Spring 2001, Volume 37, No. 2

Contents

FEATURE
Lives of a Saint

SPECIAL SECTION
Altruism 101
Reach Out!
Venture Catalysts
Sagehens in Paradise

DEPARTMENTS
-Pomona Forum-
Altruism 101
-News Print-
Professor's Philosophy of Life Unshaken

-Pomona Today-
Professor of the Year
Inside the Power Crunch
Rite of Passage
Top Five
Frats with a Difference
Bridge Over the Pacific

-New Knowledge-
The Secrets of the Hydra
-Sports Report-
Dynamic Duos
-Bookshelf-
Getting On
Threshholding
George Moore
-Campaign Update-
American Dreams

ALUMNI VOICES
-Parlor Talk-
Traditions
-Family Tree-
Allen-Lee-Kingman-McDonald
-Alumni Profile-
Casey Trupin '95
-Alumni Puzzler-
Inside-Out
-Back Cover-
Pilgrims' Progress



 

Like a hospital emergency room, the computer lab was the same artificial brightness day or night. The anxious colony of Pomona College seniors who had called this place home for days on end looked pale and waxy from cramped hours in front of keyboards, in the glow of monitors. For weeks at a time, the only visible changes were the positioning of the crushed Coke cans and sometimes a new chest-high stack of library books.
   These hermits of the computer lab were here for one simple reason--the thing Pomona seniors speak of with a grimace and a sigh, in terms generally reserved for the removal of wisdom teeth--the senior thesis.
   A daunting rite of passage, the senior thesis is a practice both venerated and dreaded. In general, it belongs to a larger class of Pomona's curriculum requirements called senior exercises, intended to be the culmination of eight semesters of work and tuition payments. Whether a thesis, a research paper or an art project, the senior exercise is designed to tie up loose ends and ultimately to lead somewhere new. Although theses are required for only 11 of the 42 majors offered at the College, they are an option in nearly all and have come to be regarded as the paradigm of the Senior Exercise--a fact that is set in high relief by the intensity with which the thesis is approached by students and professors alike.
   Professor Deena Gonzalez, who has advised theses in history and women's studies, describes the academic components of writing a thesis as "utterly critical to the liberal arts."
   "I am impressed by the dedication and sincerity of effort put forth by these seniors," she says. "They are applying for jobs, graduate or professional schools, and handling the thesis research--true juggling acts--and doing them well!"
   Of course, many students would prefer not to juggle the demands of an original 60-page thesis along with the many other challenges of senior year. But for those who do--whether by requirement or by choice--it is an experience that frequently yields pride and confidence, and occasionally even a start in a career.
   Recent alumna Ashley Grimes '00 proudly recalls her senior thesis in Public Policy Analysis as the crowning achievement of her experience at Pomona. Titled "World War MP3," her work examined the regulation of MP3s and the Napster debate. "In retrospect, it is something that really made me grow," she says. "It gives you something to show for your college career, and doing it under so much pressure, you gain a lot of confidence in your academic abilitiesÉ It's like you just went to battle and there's your medal of honor."
   For those still on the battlefield, Grimes' rewards are still too distant to be contemplated with much satisfaction, but most would agree that the thesis is much more than just another paper. In fact, that's one reason why it's so stressful.
   "It's real," says Sahar Rooholamini '01--who is writing about the effects of baby formulas on brain development, a topic that stemmed from research she did while abroad in Zimbabwe. "It's my future."
   Amid the stress of writing something so substantial, Rooholamini finds delight in what she is doing because it is so completely her own. "I really enjoy writing it," she says. "It's not just regurgitating what I know; it is bringing my experiences to the science world. It's proved to me that science is very subjective."
   For Gretchen Langmaid '01--writing a demanding two-semester thesis on gender differences and displaced aggression, examining such instances as the Columbine High School tragedy--this is a rare opportunity to be a trailblazer in the field of psychology. " I feel like a pioneer," she says. "Until now I haven't had the opportunity to be involved in something so new and exciting. This has the potential to be published. It's very exciting."
   Ultimately, the thesis is a chance for Pomona seniors to apply what they have learned in their major to a topic of personal interest. The result is often a transcendent process of writing and researching, and one that takes precedence over the rest of a senior's life. Julie Kern '01, a Psychology major, views her two-semester thesis project as her final opportunity to "take your favorite aspects from all the classes you've taken and blend them together into a final culmination. It's definitely stressful, but it will be great to have a final product."
   Over the years, theses have been published on almost every topic imaginable, but students still take pride in finding new and challenging topics--in many cases, topics that grow out of their own personal experience. T.J. Fechser '01, born and raised in Las Vegas, is writing an unorthodox thesis on gambling--more specifically, the socio-economic impact of riverboat gaming in Tunica County, Mississippi. Fechser describes the experience of researching and writing his thesis as, "the toughest academic experience I've had at Pomona, but also the most interesting. I've traveled a lot, interviewed a lot of interesting people, and I've definitely done a lot of writing."
   As Professor Gonzalez puts it, what Fechser will have produced by graduation will be "one of those undergraduate markers of major importance that pushes you to think beyond the borders of a classroom exercise."
   Given so much importance, it's hardly surprising that theses often supercede other classes, social life and normal daily routine. In retrospect, however, these sacrifices add poignancy to memories of an experience that was, at the least, meaningful, and at most, life-defining.
   Jackie Curnutte '00 says her thesis on education policy was not just a culmination of her major, but also a glimpse into a possible future career. "Symbolically it is the consummation of the liberal arts degree," she says, "but in many cases it is also the spark that paves the way for future interests and career paths." --Nick Grudin '01