Honors thesis participants find experience rewarding

Trevor Ivan

For one recent Kent State graduate, completing a senior honors thesis just seemed like the thing to do.

“When it was time for me to start thinking about doing a thesis, I knew several people who were either just starting one or just finishing one,” said Jason Norris, a May 2005 graduate. “I just figured it was something I was going to do too.”

The thesis is a research project students in the Honors College have the option of doing, said Vicki Bocchicchio, thesis coordinator. The project, which is spread over at least two semesters, is worth 10 upper-division credit hours.

She said the Honors College is currently working to recruit juniors who are interested in writing a senior honors thesis.

The student researches a topic, completes a research paper or some sort of creative project and then presents his or her work to a faculty committee.

Bocchicchio said more than 60 students are working on a thesis this year. Previously, that number was about 40 students.

The first step in doing a thesis is choosing a topic and turning in a proposal for approval by the dean of the Honors College.

Norris said the topic for his thesis grew out of a project from another class. He wrote a paper for a class in recent American history about the Korean War. His thesis focused on why this conflict is considered forgotten in American history.

“I started off with one question in mind for this project,” Norris said. “I wanted to find out why the Korean Civil War was considered forgotten in American history.”

Norris said it is important to be willing to alter the focus of the thesis if the research points someone in another direction. The focus of his paper changed slightly as he researched further.

“At the beginning, I thought I would be looking through textbooks, examining U.S. policies and domestic events to figure out why the Korean Civil War is considered forgotten,” he said. “In the end, my project ended up being based on theoretical ideas.”

Bocchicchio said it is important for students to find a focused and workable topic that can be completed within two semesters.

“I once had a student who wanted to research all of the literature that surrounded the King Arthur legend,” she said. “This would be a lifetime’s work. She then narrowed her topic down to how the legend influenced British national identity.”

Manny Rey, another recent Kent State graduate, narrowed his thesis topic several times. He said the more research a student does, the more he or she realizes there are limitations on that topic. His thesis focused on how Islam influences nationalism in Iran.

“When I started out, I wanted to see how Islam influenced nationalism in general,” Rey said. “However, I soon found out that I couldn’t do that and do justice to all the literature that was out there.”

Another important aspect in the thesis process is choosing a faculty adviser, Bocchicchio said. This person works one-on-one with the student to ensure that the thesis is progressing on time. The faculty adviser grades the project after the student presents it to a faculty committee.

Bocchicchio said students need to respect the opinion of their faculty advisers.

“If an adviser asks a student to rewrite something for the third time, the student needs to realize that he or she is not being picky,” she said. “The adviser is simply helping the student to produce the best work possible.”

Norris said the faculty adviser, as well as the other committee members, is there to help the student progress through this topic in a consultative role.

“My committee was like my (Presidential) cabinet,” he said. “They were there to advise me, but the ultimate decisions rested with me since it was my paper.”

A student needs to remain in contact with his or her adviser to ensure that the thesis is progressing as planned, Bocchicchio said.

“If you’re turning in updated work on a regular basis, it’s much easier to fix any problems that may arise,” she said. “If you hand them 70 pages of work at the end of the semester, it’s going to be much harder to fix the problems that come up.”

Norris said it is important to have a timetable to work with in order to stay organized since this project is very time-consuming.

“When I thought of my topic, I sat down with my adviser, and we came up with a game plan,” he said. “We decided when I would have my research done, when I would write the bulk of my paper and when I would work on revising it.”

When the paper is completed, the student defends his or her work to a faculty committee consisting of the faculty adviser, a faculty member from the same discipline the student is working in, a faculty member from another discipline and a member of the Honors College Policy Council.

Bocchicchio said the student will give a short presentation of his or her work, and then the committee will ask the student questions about the topic.

Norris said this is a rewarding part of doing the thesis.

“During the time you are presenting, all eyes are on you,” he said. “These people are interested to learn what you have discovered while doing your research.”

Larry Andrews, dean of the Honors College, said the thesis can be a precursor to research projects in graduate school.

“The thesis shows that a student undertook a project that required time management and perseverance,” Andrews said.

He also said a student’s faculty adviser will be an important reference when the student applies to graduate school since that faculty member can provide specific details about a student’s work ethic.

Norris, who is now in graduate school at the University of Akron, said the topic for his master’s thesis came from the work he did on his honors thesis.

Rey, who now works for the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure in Washington, D.C., said the thesis can benefit students who are entering the professional world as well.

“These skills are transferable to the professional world,” Rey said. “Employers are looking for students who can work on large projects and meet deadlines.”

The student feels a true sense of accomplishment after completing the thesis, Norris said.

“You feel a certain amount of pride,” he said. “You know that you conquered a challenge and set goals for yourself in order to make the project better.”

Contact honors and international affairs reporter Trevor Ivan at [email protected].