Using the knowledge they gained during their first three years of study, all students at Hamilton complete a senior project  that enables them to demonstrate at an appropriate level their mastery of content and the methods of their discipline.

We asked a few members of the Class of 2024 to tell us about their senior projects and share their biggest takeaways.

Weaving Culture: The Evolution of Amazigh Textiles as Proxies for Amazigh Culture in Morocco 1912-2023

Syra Gutow
Middle East and Islamicate Worlds Studies and Women's and Gender Studies double major

Syra Gutow explores the impacts of French colonialism on expressions of indigenous culture in Morocco during the colonial period from 1912 to 1956 and then in the post-colonial period from 1956 to 2023.

What motivated your thesis selection?
I studied abroad in Morocco in Spring 2023 and knew I wanted to use that experience to formulate my thesis. While in Morocco I was in a course on Amazigh culture and their cultural expression, including crafts. That summer, then, I continued on in Morocco and worked at a weaving cooperative while doing a Levitt center research project on the economic impacts from colonialism on Amazigh weaving. So, starting senior year, I had all this research and information. But, I didn't necessarily have a central question to guide the research. That was probably the hardest part of the process — dialing down to a specific guiding question. 

Who supported you and how?
My advisor, Professor Jumet, was a huge support. She recommended that I look into Amazigh culture and encouraged me to study in Morocco. Also, the people that I interviewed were amazing. I spent two weeks working with the Anou cooperative. They were so welcoming of me and so eager to teach me about the craft sector in Morocco — both past and present. They provided me with most of the information that I needed to write my thesis. 

What did you discover?
My main argument is that the French colonial government recategorized the craft sector through their policies and largely commodified weaving for international export. Through that process they changed, codified, and restricted different designs and expressions of Amazigh culture, which resulted in a loss of designs alongside changing interpretations and uses of culture. A push and pull of cultural power. The weaving culture today, then, has remnants of French restrictions on the craft sector amidst cultural reclamation efforts.

Did your findings lead you to ask more specific questions and broaden your curiosity?
I think with any project, you answer some questions and end up with more. What’s interesting about Morocco is it’s very multicultural, so you still have some discrimination and inequality leveraged against the Amazigh today. I’m really interested in where Morocco’s craft industry will go from here. How will activism for cultural change and Amazigh rights and representation occur and what role will the craft sector play?

What part of your thesis are you most proud of?
There’s two sides to this, I think. One, I’m really proud of the final product, its quality, and the effort I put into it. But I’m also really proud to have met the people I did through this project and to have hopefully been able to add their voices to the discourse around this topic.

The Effect of Seasonal Habitat (subnivium) Formation on Rodent Activity and Size-Dependent Seed Predation

Simon Yan (left) and Saleh Eltayeb (right)
Biology majors

Collaborating on data collection but analyzing different data for their biology theses, Saleh Eltayeb and Simon Yan examined how snow depth and temperature affect how long rodents forage and their specific foraging behavior, respectively. 

What motivated your thesis selection? 
Eltayeb: [Assistant Professor of Biology] Peter Guiden started this project a year or two ago. He’s trying to get years’ worth of data, and we thought it would be interesting to use each of our theses to contribute to that data set. 

Yan: Yeah, I found the focus of his study interesting and was intrigued by the idea of incorporating a lab culture with more fieldwork. We did our research together, but each of us explored a different aspect of the data set. 

Who supported you and how?
Eltayeb: Our advisor guided us through the planning, data collection, and data analysis. Also the plant animal lab was really helpful with our presentations and revisions.

Yan: The plant animal lab throughout the year has provided significant help in different aspects, helping us navigate through all the resources and doing lab work. Everyone puts in significant time and supports each other to grow.

What did you discover?
Eltayeb: We found that with less snow, only one species foraged where we had cameras set up. 

Yan: That was actually surprising, too, because there are a lot of species where we conducted our research. Another surprise was that gray squirrels unexpectedly showed up, which forced us to incorporate them into our analysis. So overall we didn’t find any significant relationships between rodents and temperature patterns, but we were surprised by the complexities of winter environments. 

Did your findings lead you to ask more specific questions and broaden your curiosity?
Eltayeb: Snow accumulation affects small rodents and humans differently. It really broadened my curiosity on how anthropogenic changes in weather patterns have impacts on even the smallest animals.

