Senior moment: time to reflect, take charge

Senior Symposium is a cherished rite of passage — and a moment to strut — for Mount Holyoke students engaged in independent study.

Bike share programs, 3-D printed splints for geese and anti-immigrant violence in South Africa all have one thing in common: They are all subjects explored in depth by Mount Holyoke College seniors presenting at the annual Senior Symposium.

Every year since 2006 about 100 Mount Holyoke seniors undergo the annual rite of passage and present their independent research and findings to an audience of their peers, parents, friends and family.

Stella Elwood ’19, a biology major, presented her work on 3D printed splints for geese — leg injuries are frequent in wild geese, and a common cause of euthanasia. Elwood wanted to improve treatment options for these geese, reducing healing time and improving outcomes. After testing several designs, she created a splint that was angled correctly and is the right balance between flexible and strong enough to reduce healing time.

Biology major Mirjam Keochakian ’19 looked into the car-on-bike accident rates in cities with bike share programs. Edith Amoafoa-Smart ’19, an international relations and French double major, investigated the notion of insiders versus outsiders and land ownership in the surge of violence against African immigrants within South Africa.

Amy Martin, director of the Weissman Center for Leadership, which sponsors Senior Symposium, noted that the event showcases one of the chief advantages of a small liberal arts college for students: the opportunity to work closely with faculty members and to develop their own academic focus.

“The Senior Symposium is an amazing example of how our students are able to conduct independent research or be part of research groups not just with other students, but with faculty as well,” said Martin, who is also Professor of English on the Emma B. Kennedy Foundation. “It’s the close relationship between faculty and students that provides that kind of opportunity.”

In one session, April Albrecht ’19, a Frances Perkins Scholar and gender studies major, presented her work about the ways in which discourse in academia, in personal lives and in the world at large has become so polarized and tainted by the idea of “toxicity” that true dialogue rarely occurs. People on opposite sides on an issue, she argued, view each other’s ideas as too toxic to engage with, thus shutting down communication.

Albrecht’s advisor, Jacquelyne Luce, a lecturer in gender studies, challenged her student to develop her ideas through independent study and a Lynk-funded internship. Luce gave her enough direction and enough freedom for her to reflect on and integrate her varied interests and experiences to make a cogent presentation.

“Jacquelyne really walked me through the process,” said Albrecht. “She was more than a mentor or advisor. She gave her time so graciously and really helped me see my own ideas more clearly. She lives in my bones now.”

At the end of the day, the presenting seniors congregated with family and friends for a celebration of their efforts. Martin was there to thank them and the family, friends and faculty members who supported the work and students all along the way.

“This presentation of the artistic and scholarly work our students have done manifests the spirit of Mount Holyoke students, their dedication and commitment to study, research and creativity,” she said.  “It’s been really inspiring to hear the many kinds of work across disciplines and divisions and methodologies that our seniors presented today.”