Thesis pic

Alumnus Brock DeMark looks over his thesis May 18, which he defended in April.

As a freshman, he felt overwhelmed by the daunting task of completing his Honors College thesis. Four years later, in spring 2019, alumnus Brock DeMark graduated after defending his thesis, which he plans to use when applying for graduate school and that he hopes to someday publish.

Connections made on campus, including ones he made as a freshman, helped DeMark complete his thesis, he said.

A thesis  may range from three pages of mathematical formulas to a group of short stories, depending on students’ majors. Each college or school has its own guidelines and deadlines for students completing theses, according to the UA Honors College.

In his thesis, DeMark focuses on the development of Brighton, England, in the 19th century as one of the country’s first leisure destinations through its physical development, social history and intellectual history, he said.

In spring 2019, there were roughly 3,600 students enrolled in the Honors College, more than 600 of whom were seniors, said Jennie Popp, the associate dean of the Honors College, in an email.

Honors College students submit their theses before graduation with the help of a mentor who guides their work, according to the UA Honors College.

Students will present their theses to their mentors and, in some cases, other related faculty or a public audience, according to the Honors College website.

To find a mentor, students can check their department’s website for a faculty listing, speak to the Honors Director for their college, speak to their subject librarian or speak to their course instructors, among other ways, Popp said.

“Once a student has identified a faculty member of interest, the student should make arrangements to meet with the faculty member to discuss research ideas and the possibility of serving as a mentor,” Popp said.

Biochemistry professor Paul Adams has mentored about 75 students on their theses. Adam’s biggest piece of advice for students is to research the professors they are interested in having as mentors, he said.

DeMark found his mentor, assistant professor Ren Pepitone, after the professor he originally approached recommended her to DeMark because of their similar interests, he said.

Honors college students should start looking for mentors during freshman year, DeMark said. “You want to challenge yourself to at least start talking to professors and building those relationships.”

For freshman Kay Rutherford, who is majoring in chemistry, the most daunting aspect of her upcoming thesis is whether she will be able to get it done on time, she said.

Rutherford, who entered college as a math major, was clueless about how to approach a thesis in her area of study, she said. After changing her major to chemistry, she has found more ideas that she is interested in, including protein synthesis, but she is still undecided, she said.

Rutherford’s biggest piece of advice for incoming freshmen is to not let their theses freak them out immediately, she said.

Students should leverage their research to serve their career ambitions, whether those ambitions propel them into graduate school or directly into the workforce, Honors College Dean, Lynda Coon said.

DeMark plans on using his thesis as a writing sample for his graduate school applications and hopes to continue to build on it and someday publish his work, he said.

Coon is mentoring a student whose thesis came from information found on an Honors Passport trip to points of the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage route. Her mentee is in Madrid, Spain, doing original work on the history of a royal abbey founded by and run by medieval royalty, she said.

Colleges have different deadlines for their students to submit committee forms, Popp said. Each college’s website lists its specific requirements.

“In an ideal world, students will begin their thesis no later than second-semester junior year with the hope of completing the work halfway through senior year,” Popp said. “This gives the student time to schedule a defense and not stress during their last semester.”

Each student’s thesis experience is different, but it is always better to start sooner rather than later, Popp said.

Sophomore Katie Coyle, who is majoring in sociology and communication, started working on her thesis during the spring 2019 semester.

For her thesis, Coyle is analyzing historical artifacts through pop culture to see how they have impacted society’s view of feminism, she said.

Coyle started out with a list of ideas, did some research and narrowed it down from there, she said.

“My main focus was getting my topic, and then I started doing reading and diving further into what I wanted to find,” Coyle said.

Actively researching different topics helped Coyle narrow down what she wanted to focus on in her thesis, she said.

Coyle was intimidated by the idea that her thesis was a big thing hanging over her head, but breaking it down into little pieces and doing it in a timely fashion helped her, she said.

For the third year in a row, the Honors College will offer a research conference in the fall that allows students to attend breakout sessions with representatives from each college. The conference also gives students a chance to see other students present their theses.

The date for the fall 2019 conference will be released in the upcoming months.


Abbi Ross is a staff reporter for the Arkansas Traveler, where she has been a staff reporter since March 2019.

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