Yan: Our results really taught us the importance of winter environments, so I think understanding their role could help facilitate ecological conservation or more effective management strategies. 

A Melody for the Monsters, A Novel in Sound

Caitlin Moehrle
Creative Writing and Music double major

“In a world where music is magic, creatures bend their will to the power of a song — but only if the notes are performed perfectly.” Moehrle combines creative writing and music in her theses, an epic fantasy novel accompanied by musical composition. 

What motivated your thesis selection?
For my creative writing thesis, I knew I wanted to write a fantasy story. I’d been thinking about something based on Irish folklore and involving music since before junior year. I always had an idea for the main protagonist and knew her goals. For my music thesis, one of the requirements was composition. I’d never done composition before, but I decided to take a leap and create a series of compositions based on my novel. So the two of them ended up really bouncing off each other. 

Who supported you and how?
My music advisor, [Associate Professor of Music] Ryan Carter, helped develop my creative style and confidence. Also the amazing musicians who helped me record. My creative writing advisors, Anne Valenti and Hoa Ngo, helped me develop and refine my story and big ideas. Professor of Music Heather Buchman inspired me to think about music in creative ways. Professor of Literature Jane Springer also inspired me to use poetry to imagine how music would sound on a page. 

Tell me about your novel and composition. What happens and what do you tackle?
I created a fantasy world where music is magic, and musicians train to perfect the songs of mythical creatures. The protagonist is a young musician who is setting out to find her place in this world. It tackles environmentalism and our relationship with the natural world. As for the composition, I translated my characters and scenes into music. Some tracks were more intimate featuring a solo instrument, and then some were completely the opposite — like something you would hear in a Lord of the Rings movie.

Did the process open new creative doors or broaden your curiosity?
Working on such a big project for so long proved that I’m capable of doing it. I was writing for days on end but I loved it, and it reminded me why I want to be an author. It’s not just a far-off dream I had when I was 5. It was also amazing to write for so many different instruments; I’m primarily a string player so my musical horizons were really broadened. 

A Study on Non-Voters in the Past Three Presidential Elections

Sean Kondracki
Data Science major

Kondracki analyzed election data from 2012, 2016, and 2020 to determine and model patterns in non-voter activity for his data science senior project. 

What motivated your thesis selection? 
I was in a senior statistics seminar and we’d been working on data sets throughout the semester when our professor brought up a survey from the American National Election Study with tons of interesting questions from before and after voting. A lot of the unknown during elections comes from non-voters, so I thought that looking at their voting patterns in that data could be really interesting and helpful — especially in 2024. 

Who supported you and how?
There were so many different roads we could have gone down with the data, and my advisor, [Associate Professor of Statistics Chinthaka] Kuruwita, gave a lot of direction on ideas and what variables to consider. He provided a lot of resources for modeling what I discovered, too. Data science is also a new concentration, so he was super excited to help. I would say our seminar class, too. There were only 13 people so we supported each other a lot when analyzing data and practicing presentations. Definitely a tight-knit group.

What did you discover?
If you have a history of being interested in politics or in candidates you’re obviously more likely to be a voter — it’s very easy to model. Predicting non-voter trends, however, is much more of a wild card. Trends in non-voter activity aren’t wholly consistent: non-voters were more likely to not have IDs, they were less likely to have assets, or many said they were likely to vote and ultimately didn’t. Their trends are drastically different from those who regularly vote, so it’s super hard to model and predict their voting behavior. However, this demographic is also super important during elections, so research into non-voter trends is crucial. 

Did your findings lead you to ask more specific questions and broaden your curiosity?
I want to learn more about how to collect good political data. One of the issues was that we analyzed categorical data, which can be more difficult to interpret. I’m interested in how we can use more concise data to get accurate insights on non-voter trends but also be able to tap into the interesting questions — like on social media usage or where people grew up — which speak to those patterns and provide voting strategies moving forward.

Conviction and Conversation: The Benefits of Listening to Hypocrites

Zavier Alvarez-Burock
Philosophy and Economics double major

Alvarez-Burock’s philosophy thesis explores why hypocrites have valid arguments and why alienating them is harmful to the discipline.

