Students conquer honors thesis projects

By Jonathan Soder, Features Editor

Come fall semester of junior year, students, particularly honors students, are at the point where they must decide whether or not to write a senior thesis.

For those who do, the process will span the last three semesters of their college career and involve extensive research into a specified topic within the student’s major.

While a daunting task for most, the road to a thesis project is well-mapped and traveled by many former and current thesis writers here at OBU.

One of these travelers is associate professor of philosophy and director of the honor program Dr. Tawa An-derson.

A two-time thesis writer himself, first for his undergraduate and second for his Ph.D., Anderson now oversees the thesis writing process for the honors program as head of the Honors committee.

His responsibilities include reviewing and approving thesis proposals in conjunction with the faculty advisor whom the student has chosen to study under.

As an unofficial part of his job, Anderson offers students advice about choosing their faculty advisor.

“Be diligent and regular in meeting with your faculty advisor,” Anderson said.

Anderson said that choosing correctly in the first place involves specific considerations for both the student and the faculty advisor.

“Choose your faculty mentor carefully,” Anderson said. “Ensure that it’s somebody who you really do want to work with because you’re stuck with them for the duration. And, ensure that it’s somebody you know has the time and ability to shepherd you through this process.”

This is advice for any student who wants to complete a senior thesis, not just those in the honors program.

Faculty advisors serve as editors and guides through the process of the contracted study, which is a semester of research that typically happens during the spring semester of junior year.

Research varies widely depending on the student’s major and proposed topic.

Senior math education major Hannah Durkee is writing her thesis over the merits of teaching formal mathematics instead of applied mathematics in primary and secondary education.

During her contracted study, she had to resort to research methods which are less common for most thesis writers.

“There wasn’t a lot of literature, or studies that had been done previously, so I didn’t have that to pull from,” Durkee said, “I decided to do my own survey and interviews and things like that.”

Durkee sent out an email to every person listed on Oklahoma’s Department of Education website as a secondary math teacher, over 3,000 emails in total. Of that total, 169 teachers replied.

Durkee said one of her favorite parts of this process has been reading the suggestions teachers gave in response to several of the questions included on the survey.

“One of them was like, ‘If you could change the state standards, would you. If so, how?’,” Durkee said. “Some of those were really good responses because there’s a lot of people who are, obviously, very passionate about state standards and standardized testing and things like that.”

Durkee also received practical advice as a result of the survey without intentionally seeking it out.

“I just got tons of really good ideas to use with my future classes, which was really cool to be able to read those responses,” Durkee said. “That’s the part of the research that I enjoy the most, seeing things that actually help me and are directly applicable to the things I want to do.”

The enjoyment in learning Durkee expressed is one of the hopes Anderson and the honors program as a whole express for thesis writers.

Another portion of Anderson’s job is a joint effort with the rest of the Honors committee members to guide, review, critique and encourage students throughout the thesis writing process.

“The spirit [of the committee] is one of sharpening,” Anderson said. “The biggest blessing from being on the Honors Committee is that we get to learn an incredible amount by reading through all of these thesis projects each year… We need to approach it with a spirit of openness and teachability.”

The spirit of the committee is two-fold though, just as the analogy in scripture of brothers sharpening one another as “iron sharpens iron.”

“The other spirit that we need to have is one of constructive criticism…” Anderson said. “Although we may not be experts in the discipline or the area that the student is writing, we’re nonetheless intelligent enough that we can follow the research, we can follow the line of argumentation and we can become familiar with the material, familiar enough we’re able to give meaningful input.”

Critiques come primarily from the student’s continual contact with his/her faculty advisor and two progress report meetings with the Honors Committee – one in the fall semester and one in early spring.

Students also send their paper to a reader outside of OBU to have it critiqued after both progress reports have occurred.

Receiving criticism is one of the aspects of thesis writing that Anderson said students consistently struggle with.

Often students misinterpret the suggestions the committee is making for them or are frustrated by the need to return and expand on a project that has already taken nine months of their time.

His tips for dealing with this? Be teachable. Just as the Honors Committee is learning from a student’s research, so too should the student be willing to continue learning about their topic and how to properly explain it even after the bulk of research and writing is over.

As mentioned previously, thesis writing isn’t exclusively for honors students. Assistant professor of mathematics Dr. Cherith Tucker is working on the Honors Committee as well as advising a non-Honors thesis for senior math Kelsi Guleserian.

“I have been incredibly proud of Kelsi Guleserian this semester,” Tucker said. “Our research has taken many unexpected turns and we’ve been stuck many times, but she has had a great attitude and a passion for our work throughout the entire process.”

At this point in the semester, Durkee is approximately a third of the way through her estimated 60-page paper. On October 25, she will meet with members of the Honors Committee like Anderson and Tucker for her fall progress report.

Once that’s done, she’ll continue writing in preparation for her spring progress report, all the while guided by Anderson, committee members and her advisor, Dr. Sarah Marsh.

For any underclassmen interested in writing a senior thesis, Tucker suggests talking to professors before junior year to make sure they are capable and willing to advise.

On top of this, reading articles inside of one’s field of study is a good way for students to begin narrowing their topic even before submitting a proposal.

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