Spotlight on Senior Theses

This year, 21 seniors embarked on the intellectual journey of writing their senior theses. Students independently explored topics of their individual academic and career interests with the guidance of faculty tutors and readers, both from within the Honors Program and from within the students’ respective disciplines. This yearlong research exploration offers an incredible chance for students to delve deeper into topics that they may not have otherwise had the time or opportunity to study. All students doing the thesis track also took the Thesis Seminar course during the Fall and Spring Semesters. The independent research is then followed by a subsequent defense of the student’s topic before a faculty panel.

This year’s Honors Thesis Defenses were held between April 11th and April 22nd. A few students’ theses are highlighted below, followed by a full list of the students and topics. 

 

Nicholas Ader

Mary Frances Roth

Thesis: What Does it Mean to Do Fulfilling Work?

Majors: Classics, Humanities

Minor: History

Postgraduate Plans: I’m currently looking into a broad range of careers from teaching, to the corporate world, to law, with the possibility of further pursuing Classics.

Briefly explain your topic and what you were looking to find.

My thesis seeks to explore how, as a society, our definition of 'work' has evolved and how our concept of being human has been negatively impacted due to these changes. My goal is to begin to answer the question, "How can we fix this?" First I will attempt to establish what it means to live a fulfilling human life by contemplating the implications of boundless technological innovation and the idea that "living for the weekend" is something we should accept. 

What motivated you to conduct this research?

After my third semester of Interdsic, I found myself fascinated by the way work and technology can dehumanize us and prevent us from being engaged in the world around us and in our own lives. One thing I have always struggled with, however, is how to make the solution to this problem realistic and implementable; writing this thesis has allowed me to wrestle with these ideas. 

What is the most interesting thing you learned while conducting your research?

One of the most interesting things I have observed is the idea that enjoying your work for its inherent qualities is, often times, very much dependent on what people choose to study. I have found that an appreciation for disciplines within the humanities correlates to a greater appreciation for engaging in meaningful work. 

How do you plan on using the information that your thesis uncovered? What kind of attention do you hope your research triggers?

I would love if my research encouraged people to be more preemptively contemplative regarding the implications of technology rather than merely examining the issue retrospectively. I hope they can see the importance of deriving some sense of fulfillment from work rather than seeing it as simply a means to amass wealth or power. 

 

Alyssa Nazar

Patrick O’Toole

Thesis: The Limits to Intelligence: Why U.S. Intelligence Failed to Prevent Terrorist Surprise Attacks in the Past and Why it Will Continue to Fail in the Future

Major: Political Science

Minor: Economics

Postgraduate plans: Legal Technologies Consultant at Navigant Consulting’s New York Office

Briefly explain your topic and what you were looking to find.

My thesis aims to explore and understand why U.S. intelligence agencies failed to predict, prevent, and defend against two surprise attacks carried out by al-Qaeda around the turn of the century.  Its goal is to unravel why, even with the ample amounts of information available, U.S. intelligence agencies failed to stop these past attacks.  But it is not only asking why intelligence failed in these past instances—it also asking what we can learn from these cases about the ability, or inability, of intelligence to succeed in the future.  I want to determine if failures simply represent an occasional lapse in aptitude, or if they represent an inevitable manifestation of something more foundational to the intelligence mission itself.

What motivated you to conduct this research? 

I think Political Scientists, Economists, etc. have always been interested in failure, not so that we can replicate it, but so that we can avoid it in the future.  There seems to be something inherently interesting for scholarship about failure.  Likewise, asking why intelligence agencies fail is by no means purely a pedantic question, its conclusions actually have direct effects on policy reform and national well-being.  Simply put, we aim to understand failure so that we may succeed in the future. 

For me it has also been a deeply personal question; it was derived from my own professional ambitions.  In my studies of Political Science, I’ve developed a particular affinity toward intelligence and foreign affairs.  I hope to someday work for U.S. intelligence in the fight against terrorism, so the conclusions of this research, for me, had very real implications: what can I learn from this research that might help me get a job in the field I desire? What can I learn from this research that might make me a better analyst or better operator? What can I learn from this research so that I personally do not fall into the same traps others have fallen into in the past?

What is the most interesting thing you learned while conducting your research?

