Spotlight on Senior Theses

This year, 28 seniors embarked on the intellectual journey of writing their senior theses. Students independently explored topics of their individual academic and career interests with the guidance of faculty tutors and readers, both from within the Honors Program and from within the students’ respective disciplines. This yearlong research exploration offers an incredible chance for students to delve deeper into topics that they may not have otherwise had the time or opportunity to study. All students doing the thesis track also took the Thesis Seminar course during the Fall and Spring Semesters. The independent research is then followed by a subsequent defense of the student’s topic before a faculty panel.

This year’s Honors Thesis Defense Day was held on Friday, April 28th. A few students’ theses are highlighted below, followed by a full list of the students and topics. 


Nicholas Ader

Eric Aldieri

Thesis: Encountering the Impasse: Poplitical Temporality and Narrative Improvisation

Majors: Philopsophy, Humanities, and Honors

Postgraduate Plans: I will be continuing my philosophical studies for the nexst six years, as I pursue an MA/PhD in Philopsophy at DePaul Univesrsity in Chicago.

Briefly explain your topic and what you were looking to find.

My thesis deals with the intersection of capitalism, temporal experience, and narrative theory by tracing modes of temporality through the history of capitalism, critiquing the political narratives of hope, futurity, and crisis, and finally analyzing a number of contemporary song lyrics as promising examples of political anti-futurity and alternative conceptions of temporality and experience. I draw theoretically from Lauren Berlant, Walter Benjamin, Franco Berardi, and Gilles Deleuze throughout the project.

What motivated you to conduct this research?

I was drawn to this topic due to my involvement in the Philadelphia DIY music scene, as well as my interests in radical politics (particularly since the election). Since most political experimentation and imagination is done outside of traditional “political” spheres, and in artistic scenes like the Philly DIY music scene, I wanted to explore in more detail the political and temporal effects of certain narratological practices. 

How do you plan on using the information that your thesis uncovered? What kind of attention do you hope your research triggers?

My hope is that in light of this project, people will view their sense of the political in a more expansive major. The very mundane details of everyday life are saturated with social, ethical, political, and temporal meaning – but these sites are very rarely located and recognized as having immediate political import. That needs to change for better interdisciplinary work to be done in these spheres.


Alyssa Nazar

Kasey Lynch

Thesis: Body Talk: An Authethnographic Inquiry into A Female Experience

Major: Communication & Honors

Minor: Theater & Spanish

Postgraduate plans: Nonexistent, for now at least. I am applying and interviewing for jobs in the communication field. Long-term I would like to go to graduate school to study performance for social change.

Briefly explain your topic and what you were looking to find.

I researched, wrote, and performed an original piece called Body Talk: An Autoethnographic Inquiry Into A Female Villanova Experience

My thesis project revolves around an autoethnographic performance I wrote about my relationship with my body as positioned within current political discourse as well as in the environment of Villanova University. I did a lot of research in areas such as autoethnography, feminist theory, human sexuality, the performance of gender, and the role of gender in a university setting. From this research I decided to specifically focus on the body and the ways in which my body interacts and reacts to that which surrounds it. The script highlights themes such as the struggle between accepting and being repulsed by one’s own body, women’s political issues, the idea of critical love, and the importance of recognizing Villanova’s role in this narrative.

What motivated you to conduct this research? 

I love to perform so I knew I wanted my thesis to have a performance element to it. But, I also did not wanted to perform just for the sake of performing. I wanted to write and perform something that would resonate with the Villanova community, and could have an impact on somebody. I am taking the class Elements of Dance currently, and that inspired my exploration of my body in regards to both Villanova and the current political climate.

What is the most interesting thing you learned while conducting your research?

I discovered a lot about myself. It is truly terrifying to write your inner most thoughts and insecurities on the page, and it is even more terrifying to get up and perform them for others. But it was also so empowering. I think that the things I talk about are relatable for some people, but not everyone has the platform to get up and start those uncomfortable conversations. I was able to experience, if even on a small scale, how performance can be used to start the dialogue that leads to social change.

