For many fourth-years at the University, their thesis is the culmination of their undergraduate academic career. While required in some majors and optional in others, every year hundreds of students complete original research in their academic field. Transcending the strict timeline of the quarter system, thesis research spans months (sometimes even years!) as students more thoroughly explore their academic passions. While the thesis process varies from major to major, three students share their projects in order to illuminate the work so many students undertake.
Maria Buckley, History, “Buried In Bronzeville: The Persistent Memory of Stephen Douglas in Light of Lincoln”
For Maria Buckley, her topic was down the street. She studied the Stephen Douglas tomb and monument, located at 35th Street in Bronzeville.
“What immediately struck me was how strange it was that there’s this monument to this guy who was pro-slavery in what is historically an all-black and culturally significant all-black neighborhood,” she said, adding that this project is especially important “in our day and age when people are questioning public memorials to questionable figures of the past.”
Buckley delved into her question for more than a year, in accordance with the History department’s thesis process. She, and other students in the major, began a seminar in the spring of her third year, researched over the summer and fall, and was expected to write forty to sixty pages in the winter in order to turn in a completed thesis by the beginning of spring.
Buckley utilized the Stephen Douglas Papers in the Special Collections Research Center in her paper, as well as her graduate preceptor, faculty advisor, peers, and library bibliographer Nancy Spiegel. Ultimately, she argued that Stephen Douglas has managed to survive in the public memory as relatively moderate figure because of his ties to Abraham Lincoln.
Centering her project around a physical monument allowed Buckley a means of which to clearly understand the implications of her project.
“It’s already kind of hard to make meaning out of ‘what am I doing with this thing, what does it mean,’ so it was nice having something tangible to explain that and use as a window to understand a tiny part of the city,” she said.
While her thesis is finished, Buckley isn’t done with Stephen Douglas just yet. The Stephen Douglas Association invited her to attend a commemoration of the monument on the anniversary of Douglas’ death on June 3.
Bryan Popoola, International Studies & Economics, “Pinochet's Chile: Examining the Role of the Military Junta in Chile's Free-Market Miracle”
Bryan Popoola leveraged his interest in international affairs and his Spanish skills into an international project. Interested in the University’s role in Chile’s economic transformation through the training of the “Chicago Boys,” he studied the structure and actions of Chile's military junta in order to understand the successful transformation of the nation's economy from 1973 to 1990.
The International Studies department requires a BA thesis, and students typically complete a ten-page paper in one of the introductory seminars that can be an introduction to their projects. Popoola wrote about Chile and was able to visit Chile through a Foreign Language Acquisition Grant, a competitive award that provides substantial financial assistance to defray the cost of intermediate or advanced language study abroad.
“I think the most important thing for me was being able to talk to other Chileans there and contextualize my BA question and the problem that I presented,” he said.
He spent three months in Chile during the summer of 2015, getting a head start on his thesis. Through the International Studies major, he began formal thesis seminars in the fall of his fourth year and completed his forty-five-page thesis in the early spring.
A key influence on his project was Victor Lima, the head of the undergraduate Economics department. Lima served as Popoola’s reader and provided him with background knowledge from his own experience as a Chilean citizen. Popoola also praised his graduate preceptor and peers for their help in workshopping his project.
“Being able to see the progress that I’ve made come together as a coherent project with a coherent argument with all of my own research, I have to say that was extremely rewarding,” he said. “Being able to put together something I’m really proud of is the most rewarding for me.”
Corson Barnard, Theater and Performance Studies (TAPS), “A Twinklin' Rhyme: Musically Adapting the Children's Quest Novel”
TAPS major Corson Barnard embraced both the written and the performative dimensions of theater with her senior thesis, a musical adaptation of Madeleine L’Engle’s beloved children’s book A Wrinkle in Time. Through a critical analysis of the plot structure of children's quest novels, she adapted the book into a revue (or concert) performed for a public audience.
In the TAPS major, students complete six theory-based classes and six practice-based classes to prepare for the thesis project, which requires both a critical component and creative one.
“You’re both learning about the history and tradition of theater and getting your feet on the ground and doing and making,” Barnard said. “That structure mimics the BA process."
Barnard’s process began in the fall of this year, as she worked through the theoretical and practical dimensions of her critical and creative thesis. She first proposed her topic as a joke, but was encouraged to pursue her passion for it by her faculty advisor.
“My big question was how do you build a narrative, and especially how do children’s books build narrative and build plot, and what is the relationship between character and plot, and how does ploy drive character and character drive plot?” she said.
Barnard utilized both faculty resources and a full creative team (including a director and production staff) in order to write her critical analysis and produce her creative piece. Consisting of her original songs and lines from the book, the show debuted at the Logan Arts Center in late April. The Chicago Maroon reviewed the production, praising Barnard’s “keen sense of character that her cast executed with great skill."
She hopes to submit her work to some of Chicago’s theater festivals in order to bring her work to a larger audience.