Class of 2020 Prepares Senior Theses

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As college students approach their final year, they face the culmination of their higher education: the senior thesis. This year, Colgate seniors engaged in thesis work on topics ranging from hazardous waste in New York State to the correlations between caffeine and anxiety. Here’s a glimpse into a few of their studies.

Will automatic voter registration be effective in increasing voter turnout rates? Political science major Eli Cousin ’20 asks this question in his honors thesis, titled “Reducing Barriers or Negligible Impact? Analyzing the Impact of Automatic Voter Registration on Voter Turnout Rates Across the United States.”

Cousin began by studying what motivates people to vote and how economic circumstances can prevent some from reaching the ballot box. He then analyzed data from the 2014 and 2018 midterm elections within states that had implemented automatic voter registration — a process that automatically registers individuals to vote when they interact with government agencies like the DMV — in order to gauge this system’s efficacy.

Early results indicate that, while existing data show this newer election reform to be successful in registering more people to vote, it may not generate as large of an increase in voter turnout as some scholars and proponents of the policy might have initially expected. 

Following graduation, Cousin hopes to work in public service or political communications.

Does understanding financial concepts guarantee smart investment choices? Not necessarily, finds psychology major Grant Holloschutz ’20 in “Financial Literacy’s Effect on Choosing Between Investment Options.” 

In a hands-on experiment, Holloschutz gave 122 Colgate students $100,000 in fake money to invest how they saw fit, hypothesizing that higher levels of financial literacy would lead to aggressive investments. Reality, however, did not match this hypothesis. “I figured that young college students would play more aggressively, because they have time to make up for potential losses later down the road. But I actually found no correlation.” 

After graduation, Holloschutz will work in wealth management at Charles Schwab. 

A network of biological mechanosensors in cavefish — known as a lateral line — detect surrounding vibrations, allowing these blind swimmers to navigate, find food, and escape predators in complete darkness. Molecular biology major Marlene Lawston ’20, an Arnold and Mabel Beckman Scholar, is taking a closer look in “Changes in Progenitor Populations Lead to Expanded Mechanosensory Lateral Line in Cavefish.” 

Cavefish lateral line sensory hair cells are comparable to those in the human inner ear. Lawston is examining the sensory adaptations in cavefish that compensate for their blindness, including vibration-attraction behavior and a lack of schooling behavior.

After graduation, she plans to pursue her MD at the University of Rochester School of Medicine and her PhD as a National Institutes of Health Oxford-Cambridge Scholar. No word yet on whether the three cavefish she currently keeps as pets will go with her.

Many popular rap songs, including those by artists such as Kanye West and Kendrick Lamar, have shifted toward overt Christian references. Religion major Neil Van Cott ’20 is studying the trend in “Christian Rap Theodicies: Examining Rap Music with Christian Themes.”

Van Cott is examining how modern rap uses Christianity for more secular and artistic purposes, rather than with pious intent. “Though West and Lamar are sincerely concerned with the spiritual welfare of their race, both rappers stop short of Bible-thumping in favor of mainstream commercial success,” he said.

Following graduation, Van Cott — a self-proclaimed "hip-hop head" — hopes to use his thesis to apply to a graduate-level divinity school in order to study sacred music.

Wired and wireless networks on campus waste a significant amount of energy due to low efficiency and long idle periods. This inefficiency harms our environment and contributes to climate change. Computer science and mathematical economics double major Owen Sun ’20 is alarmed by the amount of energy expenditure and carbon emissions caused by information technology, issues he hopes to remedy with his research project “Energy-Aware Network Routing.”

Sun has been programming a solution that considers both wired and wireless networks together. He will test this method’s efficiency on a simulated network modeled after the Colgate campus network. “If we just consider wired data, that’s not efficient, since a large portion of our data is wireless. We need to combine them together to gain the most efficient method for our campus.” 

After graduation, Sun plans to pursue a PhD in computer science.

While tensions between Saudi Arabia and Iran are not new, oil is becoming a significant factor in the escalation of these conflicts. For Saudi Arabia, which is surrounded by Iranian allies, conflict is necessary to protect its ability to export oil. Iran’s patronage systems, enabled by oil income, allow it to engage in conflict without fear of popular uprising. Sophie Boyd ’20 highlights the region’s complications from an international relations and political science perspective in her thesis “Saudi Arabia and Iran: How Oil is Heating Up the New Cold War.”

“A lot of times, people — especially those who don’t know much about Islam —  view conflict in the region as a direct result of the religion,” Boyd said. “There are sectarian divides — that’s irrefutable. But I think what needs to come to the forefront of the discourse on the Middle East is that it faces many of the same motivations and challenges as the rest of the world does.”

After graduation, Boyd will work in oil and gas investment banking at JP Morgan doing credit risk management.

Most romance poets share a similar conception of what love looks like, finds Hope Orjuela ’20 in “Traditions in 20th-Century Love Poetry: Pedro Salinas, Pablo Neruda, and Octavio Paz.” The romance languages major is examining the connections between 20th-century love poems and how interpretations of love have changed or remained constant since.

“I feel like love is something that people haven’t quite figured out, so it’s interesting to see how different poets interpret it,” Orjuela said. She has found many trends throughout love poetry, including metaphors invoking the supernatural. “I’m excited by the idea of a woman as a goddess, some unattainable being who saves the man with her love.” Her favorite poem is Neruda’s “Cuerpo de Mujer.” 

Orjuela will take a gap year after graduation as she applies to medical school. She will conduct clinical research and volunteer as an emergency medical technician.