The Senior Scholars Program provides the opportunity for seniors to design and complete an individualized research project for credit, yet despite this seeming allure, student response has been tepid — only four students have participated in the program since 2009.
The program is administered by the Center for Study Abroad and Interdepartmental Programs, and individual projects are completed with the guidance of a faculty mentor. A Senior Scholar project can count for 16 to 32 credit hours of work and can be the sole focus of a student’s senior year or can be completed in conjunction with a limited number of courses.
The program has existed since the 1992-93 school year and, though the Senior Scholars website states that up to 15 seniors can be a part of the program, a limited number have taken advantage of the opportunity — none participated in either 2010 or 2012.
Dean of the College Richard Feldman suggested that limited participation reflects the reality that “few students have a project that fits the program and the flexibility to devote so much time to a single project.”
“Many students who do have a focused interest pursue it through a senior project in their major,” he said. “Others take an extra year and pursue the Take Five or KEY programs, which may fit better with the rest of their plans.”
Projects have covered such diverse topics as “Toward a Better Way for Life-Cycle Investment,” “Parental Views of Deafness and its Influence on Deaf Education” and “Organic Synthesis and Catalytic Alkylation Chemistry.”
Melissa Hewson ’11 completed a project entitled “Positively Orphaned: a Study of Pediatric HIV in Thailand.” Her research involved spending time abroad in Thailand studying children with HIV and the anthropology of caregiving practices. After completing her research in the first semester of her senior year, Hewson returned to campus to conclude her senior year with two classes and work on the 100-page thesis paper that was to present her work.
Her preparation for the project included a research proposal put together with her mentor, Anthropology Professor Anthony Carter, research prior to leaving for Thailand and logistical planning for her time abroad.
“Think about how much effort professors put into planning courses, and suddenly you’re in that position and you have to come up with something that’s worth 16 to 32 credits,” Hewson said. “It’s definitely a program for those that are independent and self-motivated learners.”
Victoria Massie ’11 worked on a project called “Cultural Trauma and Genetics: the ‘New’ African-American in Our Midst,” a topic that interested her because of her African-American heritage. She traveled with a genetic ancestry testing company across the United States conducting interviews. Now a graduate student at the University of California at Berkeley, Massie is continuing research on the same topic for her dissertation.
“Having such in-depth research experience as a senior really put me in a great place for grad school research, and it definitely helped me in the application process,” she said.
“Rochester is a research school,” Massie added. “[The Senior Scholars Program] is an opportunity that offers such great flexibility. It can honestly be a year of doing research on something you truly love.”
Remus is a member of the class of 2016.