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Honors Students Write Undergraduate Theses

Honors Students Write Undergraduate Theses

The honors program at Graceland is comprised of students in a variety of majors and all different levels of learning. Honors students are required to take four statement classes: Honors English, Honors Humanities, and the two ever-so-slightly dreaded Junior and Senior Honors Seminars.

The program this year, like every year, is full of bright minds that want to enhance their knowledge and their ability to achieve knowledge. The seminar class meets once a week on Monday nights and every class a small number of students from all kinds of disciplines present theses that they have been working on to other students in the class and members of the Graceland community. The presentations tend to last around two hours and forty-five minutes and typically include lecture, activities, and an abundance of delicious treats. In addition to the presentations, students also write a 25-30 page paper on the same topic.

“Honors seminar is an outlet for students to explore and challenge issues and topics affecting our world today and to also shape opinions about these issues through scholarly research we present to our peers,” Junior Zack Ferrara says.

I had the opportunity to present my Junior thesis last week on peace parks and their potential application to developing nations, and while the research and the amount of work that I put in was sometimes overbearing, I’m very happy with how everything turned out in the end.

Next week, four honors students are presenting their projects: Mikayla Conway, who will be discussing sensory processing disorder, Lashaunda Yates, who is presenting an argument about mass incarceration in the United States, Katie Valdez, who will be talking about medical missions, and Alyssa Dockins, who has written about gross domestic happiness. A lot of the students in honors tend to focus their theses on ideas in their major. For example, Leah Koch is an education major and her junior and senior presentations were on physical education in the classroom and inquiry-based learning in schools, respectively. Others, including myself, focus on ideas that interest them but may not have an application to their major field of study. My presentation was environmental justice-based and had a lot to do with international politics even though I am an English/Theatre double-major.

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Melissa Sherer presents on memory systems.

This week I had the chance to learn about memory systems and memory palaces from Melissa Sherer’s honors presentation. I learned how to route information that I wanted to learn to different objects or other ideas, and I even learned how to memorize a phone number (and actually remember it) in around three minutes.

Since Bob and Barb Mesle retired last year from Graceland, the honors program has been taken over by a slew of professors that make up the honors committee. From different backgrounds and interests, the committee evaluates the theses (along with two other student evaluators) and helps the students with whatever they can during the research progress. Karen Gergley, Brad Mercer, Raquel Moreira Portilho, Dan Platt, Tim Robbins, and Brian White make up the honors committee, and if that doesn’t sound like the best group of educated individuals to help you pull together a three hour presentation, I don’t know what to tell you.

If you have a friend in honors, go to their presentation! You don’t have to stay for the whole thing, and they’ll appreciate you coming at all. It’s nerve-wracking to give a presentation that long in front of so many of your peers, and a friendly face that doesn’t care how you do can definitely help alleviate some of that tension.

Incoming students can also apply for the honors program at any upcoming Academic Honors Day, and I would definitely recommend the program to anyone considering coming to Graceland. I have learned more than I ever thought possible and made friends that I might not have had the chance to meet elsewhere, and for that I feel truly blessed.

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About Jenna Pitstick

Jenna Pitstick is a junior Theatre & Film and English double-major with an avid love for dogs, pancakes, and social justice. She is also co-president of Graceland’s Social Equality Alliance.

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