Senior Symposium showcases student studies.

Paige Schonher ’15, whose presentation was "The Goodness of Beauty and the Beauty of Goodness, Or How Pop Music Will Make You a Bad Person." Photo by Emily Weir

By Emily Harrison Weir

When Ana Capi entered Cleveland Hall to talk about her research at the April 17 Senior Symposium, the biochemistry major was "nervous but extremely excited" about being one of more than 150 Mount Holyoke College students giving presentations on independent scholarship, senior theses, and other research projects.

"I remember attending Senior Symposium as a first-year and being amazed and inspired by the work of seniors. Today, I got to be in their place," Capi said. "Working in a lab has helped me in so many ways, from becoming more independent and confident to becoming a critical thinker and learning a wide range of technical skills."

The annual intellectual showcase is a key part of students’ Lynk experience, which connects curricular and career interests in part through reflection and public presentations. This was on display as students with majors encompassing the liberal arts and sciences spectrum talked about their topics. Those ranged from the abstract—"The Philosophy of Niceness"—to the practical—"Electrifying Rural Ethiopia"—and from the timely—"The Impact of Restorative Justice on Staten Island"—to the timeless —"Dusty Star Formation Activity in Distant Galaxies."

The importance of presenting.

Becky Packard, director of the Weissman Center for Leadership, which organizes the symposium, said she'd overheard these words during the day's presentations: Incredible. Articulate. Persistent. Cutting-edge. Smart. Compelling.

"You are all of those things, and you make us incredibly proud," she told participants at the reception that closed the symposium.

"Senior Symposium epitomizes caring for and honoring student thought," said politics major Olivia Papp. "The symposium allows us to remember the enthusiasm that drew us to these research topics in the first place, and to get back in touch with the origins of that commitment by sharing it with others."

Gaining new perspective.

Several students said that preparing for the symposium made them see their work in a new light.

Dance major Dayita Nereyeth said presenting on her work in dance and cognitive psychology allowed her to “take a step back and try to look at it through the lens of a general population."

Neuroscience major Prakruti Nanda also focused on creating an accessible summary of her work on neurodevelopmental disorders, "so that whoever came to the symposium could walk away with some understanding of what I've been reading about for the past two years."

Philosophy major Paige Schonher, who argued that "pop music will make you a bad person," said presenting helped her reflect on her work.

”Thesis writing can be a narrow and confining (and at times perhaps obsessive) experience if you never get to engage others in a conversation about what you're working on,” she said, adding that this kind of opportunity "is indicative of a wider academic culture on campus that is rigorous, thoughtful, and curious."

For Kala Jones, her psychology presentation on coping with sudden traumatic loss was meaningful for several reasons.

"It was the culmination of all my hard work over the past year and a half. And on a personal level, it was a way of making my dad proud. His death was a sudden and traumatic loss, and dedicating my thesis to him was my way of telling him I'm going to be okay. 

And the research continues.

For most presenters, Senior Symposium marked the end of months or years of work on a single topic. For Jones, it also marked the beginning of a new chapter.

"The project has shaped my future plans greatly," she said. "As a result, I am seriously looking into going to graduate school for trauma psychology research. "

Papp said her academic goals also were influenced substantially by "the journey of this research project." She will start a master's in politics and international relations at the UK's University of Cambridge this fall. She plans to expand one aspect of her Senior Symposium presentation—on social media and feminist legal theory—into her dissertation.

Capi said she was overwhelmed by feelings of contentment and pride after her presentation.

"I feel extremely grateful for all the wonderful opportunities Mount Holyoke has given me, from working closely with a faculty member carrying on independent research to having a platform where we can share what we are so passionate about," said Capi. "As graduation approaches, I feel more prepared to face the postgraduate world with confidence in my abilities."