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It's Senior Thesis Season

Students sunbathe on the steps of Columbia University's Low Memorial Library, April 29, 2015 in New York. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)
Students sunbathe on the steps of Columbia University's Low Memorial Library, April 29, 2015 in New York. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)

With Jane Clayson

College seniors present the capstone of their academic careers: the senior thesis. We’ll dive in with the Class of 2018, with a few members joining our program to talk about their labors of love.


McKay Coppins, senior writer, The Atlantic, graduate of Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah. ( @mckaycoppins)

Caleb Winn, senior neuroscience major at the University of Vermont. His senior thesis is titled “Viral Vector-mediated Indirect Pathway Upregulation in the Dorsolateral Striatum: A Discussion on Basal Ganglia Habit- and Goal-directed Circuits.”

Nkechi Nnorom, senior journalism major at Howard University. Her thesis is titled “Coloring the Pitch: Exploring the Impact of News Coverage of Black Athletes’ Branding Power.”

Alison Cribb, senior Earth and Environmental Sciences major at Vanderbilt University. Her senior thesis is titled “Terminal Neoproteroic Bioturbation and Implications For The Ediacaran Extinction.”

Timothy Johnson, senior international history major at The United States Military Academy, and James Dobson, senior human geography major at The United States Military Academy, whose co-written senior thesis is titled “Ethnic Integration in the Bosnian Military.”

Emily Schario, senior communications and English double major at Stonehill College. Her senior thesis is titled “A Comparison Study of the Wardrobes of the Female Hosts of Fox News and MSNBC.”

De’Marcus Robinson, senior environmental science major at Florida A&M. His thesis is titled “Electrospinning Polyethylene Oxide and Cyclodextrin Derivatives of Oil Absorption.”

On Pointer staffers share their senior theses:

Brian Hardzinski, producer:

“I earned bachelor’s degrees in both journalism and history during my four years at the University of Oklahoma, so it’s only natural I would combine the two concentrations and passions for my history degree’s senior thesis. My capstone focused on the Cold War from 1945-1955, I was also a broadcasting major, and George Clooney’s biopic Good Night, and Good Luck had just come out, so (perhaps predictably) the stars aligned and I spent my penultimate semester researching and writing “Good Night for Ed, Bad Luck for Joe: Edward R. Murrow and Television’s Role in Bringing Down Joseph McCarthy.” I traced the Wisconsin Republican Senator’s rise to prominence, his targeting of purported communists in the State Department and the Army, and veteran broadcaster Murrow’s responsible and appropriate use of the burgeoning medium to call McCarthy out for leading the mid-20th century “Red Scare.” Murrow’s reputation, accuracy, and fair-handedness earned him a great deal of autonomy from both his network – CBS – and his program See It Now’s chief advertiser – ALCOA – and modern journalists would do themselves a great service taking their cues from Murrow’s values and ethos. I suppose my efforts were successful – I aced the course, won a $300 prize presenting it at OU’s Undergraduate Research Day, and used that money to buy a Nintendo Wii. #priorities” 

Karen Shiffman, executive producer:

If you want to graduate from Barnard College, you need to write a senior thesis. Mine was titled, “The Three Melville Revivals: A Study of a Literary Reputation.” My research focused on three books: ”Typee,“ “Moby Dick,” and “Pierre, or the Ambiguities.” I did a deep dive into the social and political forces at work when each book was popular. I read captains’ logs, some Freud and scoured the New Testament. I read about modernization in America and the country’s seafaring past. Late into the night, I wondered — What changed when settlers branded this part of our continent “America”? Or when Melville called the white whale Moby Dick? Was crazy Pierre, with all his ambiguities, a treasure trove for a country deep into psychoanalysis? These were the questions that filled my head. My parents only had one question: What was my plan after college? For that, I had no answer. In early-May, I handed in my thesis, all 75 pages, neatly typed on erasable paper, bound in a faux-letter black binder. I was proud. The only long-term value of this thesis is that I briefly had a dog named Typee, and I’ve had several goldfish named Moby Dick.

Eileen Imada, director:

My undergraduate school, The College of Wooster, required all students to complete a senior Independent Study (I.S.). Mine was on cyanobacteria (aka pond scum). Cyanobacteria can float to the surface of freshwater bodies and is sometimes toxic, poisoning livestock and humans. Fluorescent labeling can be used to detect the toxins, which was the focus of research I did while in Scotland. Since my interest was in science journalism, my thesis was a compilation of that research and interviews with top experts on cyanobacteria in Dayton, Ohio and Dundee, Scotland. The end result was a series of articles written for a range of audiences: the college’s alumni publication, a student publication of the American Chemical Society, a chemistry trade publication, and a popular science magazine.

Emily Schario, On Point intern (and producer for this show):

After hearing Katie Couric comment on how many current female newscasters dress like cocktail waitresses, I was curious to see how accurate her observation was. For my senior thesis, “A Comparative Study of the Wardrobes of the Women of Fox News and MSNBC,” I watched five consecutive weeks of cable news (no, I’m not kidding), and created a quantitative set of data measuring how much skin each female host showed on camera. After my research was completed, it was clear that Fox News had significantly higher scores than MSNBC. Perhaps the most jarring sets of numbers in my study was that over the five-week period of watching these networks, I only saw the legs of the women of MSNBC 8 times, whereas on Fox News, I saw legs 137 times. With these numbers in mind, I ultimately point to discussions of the objectification of women and the implications of these images on their respective audiences.

Brian Amaral, producer:

I did a final project in the advanced reporting class with one of the two best professors I ever had, Joel Kaplan. He was also the toughest, and he did not suffer fools gladly. It became very important to me to impress the difficult-to-impress Kaplan, get an A in his class and become one of his most memorable students of all time.

For my final capstone project, I reported a story about supermarket food deserts. The one supermarket in Syracuse’s South Side neighborhood that I covered closed, leaving the people who lived there — mostly black and economically disadvantaged — without good options for healthy food. I crunched numbers, pored over maps, and walked around the South Side to get a personal angle for.

I passed in my project and didn’t hear a word about it, but some weeks later I saw my final grade: It was an A or an A- (I forget exactly). I had this image of Kaplan sitting at his desk and muttering, “Darn it, Amaral, you did it. You really did it.” When I went back to Syracuse about three years later I paid him a visit in his new suite as a dean. Part of me (most of me) expected him to recall fondly the journalism student who showed such signs of early promise and who’d made it as a professional.

Kaplan didn’t remember who I was. And I loved him all the more for it.

Allison Pohle, producer:

I spent the last semester of my senior year at the University of Missouri planning not just one wedding, but a whole magazine full of them. As a magazine journalism major, my capstone project was to create a brand new magazine, one that could fill a void in the market. Gay marriage wasn’t yet legalized nationwide, but my team and I watched an increasing number of courts and voters across the country shatter laws prohibiting gay people from legally recognizing their marriages.

That’s where UNION came in. We created what was, to our knowledge, the first print magazine for gay men planning their weddings. We surveyed gay men across the country about what they wanted to see in a wedding magazine, and, using their input, planned our editorial content. We covered everything from how to pick the right suit to changing your name to places that are safe for gay men to honeymoon. We also developed an advertising strategy and business plan, which taught us firsthand just how difficult it is to run a profitable publication.

At the end of the semester, we presented our magazine prototype and business plan to executives from Meredith Corporation in Des Moines, Iowa. The executives ended up voting our prototype as the best developed magazine, and we came in first place. Of course, that was thrilling. But, forgive my corniness, in a last semester filled with stresses about final projects, deadlines and graduation, what we enjoyed most was celebrating love.

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