There are two types of second-semester seniors: Those who write theses, and those who don’t. I’m unclear about exactly what the ones who don’t write a thesis do (I’ve heard rumors about Smokes and Blarney) but the ones who do write theses spend marathon weekends in the library, binge on cupcakes, overdose on Diet Coke, obsess over sub-chapter subtitles and have dreams where former U.S. President Richard Nixon wields a light saber while presiding over a Bachelor-style reality show.
That last one might just be me.
But the point still stands. Right now, seniors in the College of Arts and Sciences break down into two very distinct groups. And despite the fact that I spent 37 hours in the library one weekend, I genuinely believe the process is something all students should be required to go through.
Currently there’s no school-wide requirement, though some departments require a thesis to graduate with honors (like history) and other programs mandate one for all majors (like international relations and urban studies). As a disclaimer, I was required to write one for my concentration within the Communication major, but I probably would have opted to write one anyway.
Armed with this background, I set out to quickly explore whether Penn could start requiring a thesis, thereby giving all students this meaningful (and actually incredibly fun) experience.
It’s pretty unlikely, so those opposed can exhale now. College Dean Dennis DeTurck said the College considered requiring all students to write a thesis when the curriculum was revamped a few years ago and even required all students that test-drove the new system to write one. Ultimately, though, they “didn’t want to spoil it by making it a requirement,” thereby turning “a labor of love into a chore,” he said.
Similarly, while College students are saddled with a boatload of requirements, there aren’t any required courses, and departments independently design senior theses. The freedom to do so is “the Penn way, and it’s really appropriate for our faculty, departments and students,” DeTurck emphasized. Another idea that gained some traction, he added, was to set up an “engagement requirement” whereby students would complete one of myriad options, including a community-engagement project, a thesis or independent research — but that kind of variegated requirement would be more difficult to administrate.
Still, the senior project is something that no other academic experience can truly replicate, and I’d really love to see a requirement implemented, should the curriculum ever be revised again. Done properly, it allows one to take the knowledge absorbed over the last three years, pull it together in a complementary way and give it back to the Penn community and the rest of the world. It’s the sum of all the parts of an undergraduate education — truly the capstone of an experience.
Although most students at Penn perform a lot of hands-on and deeply practical work outside of the classroom and are pretty busy, even deep into senior year, with extracurriculars and the job/internship hunt, we’re here, first and foremost, for the old-fashioned academic experience. And that includes the good, old-fashioned, really long paper organizing your work, thoughts and analysis in a coherent manner. A senior thesis or capstone does this best. Plus — in case lofty academic idealism isn’t enough to convince the skeptical — most Penn students return to graduate school at some point. And one of the application requirements at nearly every grad school? A writing sample.
Regardless of whether this change is ever implemented, congratulations to all the seniors who are finishing up projects. The theses and projects that I’ve seen, mostly from friends and acquaintances, are truly incredible. I’m turning my final draft copy in on Wednesday, and then I’m going to go rediscover Blarney. I hope I’ll see you there.
Alyssa Schwenk is a College senior from Ottumwa, Iowa. She is the former Editorial Page Editor of the DP. Her e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org. That’s What Schwenk Said appears on Mondays.Comments powered by Disqus
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