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Thesis: everyone’s got to write one in order to graduate. For some, it’s a time of discovery in which they can pursue a specific interest or topic within their major(s); for others, it’s a time to stress-eat and cry while procrastinating until the last minute. Either way, seniors deserve recognition for their theses.

Each thesis is unique, but The Forum decided to shine a spotlight on a handful of interesting and unconventional projects that this year’s seniors have pursued. With majors ranging from International Relations to Philosophy to Science and Management, the following eight seniors shared details about their theses and how they tackled or plan to tackle the capstone project of their college career.   


Isabel Wade ‘16
Major: International Relations

Mauritania has the highest number of slaves per capita of any country in the world. Slavery was only abolished in 1981 and made illegal in 2007. Today, many elites in the nation still deny that slavery exists and do little to eliminate it, imprisoning and persecuting NGO and political leaders who try to take steps to stop the issue. My thesis focuses on how the United States can use its leverage in Mauritania to pressure for key legal reforms to eradicate slavery in the nation. As the United States also has security interests in the region through the Trans-Saharan Counterterrorism Partnership, my thesis will also examine how these interests will impact potential humanitarian efforts and how they could potentially impact the fight against terror in the region. I have researched this topic in the U.S. and on the ground in Mauritania, conducting interviews and living with Mauritanian families for two weeks during my time abroad.

Ben Turner ‘16
Major: Government

My fall semester thesis was centered on the question of how different people perceive political satire, specifically, how different audiences respond to The Colbert Report. I’m a fan of late night comedy and satire, so focusing in on a topic surrounding the area was a huge treat and something that’s been a ton of fun get to research in-depth. It also has tied into my interest in the sociological elements of the Government major—Professor Shields, my reader, has made it all the more informed. A lot of what I’ve found out about has been centered on Stephen Colbert himself and the Stephen Colbert character portrayed on The Colbert Report, and some of the differences between the two. For instance, while Stephen Colbert attended Northwestern University, “Stephen Colbert” attended Dartmouth College.

Lauren Kelley ‘16
Major: International Relations & Philosophy dual

The topic of my senior thesis is “Trauma and Personal Identity.” It is not necessarily uncommon for a person who has experienced severe trauma to say, “I am a different person now.” I am exploring how the case of the trauma victim seems to present a challenge for metaphysical theories for identity, and whether we require a different or additional mechanism to properly evaluate it. To do this, I am using accounts from victims of the Genocide Against the Tutsi in Rwanda. I chose the Rwandan genocide because I was greatly inspired by the time I spent studying abroad in Kigali, Rwanda. While conducting interviews for my independent research, I was told countless stories about the horrific acts that took place during the genocide; I wanted to find a way to share some of the stories of Rwanda, and to recognize the feelings of the trauma victim regarding their own identity. I suppose my topic is unusual because trauma is a difficult topic to confront, and, therefore, people tend to stay away from it. My topic also stands out a bit because, unfortunately, stories about the genocide in Rwanda are not often heard here.

Kari Linder ‘16
Major: Psychology with Computer Science sequence

I will be looking into the empathetic relationship between people and animals with my year-long thesis. I’d like to learn why we value the welfare of some animals much more than others, even when those animals might be very similar. We classify animals into a few distinct groups: companion animals, which are pets like dogs and cats; utility animals, which are animals that serve a purpose like cows farmed for dairy or meat, foxes farmed for fur; and wild animals that don’t directly interact with humans at all. I’m looking at whether these groups affect the degree to which people empathize with animals that are otherwise very similar. This research is intended to bridge gaps between empathy towards other humans and empathy towards other animals. If we can manipulate the degree to which people tend to relate to other animals by varying our descriptions of these animals, we can also manipulate people’s desire to protect them.

