honors thesis
Dr. Timothy McKenna-Buchanan, director of the Honors Program, works with Honors students throughout their MU education. Photo from 2018.
Photo provided by MU

Students Work To Complete Honors Thesis Projects

Mitchell Marks

Nine senior members of the Honors Program are in the process of researching information on a selected topic in their field of study they will use to analyze results and compile a 15-to-30-page Honors Thesis paper.

For many honors students, the Thesis is the culmination of four years of membership in the Honors Program. While members of the Honors Program can elect to graduate with honors without completing a Thesis, students working to graduate with the Honors and Achievement recognition are required to complete an Honors Thesis in their senior years in addition to completing 18 hours of honors coursework throughout their academic careers.

Thesis topics from this year’s seniors include analyzing the role of healthcare providers in social determinants of health and identifying the impact of carceral architecture on inmate rehabilitation.

The Honors Thesis process officially begins in the spring semester of students’ junior years, when they enroll in the Honors Proposal class IDIV-395. The one-credit-hour class meets once a week and allows students to brainstorm ideas for potential Thesis topics, which must be related to their major field of study. It is taught by Dr. Tim McKenna-Buchanan, Honors Program director.

By the end of the course, each student will have developed a complete proposal for their Thesis paper that includes sections detailing the rationale, methodology and bibliography of their project, according to the Honors Program handbook.

During this proposal phase, students also solidify their Honors Thesis committees, a group of three to four faculty members that guide students and monitor their Thesis progress. One of these committee members will serve as the student’s Thesis Advisor and must be from the student’s major field of study, while one committee member is required to be from outside the student’s major to support interdisciplinary ideas.

After completing IDIV-395 in their junior years, students completing an Honors Thesis must enroll in IDIV-495 during the fall or spring semesters of their senior years; three credits of this Thesis class must be completed by each student. While this class never meets in person, students are encouraged to treat it like a real class and use their enrolled credit hours as time for their Thesis projects. In the fall, this usually involves researching information, with the spring semester set aside for writing the Thesis. During this time, students must also schedule bi-monthly meetings with their Honors Thesis advisors to ensure they are staying on track with their projects.

Once finished compiling information and documenting their findings in the written paper, students must submit their Thesis and then defend their research in front of their committee members. This oral defense must be completed two weeks prior to finals week.

For students, the Honors Thesis project is designed to “advance knowledge, understanding or creative value in the world,” according to the Honors Program handbook. The handbook states that successful Thesis projects display critical thinking and require a strong commitment to a research topic. Additionally, the handbook explains that completing a Thesis will help students develop formal writing and research skills.

Senior accounting major Phillip Clesceri believes the Honors Thesis is already helping him develop these valuable skills. Clesceri is researching the relationship between academic integrity and corporate fraud, attempting to identify a correlation between cheating in school and future propensity to commit fraud. He elected to write the Honors Thesis to gain experience completing a research project and prepare himself for future academic and professional endeavors.

“I understand the importance of doing research and believe the Thesis will be a good stepping stone for me should I continue my education at a higher level,” he said. “Through time management, discipline, attention to detail and flexibility, I hope that I can begin to develop better research behaviors.”

While Clesceri is still in the middle of his Thesis, 2019 graduate Andrew Fox has had time to reflect on his research experience. Fox believes the Thesis helped him develop many of the research and analytical skills Clesceri is hoping to acquire.

For his Thesis project, Fox researched the Dodd-Frank Act, a 2010 banking law that directly tied into his future career as a financial analyst at Stifel Financial Corp. in Chicago. That connection to students’ area of study is one reason why completing the Honors Thesis is so beneficial, according to Fox. “For me, the Honors Thesis was kind of a test run for my full-time position,” he said. “The Dodd-Frank Act impacts my job, and researching it allowed me to experience an aspect of the finance world before actually jumping into it.”

While Fox believes the Thesis benefited him overall, he could not ignore that it was a difficult project. The sheer size and scope of the Thesis forced Fox to question his commitment at various stages. “It was a rigorous process,” Fox said. “There were times, especially during the research phase, where I really had to find a way to push through.”

Clesceri is running into that same roadblock as he attempts to compile information for his Thesis. “The process has been much slower than I budgeted for,” Clesceri said. “I often feel like I’m playing catch up, which is making me more stressed than before.” He explained that he now recognizes the value of setting goals to achieve and sticking to a timeline to meet objectives in his Thesis.

Despite these challenges, Clesceri has been encouraged by his progress and is looking forward to completing the process. He is committed to his research topic and feels he could have an impact on Manchester University and the community. “I am looking forward to seeing how my work can make a difference,” he said. “I think my study can greatly benefit Manchester University specifically, as well as many industries around the area who might get to see my research. Though I am only analyzing the foundation of the issue, those conclusions can be monumental to the development of better integrity standards.”

Looking back, Fox is glad he stuck with the Thesis project and believes current seniors will feel a sense of pride and accomplishment once completing their papers. “I could have taken the easy way out and dropped the Thesis, but I stuck with it,” he said. “It was an extremely worthwhile experience.”