Spotlight on Senior Thesis Writers

The Honors Senior Thesis has historically been required of all students pursuing an Honors Degree. This year, for the first time, those receiving an Honors Degree have a choice between two degree tracks – a written thesis and an oral examination. At the end of this Spring 2013 semester, there will be twenty-seven Honors seniors submitting a written thesis and five Honors seniors completing the oral examination. The flexibility of the Honors Program, and its promotion of academic integration across colleges and majors, allows Honors students to pursue research topics that are related to their collegiate degrees as well. The students work with professors who advise and mentor them, both from within the Honors Program and from within their respective academic departments, as they design and research an original topic of their choosing. All thesis writers also take a Thesis Seminar which was taught by Dr. Thomas Smith, the Director of the Honors Program. The goal of the thesis is to provide an outlet for students to pursue an academically challenging and rewarding project in a topic that sparks their interests and that they wish to explore in a more in-depth way. Honors students who do decide to pursue the Honors Degree, and subsequently the Honors Thesis, have described it as an incredibly enriching experience that is preparing them for their respective careers and an enlightening challenge that has rewarded them in endless ways.

This year’s Honors Thesis Defenses will be held on Saturday, April 27th from 9am to 3pm in Garey Hall on the West Campus of Villanova University. All are welcome to attend to – in addition to all of the theses highlighted below, the rest of the twenty-seven theses will also be defended.

Robert Duffy

Robert Duffy

Degree(s): B. A. in Philosophy, Humanities, and Honors; Theology minor
Post-Graduate Plans: Attending graduate school, probably either at Oxford where I have been accepted for a Masters in Philosophical Theology, or Fordham where I have been accepted for a Ph.D. in philosophy.
Adviser: Dr. D.C. Schindler; Reader: Dr. William Desmond

Description:
We have a vague sense of what we mean by "transcendence," but this sense quickly escapes us if we try to clarify it or pin it down. We use the word "transcendent" paradoxically: to talk about or point to what cannot really be talked about or pointed to, precisely because it is "beyond" the sphere of things immanent, and therefore available, to us. I argue that part of the difficulty we have in suitably conceiving the meaning of transcendence and our proper relation to that which transcends us (for example, God) stems from philosophical decisions made during the Modern period (more or less from the 16th to the 20th century) and paradigmatically expressed in the philosophy of Kant. G.W.F. Hegel, an early 19th century philosopher, and Jean-Luc Marion, a current French philosopher, both criticize Kant's philosophy, especially regarding its implications for how we understand transcendence. I aim to set out their criticisms of Kant and the constructive responses each offers in light of their criticisms, in order to evaluate their respective responses both relative to one another and relative to their ability to offer a satisfying interpretation of the meaning of transcendence and our relation to it.

What is the most interesting thing you discovered while researching/writing your thesis?
The way we understand the world and ourselves is completely backwards. We are not independent individuals who can choose to enter into relations or not to, who completely control what we do with our lives and who we are. Each of us is always already intimately related to and dependent on everyone and everything. In light of that, each of our actions is not a new beginning, but a response: a response both to the gift that we ourselves are (i.e. everything about us, including our very existence, we only have insofar as we have received it), and to the gift of the very possibility of our responding (i.e. even the possibility of receiving the gift is itself a gift).

How do you plan on using the information your research/writing has uncovered, and/or, what kind of change or attention do you hope that your research/writing triggers?
I hope that my thesis research will lead to more fruitful research of Hegel and Marion in graduate school, will have developed my understanding so that I can continue to pursue the questions it poses in various directions, and that sections of it might be publishable as articles, especially the sections about Marion about whom research is still very new and developing. 

Alexandra Andreassen

Alexandra Andreassen

Degree(s): B.A. in Sociology and Honors; Minors in Peace & Justice and Communications
Post-Graduation Plans: Work at a non-profit/NGO/government agency
Adviser: Dr. Conner (tutor, Education department) and Dr. DeFina (reader, Sociology department)

Description
Low-income students often have decreased academic skills and opportunities because of the in-school and out-of-school effects of poverty that hinder their success. Some studies suggest that the participation of low-income students in extracurricular programs is important in order to improve their academic achievement and non-cognitive skills. My study examines how extracurricular music programs benefit low-income children. There is previous research to suggest both the importance of music lessons, and the importance of extracurricular activities, for the development of all children. I have given a survey to the students, parents, and teachers of two after-school music programs serving disadvantaged urban youth. My interest is in the processes within the programs that benefit these students. This has important policy implications, especially in a time of decreased funding for the arts. 

What is the most interesting thing you discovered while researching/writing your thesis?
The most interesting thing I discovered is that, while the processes inside schools are important for combating the effects of poverty on children, the after-school hours are significantly important as well. Extracurricular programming is not only fun and social, but it also instills skills for success in children that they may not necessarily acquire in the classroom. This is particularly important for the most at-risk of youth. 

How do you plan on using the information your research/writing has uncovered, and/or, what kind of change or attention do you hope that your research/writing triggers?
My intention in researching this topic was to find implications for real-world policy and practice. I plan on releasing the results to lawmakers, educational policy makers, and arts organizations with the hope that they will help support after-school arts education, particularly for disadvantaged students. 

