The Daily Gamecock

Honors seniors use service for theses

Students help Columbia community for academic projects

As graduation day rapidly approaches, South Carolina Honors College students are winding down their collegiate careers by completing and defending their senior theses.

 In order to graduate with honors from the Honors College, students are required to create a project or write an in-depth research paper to present and defend to their thesis director and second reader, who is involved in helping with the format of the thesis, according to Honors College Director of Students Services Brooke Roper.

"From the beginning of the process, advisers and staff here at the SCHC are available to meet with them and help brainstorm various topics for their thesis," Roper said in an email. "We offer things such as senior thesis workshops, which give a basic introduction to the entire thesis process (which begins in their junior year) and during their advising appointments, advisers speak with students about their individual desires to complete the thesis assignment."

While topics this year range from studying abroad to the evolution of serial killers, many students chose to make a difference in the Columbia community.

"For my thesis project, I created, and now teach, an English class with a focus on medical English at a free Hispanic medical clinic called the Good Samaritan Clinic," said Courtney Marsh, a fourth-year biological studies student. "When I joined the student group Amigos, which helps organize volunteers at the clinic, I got to really interact with the patients, and I realized that they have an interest in understanding some of the medical concepts and words."

Typically, students spend their entire senior year working on their thesis by planning during the first semester and executing during the second. Marsh, however, decided she would skip the planning time and go straight into teaching. Her class is held at the clinic and usually has an attendance of five to eight people.

"I thought this would be a good way to help out some of the wonderful people in that community," she said. "They really appreciate the clinic, and they don't look down on me because I'm young. It's an honor to serve them."

Fourth-year experimental psychology student Lauren Storb was also inspired by community service. She began volunteering at the Family Shelter in Columbia last semester for a class and decided to use her experience there to write her thesis paper.

"I basically just used my volunteering there and researched how homelessness in Columbia compares to family homelessness nationwide," Storb said. "I found that Columbia has a lot more family homelessness than the rest of the country."

Storb defended her thesis earlier this month in a relaxed setting. She said it went well with only two people in attendance.

"The defense is more like a presentation rather than a 'defense' that is typical of a master's or Ph.D level work," Roper said. "It is an opportunity for the student, the director and the second reader to come together and celebrate the work the student has completed. It is an opportunity for the student to present their work to their committee, and be allowed to give a public presentation on this topic."

Storb hopes her paper will help curb the high percentage of homeless families in Columbia.

"I think it could raise awareness of the issue of homelessness, which is definitely the first step," Storb said. "It could also help encourage people to see their responsibility to help others — if they have the opportunity ­— and realize how severe of a problem it is, especially for children who have no control over their situation."

Overall, both students say they have learned a great deal about conducting research, but their interactions with the community have been the most important and meaningful aspects of their senior theses.

"I've certainly become a better teacher from it," Marsh said. "The most important thing has been interacting with the Hispanic community and hearing their stories and views on my culture. That's been the best."