What motivated your thesis selection? 
I was inspired by Professor of Philosophy Alexandra Plakias’ work. She published a paper exploring how philosophy privileges people who are overconfident in their arguments, and someone who might not be confident but might still have a very good argument is dissuaded from publishing. I wondered if there’s anywhere else this can be applied and thought, well, hypocrites. For example, a vegan Youtuber I follow, Alex O’Conner, after he stopped being vegan, was labeled a hypocrite and his arguments disregarded; it felt like another case where we’re taking someone’s character and giving it too much bearing on their convictions. 

Who supported you and how?
I’d say my two roommates: Dana Goettler ’24 and Cass Adler ’24. They helped read through my thesis and give notes. Also talking to them about the hypocrisy they’d seen in the world. My advisor, [Philosophy] Professor Russel Marcus, gave me lots of guidance, too. I’ve taken his classes before, and he’s had so many brilliant assignments. Those assignments and his team-based learning approach helped me think differently and come up with these thought experiments.  

What did you discover?
Hypocrisy can happen for a number of reasons — from personal to circumstantial. Oftentimes, though, those reasons aren’t relevant to the strength of your arguments. So, by excluding people because of their hypocrisy, we miss out on key voices with different perspectives. And that’s overall bad for the field of philosophy; we want as many voices as possible.

Did your findings lead you to ask more specific questions and broaden your curiosity?
I think my findings felt more like I was pulling a bunch of thoughts I’d always had together. I brought a bunch of different ideas together and made them more cohesive. I took four or five specific different ideas from classes and I turned them into one project. So, I don’t know if I opened any interesting new doors, but I feel like I explored the ones I had always wanted to, which, in a way, broadened my curiosity.

Primary Care Provider Practice Patterns in Health Provider Shortage Areas and non-HPSAs

Aliana Potter
Interdisciplinary major with a focus in public health

Potter's interdisciplinary senior project compares and documents the experiences of healthcare providers in Utica, N.Y. (where there’s a shortage of healthcare professionals) and her hometown of Boston (where there is no shortage). 

What motivated your thesis selection?
In sophomore summer I did research in Utica talking with OB-GYN healthcare providers about their experience giving care to refugee mothers. That got me interested in studying the perspectives of healthcare providers because I think it’s a good way to determine what’s working and not working in the healthcare system. Also, I’m going into health policy, and the overarching goal is to improve the healthcare system, so this was a good way to start in that area. 

Who supported you and how?
I worked with my advisor, Associate Professor of Sociology Matthew Grace, one-on-one all year. He gave me really great feedback and helped me work through my ideas and research methods. … Also [Mahala] Stewart in sociology. She improved my understanding of how to conduct qualitative research and ask effective questions. At the beginning I struggled to find interview subjects before I used the alumni directory to find doctors in Boston and Utica; so I’d say Hamilton’s alumni network ended up being a huge support, too.

What did you discover?
My biggest finding was that despite how different the two areas appear, providers had similar concerns. In both areas they had similar experiences and frustrations with medical malpractice and the U.S.’s health insurance system. My biggest finding, though, was that many providers in Boston were frightened of a burgeoning healthcare provider shortage there — those HPSA (Health Provider Shortage Areas) designations I based my study around aren’t telling the full story. 

Did your findings lead you to ask more specific questions and broaden your curiosity?
There are a lot of issues in primary care that are not being addressed and reasons that there aren’t enough primary care providers — especially given the growing shortage in
Boston, which is supposed to be a non-HPSA. There needs to be more research done into why there’s that shortage. Also, I’ll be working in health policy, and when I shared this with the providers they said that they find people in health policy don’t always take into consideration the real experiences of healthcare professionals. It’s inspired me to put more work into centering the experiences of healthcare professionals in our system.

Open Curriculum

With a distinctive open curriculum and more than 50 areas of study, Hamilton provides you with the freedom, responsibility, and opportunity to create an individualized plan of study.

Commencement 2024

What’s Next: The Class of 2024

Members of Hamilton’s Class of 2024 have walked off the Commencement stage, canes in hand, and out into the world ready to make a difference.

Christian Hernández Barragán ’24

How Two Distinct Disciplines Meshed in a Senior Thesis

Discovering the intersections between two disciplines miles apart is no easy path to take — but it is a rewarding one. Christian Hernández Barragán ’24, a government and theatre major, shares how he meshed his two favorite departments in his senior theses and in off-campus adventures in London and Washington, D.C.

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