Thesis: Not Just for Seniors

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by Audrey Werth, ’11

Thesis talk tends to ramp up as the spring semester draws closer to the end and seniors are in the thick of presentations, performances, and exhibits. At any given moment, you can still hear seniors discussing the inspiration for their thesis topic, sharing some interesting fact they learned working on their thesis, or—most common—emphasizing all the work they put into this capstone experience. But theses don’t only affect seniors—they have an impact on the whole campus community, sometimes by design.

amanda-thesis-poster.jpgTheater major Amanda Rowe-Van Allen chose a work of Greek theater, Euripides' Medea, for her topic. “My thesis, ‘Mimesis and the Modern Stage,’ is about exploring a new approach for modern American theater artists to experience and perform Ancient Greek theater,” she says.

To adapt Medea into something new, Amanda created a script through a process called devising, a collaborative, improvisational approach between the performers and the writer or director that allows the actors to experience a new form of theater. The process also changed the perspective from which many students viewed theater. “There seems to have been a shift in how people see the creation of theater,” she explains. “It isn't just about the final product. It's also about the process.”

Just as Amanda's thesis involved fellow students’ perspectives, so did Lauren Payne-Riley’s. Lauren, who has a double concentration in Psychology and Social Action and Social Change, focused her efforts on feedback and how it impacts behavior.

Her thesis, “An Exploration in Changing Recycling Behavior,” includes research on the psychological reasons we do and don't recycle. Lauren carried out a hands-on study in several dorms on campus. “On a more practical level what it involves is literally every morning, sorting through the trash and recycling bins counting the plastics, glasses, and metals,” she recounts.

thesis-2012-final_Page_1.jpgLauren sorted through the waste to track our recycling habits, then provided feedback she hopes will give us incentive to recycle more. The feedback came in the form of signs by the recycling bins showing students the impact their habits have on their environment. On any given day, one sign might read something along the lines of, “In 10 days you have recycled enough bottles & cans to illuminate a 60 watt light bulb for 98.6 hours.” So far she has seen positive results due to the feedback she gives.

Lauren and Amanda have very different goals and expectations for their theses, but what connects them is the relationship they have had to the rest of campus. Lauren combined her interest in psychology and concern for a healthy future to create a thesis focused on changing our recycling habits. Amanda, on the other hand, used her knowledge of Greek theater and an interest in modern American theater to bring together a work devised in collaboration with other Rockers.

Each thesis is a representation of the close relationships we form on this campus. While seniors may bear the workload required to create a thesis, they not only attract the attention of other interested students, often other students are a critical part of senior’s research and creativity.