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Whew! Senior Projects

May 6, 2011
Poetry Reading

1978 Senior Project poster supplied by Jo Pitkin K'78

After my arrival at Kirkland, I heard the dreaded words senior project over and over from graduating seniors. In my sophomore year, I started worrying about mine. Every senior had to plan and execute this challenging task, with the help of her faculty advisor, in order to graduate.

At the end of our junior year, we submitted formal proposals for approval. As our projects began to take shape, we checked in with our advisors periodically, working in stages over the course of senior year. Like a doctoral candidate, each senior had a committee of professors who reviewed the completed project. Indeed, the projects themselves were worthy of many a graduate program.

In the 1970s, a few colleges—including Kirkland—required Senior Projects. By 2009, 64% of college students reported doing such a project (National Survey of Student Engagement). As of 2011, colleges that require them include Pomona, Reed, Hampshire, Carleton, and Occidental.

According to Kirkland’s 1976-77 Particulars:

The senior project, a one- or two-semester project in your field of concentration, is the culmination of your academic program at Kirkland. It demonstrates your competence in one or more disciplines, as well as your ability to work independently and to communicate clearly and effectively. Your senior project may take the form of a research paper, an exhibition, a presentation, or almost anything you and your adviser decide would be an appropriate conclusion of your academic program. The senior project is usually completed by May 1 of your final year.

How would I, with a dual concentration in creative writing and literature, show what I had learned in four years at Kirkland? I’m sure every Kirkland senior had the same jitters that I had. I’m also sure that we all shared a common feeling of immense satisfaction when our projects were concluded. Nothing I did in my undergraduate years was as enjoyable or as demanding. Here’s how mine turned out:

• I developed a reading list of Russian poetry, short stories, and novels in translation, including Kotik Lataev by Bely, Crime and Punishment by Dostoevsky, Mirgorod, or Four Tales by Gogol, Invitation to a Beheading by Nabokov, and Fathers and Sons by Turgenev.

• I wrote a sequence of poems based on the literature I read.

• I created and printed a broadside, Familiar Territory, of some poems from the sequence.

• I gave a poetry reading in the Red Pit with two fellow seniors who had also concentrated in creative writing, Naomi Cohen and the late Leslie Cook.

Every spring the campus bloomed with exhibits, performances, recitals, concerts, and readings by graduating seniors. It was impossible to take it all in. But the support and interest from other students was amazing. It was just the affirmation that a young scholar, writer, performer, or artist needed.

Here are some other examples of ‘75-76 Senior Projects listed in Particulars:

A Photographic Portrayal of Women International Banking

Microscopic Study of the Submaxillary Gland of the Mouse

A Study of Ambrose Bierce

The Psychological, Social, and Cultural Effects of Rape

An Examination of Criminal Law in China

A Study of Welsh Nationalism

Creating the Appearance of Movement in Clay Forms

Implementation of a STRIDE Program in a Utica Day-Care Center

Portraits and Self-Portrait: Writing a Collection of Five Short Stories

An Analysis of French Stained Glass Windows in the Gothic Period

Nineteenth-Century English Seduction Poetry

An Ethno-Historical Perspective on Prehistoric Maya Settlement Patterns

Did You Know?

Today, Hamilton College has a Senior Program. According to its web site, “Each department and program has designed a senior program to serve as an integrating and culminating experience for the major by requiring students to use the methodology and knowledge gained in their first three years of study. For many students, the Senior Program takes the form of a graduate-level honors thesis.”

For example, Eva Hunt ’11 (Sociology/Studio Art) examined how developments in science and technology have impacted females’ attitudes about their bodies and their decisions about contraception. For her thesis Perceptions of Control: A Cross-Generational Study of Female Attitudes About Birth Control, she interviewed 11 current Hamilton female students and 6 Kirkland alumnae to determine if, how, and why attitudes and practices involving contraception differ between the two generations of women.

Click this link to view more titles in the Kirkland College Archives at Burke Library.

My senior year was clouded by the fact that Kirkland would close forever after spring semester. An epic but ultimately fruitless struggle was waged in 1977 and 1978 to save our school. Students passed out petitions, wrote letters to trustees, staged protests, wore green arm bands. I don’t know how I had the discipline and concentration to finish my Senior Project. Somehow, under these stressful conditions, I managed to finish all my academic obligations.

By May, I was exhausted. I had covered all the bases. I read, I wrote, I published, I performed. The last hurdle was to have my Senior Project committee—Michael Burkard, Bill Rosenfeld, and Peter Rabinowitz—review my project. We met one afternoon at Michael’s apartment in downtown Clinton. After receiving mostly glowingly positive comments, Michael asked me, “So, what’s next?”

This is the way it was for many Kirkland students. We were encouraged and challenged.  We were pushed academically, creatively, and intellectually. However, we did not view our accomplishments as a stopping point. With the Senior Project behind us, we asked ourselves, “What’s next?”

by Jo Pitkin K’78, with Jennie Morris K’72 and Eva Hunt ’11

What was your Senior Project?

What thoughts or feelings do you have about the experience today?

What were the challenges? the rewards?

A piece by Jennie Morris, part of a '72 multimedia Senior Exhibit in the Womb Room

Click on this image to read Prof. McDermid's evaluation

One Comment leave one →
  1. Connie Halporn permalink
    May 6, 2011 10:16 am

    I loved coming up with my Senior Project.
    I had seen the Womb room my freshman year and wanted to use the room the minute I saw it. My concentration was self-designed, Media Studies, as I was always interested in photography/videography/philosophy/science fiction, etc.

    I was put into the Art Department for the senior project and spent two semesters creating a slide, video and sound production with the title of “What is Man that we might be mind/full of him”
    Lofty sentiments to be sure, but Kirkland always encouraged this.
    I am not sure how I kept my focus that year with all the tumult of trying to keep my school alive, but I know part of it was because Tom Fiammi, the head of Audio-Visual had offered me the assistant director’s position in the new Hamilton College AV dept. He was a calming influence for me,and that made it easier to go to classes, work on the project, try to fight Hamilton, and get ready to graduate.

    I echoed that project when I did my Thesis project for my Masters in Media Arts at Long Island University. Only this time it was in a large tent, with monitors playing DVDs instead of slides and open reel videotape.

    The Senior Project allowed me to put my entire Kirkland College experience together in a cohesive form.

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