Written by Tiane Davis | Photo by Caroline Palmer
Several senior honors students recently presented their thesis projects that have been in the works for at least two semesters with the help of faculty advisers.
Seven seniors have presented their projects already, and one is scheduled to present on Dec. 8. Alicen Wilcox, Everett Kirkman, Grace Long, Haley Kate Webb, Josh Shockley, Lei Edmerson, Maddy Hall and Mary Grace Golden are the eight students who completed an honors thesis this semester. Eight more are scheduled to finish during the spring semester.
Dr. James Huff, associate professor of engineering and Honors College faculty fellow, said honors students originally would do an honors capstone project, but the Honors College introduced honors theses last year as a different way for students to finish off their undergraduate studies.
Huff said his goal was to find something that would improve the likelihood students would not only do a high performing academic exercise, but also contribute knowledge to their field as an undergraduate student.
“What we define as an honors capstone or thesis is that there is an element of external credibility, meaning it’s going to an audience beyond just the course and the professor,” Huff said. “Its value is determined by a broader community beyond Harding University.”
Huff said the biggest part of an honors thesis that is different from an honors capstone is the amount of time it takes to do it. He said every honors thesis has taken at least two semesters of planning, independent study and writing a thorough, completed research paper. Huff said every honors thesis student also had to complete an honors capstone prep course to ensure two semesters of planning.
Maddy Hall, who presented her thesis Nov. 12, said when she found out what she had to do to graduate with honors with distinction, she realized it was a goal that was within her reach. Hall said she already had to write a 10-page paper for her English senior seminar, so she felt writing an honors thesis (about 20 pages) was something she could do that could still challenge her.
Hall said she had several faculty advisers help her along the way, including a few from the English Department, a few from the College of Bible and Ministry and a couple from the Honors College.
“Dr. Huff was the one that really walked us through the preparatory steps for this whole thing,” Hall said. “That was all last semester, and he met with all of us every week. I’d say the mastermind behind making my thing actually happen would have been Dr. Huff guiding us all through it.”
Golden, who presented her thesis Nov. 16, said her project began her freshman year when she took the Beyond Professional Identity lab with Huff. She said her project, which was about the political identity of first-time voting Christian women, really started during the 2020 presidential election.
Golden said Huff and Department of Communication chair Dr. Laurie Diles helped her a lot while she researched and planned her project. Golden said Huff helped take the lead on certain interviews she had to do, and he was able to guide her a lot with the research. She said Diles met with her once a week to discuss the project and that she has been invested in her work all four years.
“[Huff] has just been very invested in the personal experience of each student and the personal project,” Golden said. “Dr. Laurie has been a great mentor and she’s great.”
Huff said a big asset Harding has is that the faculty cares deeply about the students, and the Honors College wanted to tap into a program that is common to many universities, but in a way that harnessed faculty care.
“It makes me come alive with excitement because I really do believe — as a researcher myself — in the culture at Harding of deep care rooted in a Christian conviction of love,” Huff said. “In our context, I really think we have a deep profound scholarship to offer. Rather than asking what people are telling us about the knowledge in our field, we have a chance to contribute knowledge within our different fields.”