summer I worked at the National Education Association in Washington D.C.,” she said. “Seeing the two sides of this issue made me want to see how both sides could come together to support public schools.”

Like Nazareth, Rinehart said she wanted to do a thesis because she was able to explore an issue that she was passionate about. 

“I felt that if I didn’t do a thesis, I would be missing out on part of my education,” she said.
Greene said the “thesis culture” the deans of Arts and Letters are hoping to facilitate will be one where students begin to see themselves as more than observers of other people’s work.

“We want this ‘culture’ to be one in which students see the intrinsic value of engaging in this type of work,” Greene said. “We want it to be an experience where student and faculty come together to talk about the significance of the student’s experience.”

One of the major attributes of the Arts and Letters thesis is the role of a faculty “mentor” to guide the student in their research and motivate them in their work.

“We are trying to be better mentors so that students can see the real value in doing this kind of work regardless of ambitions,” Greene, who is a mentor to several students, said.
Greene said he hopes more Arts and Letters students see the value in completing a senior thesis project.

“Human problems relate to beliefs and values that we haven’t come to agreement on in the Arts and we are constantly revisiting meaning,” he said. “The way we deal with human problems in Arts and Letters can be interpretative, which leaves more room to be original.”