Honors College students explore senior thesis projects

By Kevin Graham

Just across the bridge from the Oakland Center, in the corner of Vandenberg Hall, sits a small wing dedicated to the Honors College. Countless residents must pass it on the way to their dorms while having no idea what goes on there.

Every year though, Honors College seniors show off their skills with the presentation of their senior thesis projects. Seniors must find an adviser, present their plans and submit them to a committee made up of both current and retired professors that are experts in a number of fields.

If they get past this, the real work starts. What follows is an account of the projects of four Oakland Honors College students.

Lost in translation

Rachel Butler, a double-major in Spanish and English, teamed up with fellow senior Kaitlin Huff to work on a translation of three short stories from the Spanish Civil War.

The two had originally planned to do individual projects but decided to expand on something they had done in a previous class.

“We met up later and said, ‘what if we did this translation again and made it really professional, really, really polished it and then did a paper on the process,’” Butler said. “Because we’re complete nerds, we really enjoyed it.”

Butler said the hardest thing was dealing with phrases in Spanish that didn’t have an exact translation. The two of them would follow a muli-step process.

• rough translation

• figure out verbs

• vocabulary (correct meaning)

• make the sentence flow in English naturally

• match author’s style

• match styles between your personal translations

Butler said she really gained appreciation for the work that goes into translation.

“I have this new-found appreciation for translation and the work that goes into writing literature, editing literature and the publishing of translation work,” she said. “It’s just been mind-boggling, but it’s so much fun in a weird way.”

Surveying service

Candace Savonen, a double major in psychology and biology wanted to find out if what people said online about their level of community service correlated with what they actually ended up doing.

Before starting on her own work, Savonen looked at the results of previous studies.

“Contrary to what a lot of us may think as far as Facebook representation, people’s Facebook (pages) often are fairly representative of what they do offline, especially compared to other online sites that have been used in the past, like dating websites,” she said.

Savonen also wanted to look at narcissism and whether people with these tendencies would exaggerate their level of community service.

Data was gathered through surveys given to psychology students. Savonen ended up with mixed results.

“My study did find that online and offline behaviors are pretty well related,” she said. “The piece as far as narcissism, that was a little bit cloudier because it didn’t come out as significant that narcissism would help predict the difference between online and offline.”

Getting animated

Studio art major Laura Eagan, normally a painter, wanted a different challenge.

“I went with animation because I was kind of new to the medium,” Eagan said. “I’m a painting major, they don’t have an animation department. I did the animation not only because it was an opportunity to create something new, it was an educational experience as well.”

In order to give herself room for experimentation, Eagan chose to go with the freeform plot line of a dream sequence.

She said a big challenge was making sequences that could be 70-80 drawings long, amounting to only a few seconds of film, look natural.

“In your mind, you’ve got to think about how something would move,” she said. “If I draw some legs walking, I’m kind of walking in my head even though I’m sitting down.”

An eye on the eye

Amaal Haimout, who wishes to go to medical school after OU, was inspired to do her project after working at the Eye Research Institute on campus.

“When I met my boss and he told me the type of research he did with the eyes and the metabolic effects on the processes of the eye, I found that very intriguing,” she said.

Haimout’s grandfather suffers from age-related macular degeneration, a condition affecting the back of the retina in which the patient must increasingly rely on their peripheral vision in order to see at all. She wanted to see if the zinc supplements he was taking had any beneficial effect at all.

The condition is caused by something called oxidative stress. The body creates energy by combining digested food with the oxygen gained by the breathing process.

Although the process is controlled by the metabolism, it can have dangerous effects as well, Haimout said, such as the creation of free radicals unpaired electrons that can wreak havoc on the system. Oxidative stress is the total damage caused by this process.

In conducting the experiment, Haimout exposed eye cells to zinc and other transition metals.

The results of her experiment were inconclusive.

“What our research demonstrated was that high levels of zinc were actually toxic to the retinal cells,” she said. “Lower levels were actually beneficial.”