JACKSON, Tenn. – Dec. 7, 2012 – Eight Union University English majors presented their senior theses in the Penick Academic Complex Nov. 27-29.
Amanda Bennett, Whitney Williams, Rebecca Evans, Jonathan Boyd and Mary Laarz presented literary criticism research papers, while Josh Garcia, Heather Franks and Michael O’Malley read selected creative writing stories, said John Netland, professor of English and chairman of the department. Each presentation lasted about 20 minutes.
With the guidance of a thesis director, most students decided on their projects, received mentoring and formed their work into presentations this semester. Williams, however, began thesis research her junior year as part of the discipline-specific honors program.
“They get to work independently and take their writing to a level they haven’t experienced previously,” Netland said. “The task of revising and refinishing is an important part of the maturation of their writing.”
Bennett said her thesis developed from a paper she wrote as a freshman.
“I picked that paper knowing I would cut out everything except one paragraph,” Bennett said.
The one paragraph she salvaged centered on her topic of interest: Trojan prophetess Cassandra.
Bennett explained that the god Apollo cursed Cassandra, who could foretell the future, with the inability to be believed. Bennett based her research on Euripides’ play “The Trojan Women” and Aeschylus’ play “Agamemnon,” but she said she borrowed more than 20 books through the Emma Waters Summar Library’s interlibrary loans to conduct additional research.
“Cassandra has always fascinated me as figure, as someone who can understand the world but not affect it,” Bennett said. “People don’t listen to her but are weirdly fascinated by her.”
Jason Crawford, assistant professor of English and thesis director for Bennett, said he and Bennett met about every 10 days to discuss her progress.
Through mentoring Bennett in her research and writing, Crawford said he was able to better know Bennett’s mind – a chance professors may not get in a typical class setting.
“One of the challenges of thesis advising, for faculty, is that the topics are often things we don’t know well, and that’s much of the fun, too,” Crawford said. “The student gets to become the teacher, in a way, and I get to read things she’s interested in, think about the ideas she’s interested in and learn from her.”
Garcia used three stories he wrote – “The Smell,” “Cicada” and “America” – as his thesis presentation.
Working with thesis director Christine Bailey, director of composition support, Garcia said he began gathering ideas for his thesis this past summer. He said some challenges he faced included deciding which stories to use and separating himself from his writing as he edited. But he added that working with Bailey and learning how to defend his work helped him become more intentional in his writing.
Like Garcia experienced working with Bailey, Crawford said students benefit from the intellectual exchange with faculty and grow from the conversations that happen at the thesis defenses themselves.
“I’m often impressed at how poised and gifted our students are as presenters of their work,” Crawford said. “The defenses are a good way of demonstrating how much they’ve accomplished, as much a celebration as an examination.”
By Beth Byrd (’13)