This was the most challenging academic journey I have ever been on.  I now have incredible compassion and respect for the true scholars of the field, the ones that dedicate their lives to chasing these elusive questions.  This type of research project, which has been invaluably enlightening for me, would be impossible without their continued effort and drive in pushing the discipline forward. 

How do you plan on using the information that your thesis uncovered? What kind of attention do you hope your research triggers?

Ultimately, I hope my conclusion, that intelligence failures are inevitable and actually natural, turns out to be wrong.  I hope that with certain targeted reforms and initiatives, the United States can create an infallible security apparatus.  But if we don’t, what I want people to take from my research is that we should not judge each failure as a condemnation of the intelligence apparatus itself.   Certainly, my research points to a call for heightened scrutiny in the face of failures; but more importantly, I hope that it calls for a greater appreciation of those in the intelligence business and an ultimate recognition of the limits to intelligence.  In that sense, I hope my research triggers more of a conceptual shift rather than any type of institutional or policy-related one.  

John Szot

Danny Shea

Thesis: There’s A Lot of Work to Do: Social Class and Access to Social Services among Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Americans

Majors: Sociology, Spanish

Postgraduate Plans: I’m going to be working with Philly Fellows, an AmeriCorps program that will place me with an anti-poverty organization in Philadelphia for a year.

Briefly explain your topic and what you were looking to find.

I wanted to answer two questions with my research. The first was whether or not LGB individuals face a social and economic disadvantage when compared to their straight counterparts. The second was how might the way in which LGB individuals access social services and other types of assistance offset any disadvantage they might face. My research has suggested that LGB individuals - especially women and people of color - do face economic disadvantage and that members of the community access government assistance at a higher rate than the general population.

What motivated you to conduct this research?

I'm interested in a career in LGBT-focused social services organizations, and wanted to learn more about the population and how social services might better serve LGB individuals and communities. 

What is the most interesting thing you learned while conducting your research?

I think what surprised me most during the research process was how dynamic social science research can be. While my general topic was consistent throughout, my research questions (and answers) changed constantly as I found new information and new data. This made the process more exciting and even more rewarding than I expected it to be.

How do you plan on using the information that your thesis uncovered? What kind of attention do you hope your research triggers?

I think that research like mine confirms the importance of legal protections for LGBT individuals and other marginalized populations. At a time when these protections are being widely challenged - even banned in some places - I think it's important to recognize how important they are in offsetting the disadvantages that many LGBT individuals face. 

Other Senior Thesis Topics

Casey Berner: White Horses in Their Blood: Eugenics, Motherhood and Racial Liminality in Summer, Passing and the Imitation of Life

Abram Capone: Walter Benjamin and Theories of Musical Listening

Melissa Connolly: We Read So You Skim: Skimming in the Attention Economy

Chloe DeEntremont: Disney’s Social and Gender Hierarchies: The Gendered Communication Styles and Relationships between Princesses, Princes, and Animal Sidekicks

Olivia Hamilton: Communitas: How Spaces Shape Community at Villanova University

Alexandra Laird: Chaos and Order in Tragedy

Rebecca Lin: Role of Reactive Oxygen Species in Electrophile-Mediated Nrf2 Activation

Katrina Marks: From Memorial Altarrs to Altered Memory: Memorialzizing the Collective Trauma of Zanzibar’s Slave Trade at Christ Church Cathedral

Caitlin Mitchell: Difficult Conversations

Prasanth Romiyo: Estrogen-Induced Actiation of the NF-k8 Pathway in the Inflammatory Response of the Immature Rat Uterus

Rodrigo Rivera: The Virtue of Emotions

Alexander Sebastiao: Trace Metal Sediment Loading in the Mill Creek: A Spatial and Temporal Analysis of Vehicular Pollutants in Suburban Waterways

Emily Tift: Mother Knows Best: Female Federal Judges and the Impact of Ethnicity, Sexuality, Class, and Gender in Shaping Personal and Political Definitions of Motherhood

Ashley Van Havel: The Standardization of the American Classroom

Adam Vincent: Eurocentrism in BuzzFeed’s Study Abroad Articles

Kathleen Walsh: Anger as a Positive Political Emotion

Ian Simpson: Should Economics Be Concerned with Ethics? 

Written by Newsletter Co-Editor, Margaret Shull '16 CLAS. Margaret is receiving a degree in French and Francophone Studies and Honors, with a concentration in Ethics and Healthcare. 

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