Senior Thesis

The Senior Thesis represents the culmination of a Haverford student’s academic experience, and is one of the most important and rewarding ways that Haverford realizes its educational mission. It is an opportunity to do original research at levels usually reserved for graduate students, in partnership with faculty mentors. Haverford College is one of a very few institutions in the country that includes a Senior Thesis project as part of every student’s academic program.

Students become true scholars, and come to understand at a deep and practical level what it takes to create knowledge and to seek answers to challenging questions. In turn, they become more effective and influential agents for change in whatever field they choose.

These Class of 2014 projects represent the depth of intellect and diversity of interests that define the liberal arts at Haverford.

  • Rubén Monárrez, Biology

    Antimicrobial resistance is a threat to our medical security. Studying the evolution of resistance allows us to develop interventions and prevent antimicrobial resistance transmission. Most bacterial resistance emerges from a selective pressure generated from persistent antimicrobial exposure; however, resistance can also be disseminated in the absence of antimicrobial pressure if the resistance genes are physically linked to fitness conferring genes. I hypothesize that pMB2, a large 125kb plasmid with eight resistance genes, has acquired modular regions that are prevalent in other Escherichia coli in West Africa because of selective pressures beyond antimicrobial resistance. By dividing the pMB2 into sub-plasmids I have determined that portions of pMB2 are associated with potential fitness advantages including the secretion of a growth-promoting metabolite and regulation in autoaggregation. These results support novel unconventional resistance transmission pathway and a need to modify current transmission prevention strategies.

  • Kelsey Ryan, Linguistics & English

    J.R.R. Tolkien, author of The Lord of the Rings and other Middle Earth tales as well as Oxford professor of linguistics, constructed over 14 languages in the development of the background of his stories. This thesis seeks to understand Tolkien’s linguistic experiment of Quenya, first in its historical context, and then assess its linguistic merit and behaviors. I began this project as an exploration of the points of intersection between my two majors, English and linguistics. However, my love of nerd culture goes back much further into my childhood, to reading Tolkien’s fellow Inkwell pal C.S. Lewis with my parents as a kid and to obsessing over each Harry Potter book as it was published. Like Tolkien, I developed my own rudimentary constructed language as a preteen (disclaimer: it was awful), so I’m thankful for the opportunity to dig into the way Tolkien teased his love of languages into something culturally relevant.

  • Elliot Schwartz, Physics

    Highway traffic is one of the most boring and frustrating aspects of life, but it is actually a fascinating system to study. Studies of traffic flow integrate ideas from physics, math, and computer science, and are interesting both practically and theoretically. Most studies of traffic flow are descriptive; that is, they try to fit mathematical models to a system as accurately as possible, but do little to show how to improve traffic flow in non-trivial ways. Self-driving cars provide an opportunity to actually change the nature of traffic flow, an option that has not been theoretically explored to date. The practical benefits of improving traffic flow could also be tremendous: fewer crashes, decreased pollution, and less wasted time. I ran a cellular automata simulation of highway traffic flow to study the effects on large-scale traffic flow of self-driving cars mixed in with human drivers. When 80 percent of cars on the highway were self-driving, peak flow was approximately 24 percent higher than with only human drivers, and seriously congested flow did not occur until a density twice as high.

  • Celia Ristow,  History

    Propaganda from the Office of War Information (OWI) urged married women to enter the wartime workforce to ease the labor shortage caused by the conscription of men into the armed forces. These images leveraged themes of duty, patriotism, and country. Despite this government approbation directed toward working wives, deep cultural anxieties centered on the figure of the married woman who entered the workforce and, in doing so, flouted traditional gender roles. I use the lens of food preparation and the family meal to illuminate the conflicting pressures placed on married women during the war. Using sources from the OWI, Good Housekeeping, and The New York Times, I examine cultural constructions of food, food preparation, and mealtimes during the war. I also look at the ways in which women’s magazines expected housewives to interact with food and the kitchen. I loved the confluence of a few subjects that fascinate me: women’s history, the anthropology of food and meals, public health, nutrition, American history, and World War II history. I became interested in the intense social burdens placed on married women during the war, and looking at social constructions of food and mealtimes became a great way to explore the pressures placed on these women.

  • Naila Ijaz, Chemistry

    Chemistry is all about the affects of small particles on larger molecules and systems. Proteins are a fine example of such a system. This project studies the hydrogel-forming properties of a peptide from a natural source. Small alterations in the chemical make-up of the peptide change its properties. Hydrogels have a wide range of biomedical applications, which include serving as drug delivery vehicles and providing a matrix for tissue regeneration. Hydrogels derived from natural, human sources are especially promising due to their biocompatibility and biodegradability. My work has also consisted of exploring biological mechanisms whereby peptides can be produced in large quantities. In addition to the fascinating chemistry and biology that this project is composed of, I am interested in this project because it is biomedically applicable.

  • Sydney Carson, Psychology

    This study examined relationships on with a specific focus on why people participate in public displays of affection (PDA). Four hundred and eighty-eight participants who were both in relationships and active Facebook users were recruited to complete self-report measures. Six personality and relational variables were measured (anxious attachment, secure attachment, satisfaction, commitment, self-esteem, social desirability) as well as six motivations for engaging in PDA (control of partner’s image, assuring partner, self-assurance, self-verification, openness, and social verification). We hypothesized six different mediated affects that consist of a relational/personality independent variable predicting the dependent variable of Facebook PDA, mediated by a motivational factor. This project was interesting to me because, despite previous research that has studied social media and others that have studied relationship impression management, we are the first team to combine the two areas. 

  • Yiqi Pan, Economics

    My thesis investigates the racial and gender discrimination in the United States small business credit market, and further examines the causes of discrimination. Specifically, this study focuses on new credit line approval, credit line renewal provided by financial institutions and trade credit provided by suppliers. Using data from the 2003 Survey of Small Business Finances (SSBF), I find that in new credit line approval, black-owned businesses face unfair outcomes; while in credit line renewal, women-owned firms are slightly favored by lenders. In trade credit approval, no minority-owned firms appear to be discriminated against. I also present evidence that discrimination against minority groups is mostly likely to be based on statistical reasons instead of prejudice. Prof. Mudd’s junior seminar: “Access to Finance” inspired me to investigate small businesses’ access to credit line and trade credit. As an international student, I am always interested in diversity and equal opportunity in the community.

  • Miriam Pallant, Spanish

    Through the lens of the sixth edition of America Past and Present, an AP-level high school history textbook used in a variety of different political climates and geographic locations, my thesis explores the representation of the U.S. - Mexican War in a close linguistic analysis. The inspiration for this study was a course I took while studying abroad in Xalapa, Veracruz, Mexico, in which we explored Mexican and U.S. history from a variety of perspectives. Reading the history of my own country from an international perspective (and in a different language) gave me a firsthand opportunity to see how the same story can come to light through very different narratives. Upon my return, I began to research this topic, watching a documentary film called The Revisionaries that exposed to me the controversy of curricula and textbooks in the United States. As I am pursuing a career in teaching, I am also enormously interested in the ways that classrooms can become less reliant on textbooks as a source of “Truth” by exchanging the practice of “reading to memorize” for more active pedagogies.