While their four years at Bryant are marked by stellar academic accomplishments, the seniors in the Honors Program are known for saving the best for last. Through the Honors thesis, a year-long in-depth research project into a subject of the student’s choosing, they acquire important skills, explore new ideas, and employ new ways of thinking to produce results that matter.
“The Honors thesis projects represent a culmination of scholarship,” says Edinaldo Tebaldi, Ph.D., Professor of Economics and Director of the Honors Program. “They represent a culmination of the skills acquired over four years. They represent a culmination of critical thinking, of research, and of dedication.”
The projects is an ideal capstone for students eager to learn new things and advance their field. “I think one of the biggest reasons I joined the Honors program is I like to be challenged,” reflects Liam Mahler ’20. “And I know the other students in the Program feel the same way.”
Up to the challenge
This year’s 34 Honors thesis projects ranged from investigating ways to improve bankruptcy protections to exploring the social and political issues that inform Chilean street art. “A good Honors thesis begins with the student identifying a relevant question that is also of personal importance to them,” explains Tebaldi. “Then they need to engage in research, develop a framework and a course of action that will allow them to analyze and answer it.”
“It's really cool to have something that's your own from start to finish, where you come up with both the idea and the process.”
For his thesis project, Mahler, an Applied Mathematics major concentrating in Applied Analytics, examined how news sentiment can affect stock prices and used that information to build a predictive model. The thesis is a great way to test the skills he’s acquired he notes, but it’s also a chance to apply them in new ways. “The thesis project isn’t just about using what you know, it’s about continuing to learn along the way,” he says. “One of the benefits is that you learn how to figure things out and create something new.”
“It's really cool to have something that's your own from start to finish, where you come up with both the idea and the process,” Mahler adds.
“What these students learn through their projects is that it isn't enough just to believe something, you have to find the facts,” says Senior Communication Lecturer and Associate Director of the Honors Program Susan Baran. “They have to research. They have to dive deeper into issues and not just accept information at surface value.”
Expanding their horizons
For many Honors thesis students the projects give them the opportunity to pursue interdisciplinary topics or questions that may lie outside their major. “It helps us explore areas there might not necessarily be a specific class for,” explains Hannah Couture ’20, a Team and Project Management major with a Biology concentration who built a computational model of major knee ligaments to assess their stability.
“The goal is that they can look back and say I'm really glad I had this experience because it made a difference in helping me move forward.”
“I really wanted to combine physics and anatomy because I’m really interested in how people move from a mechanical standpoint,” says Couture. Working with her thesis advisor, Professor of Science and Technology Brian Blais, Ph.D., allowed her to take her curiosity in new directions. “I felt like there was a lot of missing or conflicting information in the research because it’s such a complicated system and such a new field, and I wanted to add to what we know about it.”
Finance major Marissa Grasso ’20 studied how children consume media and what parents are doing to teach media literacy. She was inspired by a lecture Baran gave about how children respond to the messages in Disney films and is grateful that the thesis gave her a chance to explore a topic outside of her normal realm of study. “Childhood development is important to me,” she says. “And being able to choose your own topics for your thesis motivates you to work harder and do more.”
An important differentiator
In addition to examining key issues, Baran notes, the Honors thesis projects sets students apart in a crowded marketplace and gives students an important advantage in starting their careers. “The goal is that they can look back and say I'm really glad I had this experience because it made a difference in helping me move forward,” she says.
"Completing my thesis shows that I have real research skills and that I’m able and willing to put the work in and to make meaning out of what I'm seeing.”
“I think, professionally, having done the thesis is an amazing advantage,” says Grasso, who will start as an Asset Analyst for the Knights of Columbus after graduation. “As an analyst, it’s important to be able to think critically and know how to use data. Completing my thesis shows that I have real research skills and that I’m able and willing to put the work in and to make meaning out of what I'm seeing.”
Couture, who will be joining the Doctorate of Physical Therapy program at Belmont University in the fall, notes that the thesis aids students in honing professional skills. “You learn a lot about project management, about being able to plan out steps and meet deadlines,” she says. The students also practice their communication skills in presenting their research. “When you’re working in a specialized field, you have to learn how to communicate specialized vocabulary and concepts to a broader group of people,” says Couture.
A project well done
The thesis projects, which concluded with the end of the semester, will always be an immense source of pride for the students. “My thesis challenged me in a different way than I'm used to,” says Mahler, who notes that as a Math major he’s usually asked to solve practical problems with clearly-defined answers. “With this project, it's more: here's an idea you have – can you make it real? It was a fun, different experience.”
“This is something that I'm proud of. Not everyone can say that they've spent over a year working on research that could help people."
“Looking back from the very beginning of the projects to now, it's really cool to see how far we've come and what we've been able to accomplish,” Couture agrees.
Grasso hopes the projects will encourage important conversations. “This is something that I'm proud of,” she says. “Not everyone can say that they've spent over a year working on research that could help people. And maybe it will spark some interest in other people to do a project of their own – just like Professor Baran did for me.”