"When SU has its next Rhodes Scholarand it's a matter of when, not ifI believe that student will come out of the Honors Program," says Portnoy, who earned a law degree at Harvard University and is a senior associate attorney with Arent, Fox, Kintner, Plotkin, and Kahn, one of Washington, D.C.'s largest law firms.|
Although career skills accrue from Thesis Project, the experience is not marketed as a career-building strategy. "To make it through the rigors of Thesis Project, you must have a passion for your subject, a burning question you need to answer," Hamilton says.
Hurd, however, believes that if the project were strictly an intellectual experience, the program would be much smaller. "Students are more pragmatic than they used to be," she says. "They ask, 'What's it going to do for me?' I tell them it can be an intellectual exercise, a personal journey, or a step toward a professional goal."
Sometimes it's all three. For his Thesis Project, educational video producer Lee Larcheveque '95, G'97, made a 22-minute film about monarch butterflies. He did all the research, writing, videography, and editing. He composed and recorded the keyboard music for the soundtrack. The final project swept all the awards that year: the David Orlin Prize for Best Thesis Project, the Fuji Film Award for Best Newhouse Thesis, and SU's National Academy of TV Arts and Sciences Award. The following year, in Hollywood, the film won the equivalent of a college Emmy from the Academy of TV Arts and Sciences. It's currently being distributed by the University of Kansas as part of the elementary school curriculum Monarch Watch.
"It's good to know the video has had a shelf life," says The College of Arts and Sciences and Newhouse School graduate. "But I wasn't thinking professionally when I took on the project. It was very personal. I had been raising butterflies since I was in second grade, and I had always wanted to do a documentary start to finish," he says. "The project took about 40 hours per week at certain points and a total of 1,000 hours, maybe more. With a project of this size, you're never really done. While I was earning my master's degree at Newhouse, I redid the soundtrack. If I hadn't had to leave Syracuse, I'd still be tweaking it."|
Thesis Projects take many forms: papers, inventions, experiments, fine art exhibits, films, even operas. "While we emphasize that this is undergraduate studies, students often do graduate-level work," says Hurd.
Charlene Wilson '95, who earned a dual degree in economics and finance from The College of Arts and Sciences and the School of Management, realizes her thesis was "really out there, in terms of what you'd expect from an undergraduate." Using data collected by the University, Wilson developed a system that helped predict which students are most likely to choose SU.
In Wilson's three years of working with housing data for the Urban Institute in Washington, D.C.and even while she was earning a master's degree in statistics at George Washington Universityshe has yet to tackle a project as sophisticated as her honors thesis. "I agonized over that thesis," Wilson remembers. "Many times I said to myself, 'I'm not going to do this anymore.' But I started it, so I needed to finish it."
Most honors students consider the insights gained in the Honors Program indispensable to their careersand their lives. What Rebekka Bonner '95 values most is the program's interdisciplinary approach, which "helps you think outside the box."|
"My honors advisors encouraged me to take courses in one discipline to understand concepts in another," The College of Arts and Sciences graduate explains. "For example, I took a psychology course to help sort out the conflict in Northern Ireland."
Her ability to approach problems from fresh perspectives has already served Bonner well. Despite a stellar academic career, she found herself faltering when a promised job offer fell through before graduation. "I went to Washington, D.C., with $17 and my honors advisor's phone number in my Rolodex. She helped me find an SU family to live with and a job as a receptionist on Capitol Hill. She also helped me weigh that position's potential against a job offer for twice the salary," says Bonner, who quickly advanced from receptionist to deputy press secretary for Congresswoman Patty Murray, then to her current post as press secretary for the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
"It's not that they do the work for you in the Honors Program," she says. "But those wonderful people are the program's real strength. They help you take a fresh look and explore all the possibilities. Just last week I talked to my former honors advisor about graduate school. In every critical decision of my life, the Honors Program has been thereand will probably continue to be there."