What is the most suprising and unexpected thing you discovered while researching/writing your thesis?

I think the most surprising thing I found out was how uncomfortable I am with being uncomfortable. I think that is a big issue on campus. I think students, including myself, need to start leaning into discomfort in order to tackle big issues pertaining to race, class and gender.

How do you plan on using the information that your thesis uncovered? What kind of attention do you hope your research triggers?

I purposefully directed my performance at the Villanova Community because I want people to start talking. I am not looking for people to agree with all of my views and thoughts, but I want to help create a space where students feel comfortable discussing their views, whatever they may be. I think there is a sort of politeness here at Villanova. People do not want to offend others, so they avoid talking about certain issues, or they are afraid to be vocal about their views. I think in order to have healthy and productive discourse surrounding such integral topics like race, class and gender, we need to move away from politeness and move towards a more genuine form of inquiry. I hope that I inspire even just one person to stand up and speak out.


John Szot

Linda Nguyen

Thesis: Understanding why your veggies are good for you: The role of hydrogen peroxide in electrophile-induced Nrf2/ARE activation

Majors: Biology & Honors

Concentration: Ethics and Health Care

Majors: Sociology

Postgraduate Plans: I plan on attending Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health to pursue a Master’s degree in Public Health: Sociomedical Sciences.

Briefly explain your topic and what you were looking to find.

The majority of healthcare spending in the United States goes towards chronic disease treatment. Activating the Nrf2 transcription factor can prevent chronic diseases such as diabetes, cancer, heart disease, and neurodegenerative diseases. Through binding to the antioxidant response element (ARE), Nrf2 upregulates genes that encode cytoprotective (cell-protecting) proteins, including AKR1C1 and HO-1.

You can find Nrf2 activators in vegetables and other natural plant products such as kale, ginger, broccoli sprouts, and green tea. Studies conflict on whether or not reactive oxygen species (ROS) produced by Nrf2 activators play a meaningful role in Nrf2/ARE activation. We hypothesized that while not significantly activating ARE-regulated gene expression on their own, ROS (hydrogen peroxide, in particular) will significantly enhance the activation of those genes by an electrophile, namely sulforaphane extracted from broccoli sprouts. Human keratinocyte cells were treated with sulforaphane and varying concentrations of hydrogen peroxide (H2O2, one type of ROS) and dtBHQ (which produces many different types of ROS) and Western blot analysis was conducted to examine the effects of varying kinds of reactive oxygen species.

What motivated you to conduct this research?

The clinical relevance of Nrf2 is astounding and extremely diverse! Sulphoraphane is currently being used in clinical trials for a myriad of conditions, including diabetes, asthma, and cystic fibrosis. The possibility of discovering a way to make these activators even more powerful in its disease-mitigating capacity, a “super-sulforaphane”, if you will, is compelling and exhilarating. I have been a part of the Eggler Lab since my freshman year, and it is truly like a family! Studying the specific topic of hydrogen peroxide within a larger narrative of the Nrf2 pathway allowed me to work closely and collaboratively with my mentor and my labmates/friends.

What is the most interesting thing you learned while conducting your research?

My results show that H2O2 can enhance the activation of HO-1 by an electrophile (sulphoraphane), yet has little to no effect on the induction of another ARE-regulated antioxidant protein, AKR1C1. This is interesting, since these two proteins both play protective antioxidant roles within the cell and are regulated by the same sequence, yet respond completely differently after treatment with a single stressor, namely hydrogen peroxide. This showed me how complex each biochemical structure and process truly is. Even two proteins that have responded similarly in other experiments can yield different results under another set of conditions.

How do you plan on using the information that your thesis uncovered? What kind of attention do you hope your research triggers?

