Passionate Study


Two MCLA students will defend their Commonwealth Scholar (CS) Theses on Thursday, April 12, and Monday, April 23, from 5 to 6:15 p.m. Both presentations, which are free and open to the public, will take place in Murdock Hall's Fitzpatrick Room 208.

According to Dr. Matthew Silliman, MCLA philosophy professor, the thesis is an option for those enrolled in the MCLA Honors Program.

"A student spends a year researching and writing an interdisciplinary thesis, working closely with a faculty advisor and the honors director. This culminates in a public presentation and defense, and the thesis is adjudicated by a committee which includes an outside reader from another college.

"It is perhaps the greatest academic challenge we offer, and it is quite demanding - we typically do only two or three in a given year," Silliman said.

He explained that the thesis project is intended for the rare, mature student who is passionately interested in some interdisciplinary question. "In general, a CS thesis is the greatest and most sustained academic challenge available to MCLA students. As such, our ability to offer this opportunity is a culmination of our educational mission."

Shelby Giaccarini '12 (pictured above)of Fitchburg, Mass., who will defend on Thursday, said she knew she wanted to write a thesis since her freshman year. Her thesis, "Voices of Nature:  Environmental Ethics and the Imperative to Save the World," asserts that the production and dissemination of environmental literature is an indispensable component of any viable solution to our present global environmental crisis.

"This is because nature is largely lacking a voice in our society," she said. "Literature and other art forms can and must provide such a voice for nature. Ethicists, scientists and all people with the knowledge and power to inform others need to go beyond mere theory or research to apply and disseminate their understanding to the world, and they need to do so with a timely and persuasive power commensurate with the urgency of the threat to the environment and to nature."

A double major in philosophy and English literature, Giaccarini explained that "Voices of Nature" discusses a synthesis of ideas found in both philosophy and literature. "So, it was a natural topic for me to write about.  I am very interested in environmental ethics, so I knew I wanted to incorporate that into my thesis, but I didn't want to write a paper heavy in ethical theory that only my fellow philosophy majors would understand; I wanted to write something that all of my peers would find accessible."   

Successful theses are bound and shelved in MCLA's Freel Library. For some students, they may become the basis of further work in graduate school, but in general the process is as important as the product, Silliman said.

"Having some experience in writing a thesis is going to be invaluable when I get to graduate school," Giaccarini said. "Not only will graduate schools be impressed that I have successfully written and defended a thesis, but I will already know some of the dos and don'ts of thesis writing, which will hopefully make my job easier the second time around."