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What's the Big Idea?

Seniors dig deep for honors theses projects 
Miriam El Rassi
"Redesigning the Mobile Home: A Project in Wheel Estate" is the title of Miriam El Rassi's '05 thesis.

Mobile homes are prevalent in Miriam El Rassi's '05 hometown of rural Stillwater, Okla. This observation, along with her volunteer work for Habitat for Humanity, inspired her senior honors thesis, titled "Redesigning the Mobile Home: A Project in Wheel Estate." She says she is addressing a social engineering problem by making low-budget housing convenient and multifunctional so that it's desirable to people of all income levels. She also has to design a dwelling that can fit on a highway.

El Rassi is one of about sixty seniors this year who received funding for an honors thesis from the dean of faculty's office of undergraduate advising and research. The support comes from the Paul K. Richter and Evalyn E. Cook Richter Memorial Fund. The fund also supports senior fellowships, another highly competitive program of the dean of the faculty office, where students pursue independent projects and are not required to enroll in classes during their senior year.

El Rassi, who is majoring in studio art, with a concentration in architecture, used the Richter Fund to purchase the materials (vellum, drafting tools, wood, metal, paper) needed for her architectural drawings and the models she built. Karolina Kawiaka, visiting assistant professor of studio art, met often with El Rassi to critique her designs and advise her on how to turn her concepts into models, computer renderings, and drawings.

Haley Peckett
Haley Peckett '05 traveled to Yosemite National Park to research her senior thesis on the park's management in the late 1800s.

"My idea is to creatively maximize and transform a small living space that must function to sustain a human being's multiple daily needs," she says. "I am interested in the transformative qualities of architecture, specifically, going from two dimensions to three dimensions, and I have been influenced by pop-up books and origami."

Haley Peckett '05, from Longwood, Fla., worked on a senior honors thesis called "Yosemite National Park and the Establishment of American Sacred Space," which was rooted in a geography course that covered public land management, as well as many religion courses that touched on sacred spaces.

"I became interested in the way that Americans value their wilderness and how these ideas evolve based on our historical and cultural background and then affect the management of national wilderness areas," she says. "I also found the concept of sacred space to be an interesting intersection between geography and landscape interpretation."

Peckett, whose geography major is modified with religion, looked at the management of Yosemite National Park in the late 1800s. She found that conflict over sacred space is often driven by material interests rather than historical and social values. She incorporated into her thesis the experiences, policies, and writings of park managers, developers, writers, artists, and tourists in the second half of the 19th century. The Richter Fund allowed her to visit the Yosemite Research Library, which, she reports, is the most comprehensive source of historical and cultural information on the park. She also traveled to the National Archives in College Park, Md., and the California State Archives in Sacramento to study documents from the Secretary of the Interior and the Yosemite Commission.

Peckett says her faculty advisor, Frank Magilligan, professor and chair of geography, not only provided guidance and support, he also helped her design the study according to existing gaps in knowledge of sacred space, wilderness ideas, and landscape interpretation.

Josiah Kaplan
Josiah Kaplan's '05 thesis is on "Low Cost Intervention Models in the Prevention of Genocide."

Josiah Kaplan '05, from Essex, Conn., became interested in refugee issues while pursuing his government major and war-and-peace studies minor. His courses have focused on international security and human rights issues, and he spent two terms working with humanitarian organizations. His senior honors thesis considers "Low Cost Intervention Models in the Prevention of Genocide."

"My thesis evaluates several current proposals for armed humanitarian intervention that the United States or other western governments might employ to mitigate violence against civilians during instances of ethnic cleansing and mass killing," Kaplan says. "I focused my case studies on Rwanda and Darfur, Sudan. My findings suggest that through the use of airborne policing of exit corridors for targeted populations, sizable numbers of lives might be saved at a reduced risk to U.S. lives in combat."

Kaplan says that the Richter Fund provided the money to purchase somewhat obscure research material, including topographical maps of rural roadways in Rwanda and Darfur, out-of-print reports, U.S. military field manuals, and foreign printed materials. He was also able to make several trips to libraries in Boston and New Haven. Kaplan worked with faculty advisor Benjamin Valentino, assistant professor of government, who offered support, guidance, and criticism.

"Professor Valentino used his extensive background in international security and genocide studies as a resource for testing my arguments and providing direction towards the most viable avenues of research," says Kaplan. "He also helped me through months of proofreading, which I am extremely grateful for."

By SUSAN KNAPP

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Last Updated: 5/30/08