The senior thesis: A communication major’s rite of passage

Every semester, communication seniors receive their cap and gown, finish their degree requirements and take part in the most daunting, yet rewarding of all: complete and defend their senior thesis, a rite of passage for Southeastern communication graduates.

As one of the only undergraduate majors with a research thesis requirement, students in the Department of Languages and Communication spend their last semester taking COMM 498, the capstone professional seminar course with hefty assignments. However, a few short years ago, this course was not in its full-blown, present-day state—the senior thesis and capstone course has a historical background substantially developed over time.

Graduating senior Jaime Gelpi (left) poses with Dr. Joe Mirando (middle) and spring 2017 graduate Meredith Keating (right) at the spring 2017 communication senior colloquium.

COMM 498 was originally a one hour course with a simple term paper assignment. Dr. Joe Mirando used to teach the course, and he explained that he used the one hour, once a week time slot to host guest speakers about post-graduation topics such as filing taxes and paying student loans. The term paper did have to be related to communication, but the requirements were on a much smaller scale.

The celebration of knowledge morphed into empirical, scholarly and argumentative research when Dr. Claire Procopio took reins of the course. From there, COMM 498 went from a one hour course to a three hour course in 2010. Currently, Dr. Amber Narro is the professor that teaches COMM 498, and Dr. Joe Mirando will once again teach the class for the spring 2018 semester.

Each student must create, hypothesize, research, write, evaluate and defend their senior thesis and present it at the bi-annual communication senior colloquium, which is set for Tuesday, Nov. 28 this semester.

The thesis can be on any topic that is communication related, preferably in their area of interest. Topics in the past have included workplace communication, gender roles, parent-child communication, political campaigns, interpersonal studies and public relations tactics. Students participate in a pinning ceremony beforehand, and group together by their research topics to present their hard work and efforts to loved ones and fellow communication majors.

During the colloquium, the top paper is also recognized and awarded for exceptionally sound and scholarly research. The student or students that receive the highest marks is awarded the honor. There have been many cases in which multiple students have won the award in one given semester.

Kaylee Collier, a spring 2017 graduate, received the top paper award. Winning came as a complete surprise to her, but it made her undergraduate experience complete.

“I went into 498 thinking I wanted to win the award, but once I started writing all I wanted to do was get it done,” she said. “I think the thesis is just such a long process that by the time you’re done, your brain is fried at the end.”

Although the colloquium is a celebratory event, students must put a lot of effort in time to reach this milestone night.

Collier said, “I was honestly just glad to be done. It’s such an accomplishment to finish a thesis, especially at the undergraduate level.”

The senior thesis has many components and requirements that must be met in order to receive a passing grade on the assignment. Students must begin with a clearly labeled title, followed by an abstract that sums up the paper’s content, customary to all research papers. Next comes the introduction and literature review, which previews the purpose for the research and offers what other researchers have done in the past about the topic. The literature review also includes hypotheses and the students’ research question.

The methodology that follows summarizes the participants, materials and procedures used to conduct the study. Students can choose between conducting a quantitative or qualitative study—a study with numbers and figures or content and observations, respectively.

Kohl Kent is a graduating senior this semester and quantitative researcher. She explained that conducting a quantitative study was recommended by previous 498 students.

“I decided to do a quantitative study by surveying because when speaking with previous 498 students they said it was sort of the easier route in their opinion,” Kent said. “Although I get nervous about numbers, I decided to listen to their advice. It has worked out for me so far and I can’t wait to get my results.”

The following results and discussion sections are to include what the respective study found and what it means for this aspect of communication-related studies. Finally, following all components, comes the conclusion section. This section wraps up the entire paper into a few pages, includes notes for further research and explains limitations of the study. Once the paper is completed, it must offer a reference list and any appendices to cite the research.

On top of all of these paper requirements, students using human subjects for research, or interviewing, surveying or conducting focus groups, must be approved by the Institutional Review Board, or more commonly known as IRB. This ensures that all research conducted and studied is ethical, humane and sound. The graduating seniors must be approved ahead of time by the IRB in order to complete their studies and continue with the comprehensive process of writing their thesis.

Graduating communication senior Jasmine Arias is quickly putting the finishing touches on her senior thesis. While she notes that it is a stressful time, it will all be worth it in the end.

“Writing my thesis has been the absolute hardest but most rewarding thing,” she said.

Arias is studying the influence the Kardashian family has on femininity and mainstream media by way of qualitative research.

A stressful semester and long nights of writing aside, the COMM 498 senior thesis is a rite of passage for Southeastern communication graduates. Sharing in the pinning ceremony and defending research at the bi-annual communication senior colloquium is a tradition intended to be kept for years to come.

With a senior thesis completed and presented at the colloquium, students not only earn their bachelor’s degrees, but a sense of accomplishment and enormous pride.

The current fall 2017 students are nearing the end and Arias is certain her thesis will be a fond memory.

“I know it’s about to be all over,” she said. “But the thing is, I just know I’m going to be proud of the work I produced no matter what.”

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