Lindsey Betts ‘16
Major: Literature

My thesis is on Melancholy and 17th Century Dramatics. It is a scholarly literature thesis analyzing portrayals of melancholy and the genre of humors in general within scientific books from the 1600s alongside Elizabethan drama. I would like to argue that storytelling and humanization of topics proved to be the most effective form of educating the layman about the medical field in this time period.  I will be looking closely at The Anatomy of Melancholy by Robert Burton as well as selected plays by William Shakespeare and Ben Jonson. I felt that I had to write my thesis on Shakespeare, since it was taking a class on his and Jonson’s works that convinced me to change my major to Literature. I also have a minor in Biology, so I’ve always been interested in the intersection of science and literature. I had the idea of focusing on the pseudoscience of bodily humors when I came across multiple works on the topic during my archival fellowship at the Honnold-Mudd Library. So far, the most interesting thing has been to read through The Anatomy of Melancholy. Burton is absolutely hilarious, and he breaks down the idea that melancholy is equivalent to depression or madness. I’m really excited to contribute to the scholarly discussion surrounding these topics and this time period.

Christus Ahmanson ‘16
Major: Literature

My thesis was an original screenplay about maturity set in the mode of a summer romance, structured like a classic Joseph Campbell monomyth. However, it offered a commentary on the unchanging nature of people by utilizing non-linear storytelling and inverting the typical hero’s journey narrative by having the protagonist end up, more or less, where he began. The story is structured so that the typical hero’s journey events are adapted into their more logical real-world parallels and characters suffer logical real-world results. Collin Williams, the protagonist, does not cross the threshold into a magical new land but instead into the fantastical realm of rock and roll; he does not vanquish his foe by the sword, and he does not save a beautiful maiden. In truth, my motivation for writing a screenplay is a bit more shrewd than utter artistic merit. I am trying to break into entertainment and storytelling through screenwriting—so, in addition to helping me graduate, I am also using it to land a job post-graduation. I also wanted to demonstrate that I achieved some kind of mastery over form and structure after years of studying with the Literature department, which gave me the motivation I needed to do a non-linear piece instead of a more standardly structured narrative. Highlighting specific tools and traits of cinema and the screenplay format was also a big concern and led to a heavy focus on music and the aural aspects of the script, using deliberate shifts in volume, timbre, and intensity to illuminate the multisensory experience cinema provides as opposed to strictly textual mediums.

Austin Wu ‘16
Major: Science and Management

My thesis will try to understand the current and future market landscape of medical diagnostic instruments, which involves tests for a variety of different diseases. I want to be able to characterize the laboratory setting of current hospitals of various sizes and regions, and project how the field of molecular diagnostics will evolve in the next decade. I chose to do this thesis because it allows me to understand the financial side of healthcare, which I believe blends the interdisciplinary nature of my major perfectly. As an aspiring doctor, I think it is important to better understand how healthcare corporations make research and product decisions, in order to bridge the relationship between product innovation and healthcare delivery. What is unusual about my thesis is that it actually involves working with a team of Master’s students at the Keck Graduate Institute. With this team, we partner with sponsoring corporations to solve actual problems in industry, providing practical, hands-on experience in the corporate healthcare sector. While most thesis research is purely academic, the thesis research I am conducting in KGI is purely industrial.

Anthony Davanzo ‘16
Major: Philosophy & Computer Science

Why should we do anything? What is the best way to live life? These are the types of questions that existential philosophy tries to answer.  My thesis is an attempt to synthesize existential philosophies, draw largely from Nietzsche’s work, to answer specifically this question of the best way to live life.  However, directly answering these types of questions generally involves vague and qualification-laden argumentation, which in turn makes the core arguments opaque and intangible to the reader. Thus, I decided to write a philosophical play along the lines of a Platonic dialogue, that demonstrates the principles of my arguments in practice while simultaneously providing those arguments through both the dialogue between the main characters and a seemingly omniscient narrator and footnotes. The play follows two characters delving deep into depression and existential questioning as the result of a misfortunate accident, only to discover their own ability to give form to the world they reside in.