I think the most unexpected thing I discovered while performing research is that there are so many confounding variables to consider. I expected to come across at least some difficulty because science tends to do whatever it wants. However, my mentor, my colleagues, and I came across one factor after another that tweaked the results just a little bit. Thus, I discovered that even the soundly-designed experiments require consistent and continuous optimization. Since we must try to account for everything that may be skewing our data – the cell density while the cells are growing and undergoing treatment, the humidity of the chamber they are growing in, the age and condition of the media that they are kept in, and even the types of sponges we use during transfer – can affect the results drastically. Troubleshooting every step of the way is key!

How do you plan on using the information your research/writing has uncovered, and/or, what kind of change or attention do you hope that your research/writing triggers?

My mentor, Dr. Eggler, is preparing a manuscript that will likely include some of the research that my labmates and I have done on this project! It is important, once good research is performed, to relay these findings to the public. I hope that my project can help to contribute to the existing conversation about the role that reactive oxygen species play in antioxidant responses. I hope that it triggers more questions and thus more exploration into every minute inner-working of Nrf2’s wonderfully complex pathway. The more we know about this influential transcription factor, the better! When I learn and read about health disparities, many discussions include the topic of nutrition and its effect on the prevalence of certain diseases. Thus, this research not only has relevance clinically, but also socially. Most importantly, I have gained invaluable critical thinking and quantitative analysis skills from this entire thesis-writing process.

Other Senior Thesis Topics

Gabriella Berman: The Family in Crisis: John Locke, the Contraceptive Mentality, and a Christological Response

Danielle Bissonette: Patterns of Disordered Eating in Male and Female LGB Youth

Brendan Carchidi: Queer Arab Studies: Synthesizing Contemporary Scholarship on Queer Arab Bodies

Francesca Cocchi: A Bridge from You to Me: Unlikely Empathy through Narrative Experience

Laine Feller: The Role of Inhibitor of Peroxide Resistance (iprA) in Salmonella stress survival

Lawrence Flynn: Ordinary Time: Stories and Poems of Modern America

Luke Hensley: Bergsonian Time in Faulkner and Woolf's Experimental Fiction 

Katherine Kirk: The Construction of Socialism: Public Housing in Red Vienna, 1919-1934

Lauren Kloss: Literary Synesthesia and the Creation of Wonder

Michael M. Lee: Almost There? An Examination of Race and Hegemony in Disney's Princess Films

Madeleine Messinger: Anger Till We Have Love: An Exploration of the Nature or Love and Deification in C.S. Lewis's "Till We have Faces"

Allyce Morrissey: Mother WHO DOES SHE THINK SHE IS: A Case Study of Women Playwrights Subverting Dramatic Convention  

Isabel Nelson: Mother Manners and Morals in Mansfield Park: Religion and Transcendence in Jane Austin

James O'Donnell: Assessing the Role of Labor Unions on Wage Inequality  

Bailey Paige: The Cultural Impact on Retelling of Selected Fairy Tales throughout History

Regina Paparo: The Clash of Civilizations: A Retrospective Analysis

Jamie Peritt: The Effect of the Utilization of Data Analytics on American Political Campaigns  

Mary Platt: The Role of Cross-Cultural Communication in Healthcare Interactions

Stephen Purcell:"May I Express Thee Unblam'd?" Milton and the Epistemic Limits of Postlapsarian Language 

Andrew Saba: Assad's Regime: Analysis of the Despotic Government in Syria According to Montesquieu

Samuel Schafer:The Failure of Institutional Review Boards 

Kaitlyn Stepanek:The Inconsolable Secret": Uncovering Joy as Hidden in C.S. Lewis's Till We Have Faces

Antonio Triggiano:Tasting Italy: Pursuing the Good of Italian Cuisine

Ryan Zalla: Solution Methods for Portfolio Choice

Matthew Zarenkiewciz: What is to be done?: Religion and Politics in the U.S.  

Written by Newsletter Co-Editor, Richelle Hurley '17 CLAS. Richelle is receiving a degree in Communication with a concentration in Peace & Justice, and minors in Public Administration and Classics. 

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