Melissa Rooney

Melissa Rooney

Degree(s): B.A. in Secondary Education Physics, Classical Studies, and Honors; Minor in Physics
Post-Graduation Plans: I plan to teach high school physics in the Philadelphia area after graduation
Adviser: Dr. Rick Eckstein/ Dr. Helen Lafferty

Description:
I'm looking at perceptions of college and extracurricular involvement to see what impact these two factors may have on academic achievement. The populations that I am focusing on are varsity athletics, Club sports, and Greek Life at Villanova. I am also working to include data from the Radnor High School, where I student teach, as a comparison to see if physically being in college makes a difference in perceptions and academic achievement. I also plan to see if the amount of university funding matches the level of academic achievement held by each group on campus.

What is the most interesting thing you discovered while researching/writing your thesis?
In my research, I’ve asked, “What are the 5 things that come to mind when you hear the word ‘College’?” I've gotten some wild answers that I never expected! It's interesting what people choose to focus on at college.

What is the most surprising and unexpected thing you discovered while researching/writing your thesis?
How consistent responses have been within team/greek organizations. It shows that each group attracts likeminded individuals.

How do you plan on using the information your research/writing has uncovered, and/or, what kind of change or attention do you hope that your research/writing triggers?
I plan on using this information to help me become a better teacher. By understanding what students prioritize in their lives, it gives me a better chance of connecting physics to their daily lives. I hope it also draws attention to the prioritization of the students, and the prioritization by the university.

Ryan Brown

Ryan Brown

Degree(s): B.A. inHumanities, Mathematics, and Honors; Classics, Philosophy, Theology, History minors
Post-Graduation Plans: Applying for PhD in philosophy
Adviser: Tutor, Mark Shiffman, Humanities; Thesis Reader, Doug Norton, Mathematics

Description:
Looking into the history of our concept of "number," we see that there is a large rift separating the modern concept and the ancient Greek concept. Roughly, the shift is one which takes number as referencing specific things in the world to one which becomes abstract, generalized, and symbolic. Our modern number concept, amongst other things, causes philosophical puzzles and conceptual problems to occur throughout modern mathematics and the other disciplines (e.g., physics) which rely on it. By looking into the various ways in which we use words like "number," we see that this kind of conceptual shift occurs all over mathematics, though it is rarely recognized as such. This thesis is an attempt to begin unraveling the philosophical problems concerning our uses of the word "number" and an attempt to suggest what would be a proper understanding and ontology of number and mathematical concepts.

What is the most interesting thing you discovered while researching/writing your thesis?
Probably the most interesting thing I discovered during my research is Wittgenstein's thesis that logic, contrary to what is assumed in mathematics, is in no way a ground or a basis for mathematics.

What is the most surprising and unexpected thing you discovered while researching/writing your thesis?
Probably the most surprising thing I discovered during my research is that it seems possible to write a (certainly incomplete, but still informative) genealogy of modernity based primarily on the shift in mathematical concepts and the way in which mathematics is done from the Greeks and Scholastics to the early modern thinkers (e.g., Descartes, Fermat, Vieta).

How do you plan on using the information your research/writing has uncovered, and/or, what kind of change or attention do you hope that your research/writing triggers?
I'm hoping that this research at the very least sparks, for any readers that I may have, a new or renewed interest in the historical, conceptual, and philosophical study of mathematics and related disciplines. It is likely that I will continue in this direction myself, so I am hoping that this thesis can serve as a good ground for future studies (such as a philosophical approach to Cantor's diagonalization argument and Godel's incompleteness theorems).

Caroline Goldstein

Caroline Goldstein

Degree(s): B.A. in Communication and Honors; Sociology minor
Post- Graduation Plans: I am attending Villanova School of Law
Advisers: Tutor- Dr. Rick Eckstein, Sociology; Reader- Dr. Billie Murray, Communication

Description:
Philadelphia and Cleveland are both cities with professional sports franchises, and both cities have had incidents with their fans. Philadelphia fans are known for their unruly, or as they would say it, overly passionate, behavior. Cleveland, however, does not have that reputation. Looking at newspapers including The Philadelphia Inquirer, The Cleveland Plain Dealer and The New York Times, the difference in coverage of these fans is evident. Philadelphia fan incidents receive more coverage in the national press than those of Cleveland fans, and the fans’ respective reputations are evidence of this. These newspapers’ varying coverage and framing of these fan incidents contributes to the reputations of the fans in each of these cities.

What is the most interesting thing you discovered while researching/writing your thesis?
Philadelphia fans are not the only ones who have rowdy and memorable moments. Cleveland fans, for example, have participated in Ten Cent Beer Night, which resulted in a riot, and have a tradition of throwing dog bones and various other items on the football field or at their least favorite teams. Yet the events in Philadelphia receive much more coverage in the national newspapers.

What is the most surprising and unexpected thing you discovered while researching/writing your thesis?
At first I was wondering if I would be able to find a sports fan incident in another city that would rival when Philadelphia Eagles fans threw snowballs at Santa Claus. It turns out Ten Cent Beer Night in Cleveland was a prime event to compare it to. The coverage of the two events in the national newspapers was very different, with the Philadelphia incident receiving much more coverage decades after the event, which has contributed to why that event is still so widely referenced.

How do you plan on using the information your research/writing has uncovered, and/or, what kind of change or attention do you hope that your research/writing triggers?
Growing up in the Philadelphia area, I have always found it interesting that Philly fans have such a strong reputation for being overly passionate. When I began comparing the way our fans and fans from other cities are covered in the news, I began to see how the newspapers’ framings contribute. I would like people to realize that what they see in the newspapers is not the entire story and that some topics get more attention than others, making them seem more important when they may not necessarily be.

by Newsletter co-editor, Nina Rizk. Nina is a junior pursuing a B.S. in Comprehensive Science and Honors.

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