by Web on February 27, 2017
Eighteen Millsaps College students shared their research findings or creative work, the culmination of an intense four-semester experience, during the 2017 Honors Conference earlier this month.
Brittany Hardy, a senior from San Antonio, Texas, who is majoring in classical studies and art history, received the top award for her Honors thesis that focused on the way that the goddess Venus was received in 15th-century Florence.
“I focused on two paintings by Botticelli, the Birth of Venus and the Primavera, though I also considered the literary and philosophical works of the time,” she said. “Ultimately, I argued that to 15th-century Christian intellectuals, Venus was refigured as a redemptive goddess who was often conflated with the Virgin Mary.”
Hardy began researching the topic of her Honors thesis as a freshman for a term paper for her Heritage class. “After only scraping the surface of this subject, I was eager to further develop my ideas in the form of an honors thesis,” she said, noting that the Honors Program funded her travel to Italy and the United Kingdom last summer so she could view the two paintings in person, because electronic or print editions may obscure details.
Hardy said she expects the discipline and patience she learned from completing the long-term project will be useful in her next step: the pursuit of a doctorate in classical studies. “My writing and research experience through the Honors Program will serve me well in graduate school,” she said.
Leah Travis, a senior from Hattiesburg who is majoring in English and sociology/anthropology, found that her Honors project solidified her interest in criminal justice. Her project, for which she earned an honorable mention award, focused on the female prison experience, using material gained in confidential, in-depth interviews with eight recently incarcerated women who had all spent time at the only female prison in Mississippi.
“Through my sociology major, I had taken courses on crime and prisons and had also had several internships in the field of public defense,” Travis said. “I became extremely passionate about criminal justice, particularly issues of gender within the system. Honors allowed me to take that passion and apply my own ingenuity in order to create a meaningful piece of work. Through Honors, I stopped simply learning about my field of interest; instead, I became an active participant in the field.”
Travis said she learned how difficult it is to produce thorough research, and how much time and effort must be put into areas such as one’s literature review, methodology, and theory—not just findings.
“It was important to conduct research that is truly enlightening, as many people do not know about the current state of our prison system and the injustices that occur daily just miles from the Millsaps campus,” she said. “I learned how impactful research could be to the researcher. Through my project, the women I interviewed told me many stories of inhumane, unsafe treatment and conditions that they underwent while incarcerated.
“Honors showed me that although research is important, when involving injustice and severe mistreatment, sometimes research is not enough and action needs to be taken as well. Overall, my Honors project has led me to apply to law school in order to pursue public interest law.”
Dr. Brent E. Hendrixson, associate professor/chair of the Biology Department and director of the Honors Program, said the program provides students a unique and enriching opportunity to work closely with a faculty mentor.
A student must have at least a 3.300 grade point average and be invited to participate in the program. A student who is interested then submits a proposal for a project in the fall of his or her junior year, conducts research during the spring semester and summer, spends the fall of the senior year writing and making revisions, defends the thesis to his or her committee toward the end of the fall semester, and then presents the results of the project at the annual Honors Conference during the spring of their senior year.
Hendrixson said that many of the Honors projects he has seen during his time as director are comparable to projects that a graduate student seeking a master’s degree might pursue. In addition, he said the skills Honors students gain during the experience will prepare them for the rigors of graduate and professional school.
“Students in the Honors Program have to be meticulous and develop strong time-management skills,” Hendrixson said. “These qualities serve our students well because many of them will apply to graduate or professional schools where the rigor and expectations are higher. Our Honors students transition into these programs much more smoothly.”
In addition to having a note on a student’s transcript that says he or she has graduated with Honors, every student who completes an Honors project receives special recognition during commencement. The nomenclator not only announces the name of the student but also that he or she is graduating with Honors in a particular discipline. Furthermore, Dr. Keith Dunn, senior vice president for Academic Affairs and Dean of the College, places an academic hood on the student. “It definitely sets them apart,” Hendrixson said.
Students who completed Honors projects for 2017 include: