Seniors focus on honors projects

Meghan McCallum

Every student knows how exciting it can be to focus on one particular theme in an independent study or tutorial. For those interested in pursuing a longer-term study of a specific subject, Lawrence encourages students to work on honors projects.”For most students, an honors project ends up being almost a year-long, intensive independent study.culminating in a long, written project,” said Faith Barrett, Assistant Professor of English and Chair of the University Committee on Honors.

Usually, a student has an idea for his or her honors project in the fall term of their senior year. Then, each student finds a faculty member to supervise and advise his or her work. Professor Barrett explained that in the English department, students working on honors projects usually meet with their faculty advisor on a weekly basis throughout the year.

During these meetings, the student and advisor discuss the student’s progress and work on problems or developments. “When I work with students on an honors project, I want about 10 pages of writing per week,” she added.

Though these projects are very popular among students in the English and biology departments, Professor Barrett said, they are certainly not limited to any particular subject. So far, students have submitted project proposals for these two areas as study as well as studio art, chemistry, economics, French, geology, government, history, music, psychology, religious studies, and Russian. Students are also able to work on projects that cover multiple disciplines, if they so choose.

When finished, the project results in a long paper sometimes accompanied by artwork, music performance, or other media of presentation where necessary. The student then undergoes an oral examination by the Honors Committee, in which they present their work and are questioned on it. Three faculty members — the student’s own project advisor, one from a different department, and one additional from any department — serve as voting committee members, Professor Barrett said. Essentially, these voting members decide whether or not the student will receive honors for the project they have completed.

Of course, there are ups and downs for any student working on an honors project. “There are tremendous pressures built into this process later in the year,” Professor Barrett said. “The written version of the project is due early in the third term, so you don’t get much of that third term to actually write. One of the things I’m trying to do in chairing the honors projects this year is to get students thinking earlier about the deadline.”

The rewards of completing an honors project, however, will probably stick with a student much longer than any stress encountered along the way. Not only are these students’ projects recognized at graduation, but the feeling of personal achievement is quite rewarding as well. “The actual process is one pleasure, a second pleasure is the finished project, and the third pleasure is the recognition at graduation. Ideally, all three are key components,” Professor Barrett pointed out.

The passion involved in these projects is certainly evident when talking to the students involved. Nick Olson, a senior studio art major, was enthusiastic in describing his project. Tentatively titled “H. H. Bennett’s New Landscape in Wet Plate Collodion,” he is working under advisors Julie Lindemann and John Shimon, Assistant Professors of Art, on a series of photographs of the Wisconsin Dells.

As a student interested in the history of photography, Olson’s project idea stemmed from learning about H. H. Bennett’s wet plate photography in class. “He took artistic landscape photos of the Wisconsin Dells area to advertise the use of the railroad lines,” Olson explained. In this way, Bennett was a big part of the area’s shift to become a tourist hotspot-what Olson calls “a mini Las Vegas.”
“You don’t see much of the landscape around there anymore — just the waterpark,” he added.

For the project, Olson is working in the wet plate technique, mirroring the process used by Bennett in the late 19th century. This involves not only mixing his own chemicals, but working with a large, eight- by ten-inch camera.

The main portion of Olson’s project will be a collection of 20 large-scale photographs, displayed as an exhibition in the Mudd gallery in April. “I’m hoping to actually have my oral examination in the gallery in front of my work, so they can ask me questions about it while looking at it,” he said.

Caitlin McIntyre, a senior French and government major, is also working on an honors project this year. In this project, McIntyre is translating “O pays, mon beau people!”, a book written by Senegalese author and filmmaker Ousmane Sembene, from French into English.

Her faculty advisor for the project is Lifongo Vetinde, Associate Professor of French; though McIntyre is also incorporating the work into her French senior seminar class, taught by Professor of French Eilene Hoft-March.

Her main work with the honors project will be to translate the entire book from French to English. “There are a lot of aspects of the book that you need some cultural or social background to understand,” McIntyre explains. “We were able to incorporate that into the theme for our senior seminar: identity and community.”

This topic of identity and community is one that interests McIntyre, and having spent a term in Senegal, she has a specific passion for studying Senegalese culture.

“I had trouble deciding on an honors project, and originally I was going to do one for my government major, but I felt overwhelmed by the work involved,” she says about the beginnings of her project. “I started doing this translating not as part of an honors project, and thought it was really fun. It didn’t feel like work.”

She originally was planning on doing translation work through an independent study just to keep her French skills up during fall term. She approached Professor Vetinde and explained that she wanted to do some short-term translation over the term. He suggested translating this book, because it has never been translated into English before. Eventually, the idea turned into the project that she is working on now.

While working on these projects, “you work closely with faculty and you get a sense of what the research methods and research standards are in the field,” said Professor Barrett. “For students there’s a real satisfaction in that intensive, independent work, and then also you have something to show for it.”

Monday, Feb. 11, the Honors Committee will hold an informational Honors Project Roundtable. It will take place at 4:30 p.m. in room 401 of the library. Seniors working on projects and juniors interested in learning more about the program are encouraged to attend.

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