For some members of the class of 2003, a senior thesis has meant weeks of toil among dusty volumes in Baker library. For seniors like Jillian Powers '03, however, the path to an honors degree has been considerably more exhilarating.
"I did my research on stigma management of a deviant occupation," Powers said. "Basically, I studied strippers."
Powers, Brian Bollinger '03 and Ingrid Biedron '03 are among the over 200 undergraduates who have spent the last several months at work on a senior honors project.
Powers said her thesis focused how rural strippers reconcile their professional lives with their standing as part of a close-knit community. She noted that exotic dancers in rural areas are not able to "blend into the atmosphere," as in urban areas.
"Everyone knows you're a stripper," Powers said.
Powers documented a number of different mechanisms by which rural strippers coped with stigma. Many women chose to live far from their workplace, traveling for as long as two hours to get to work each morning. Some strippers with shorter commutes simply made friends with other exotic dancers.
"If all of your friends are strippers, then it really isn't that bad," Powers said.
The sociology major expressed great satisfaction with her thesis and research.
"My feeling with writing a thesis was that I didn't want something that would bore me," Powers said, "and it worked out really great."
Brian Bollinger '03, a varsity rower and engineering major, did a senior project related to his athletic pursuits.
In a single-person rowing shell, the rower faces backwards and steers by looking over his or her shoulder. Bollinger helped design a shell in which the rower faces forward and pulls a single handle, not oars. The handle turns a propeller at the boat's stern.
"There's a completely new hull design with 20 percent less wetted area, so there's less drag," Bollinger said. "I also designed a new propeller and a wireless steering system."
The new boat is also much easier to handle than single shells, which are notoriously unsteady.
"Singles are statically unstable; they tip over easily. With this boat, the center of gravity is much lower," Bollinger said.
Bollinger described his thesis experience as "very worthwhile," though he added that it had been stressful at times. He is currently conducting a market analysis to determine whether his boat could be produced commercially.
Ingrid Biedron '03 conducted original research on the effects of surface boating on seals and North Atlantic right whales in the Bay of Fundy, off the coast of Maine. She spent a term with a research team before writing her thesis this spring.
"We would go out in a boat and record the whales' calls and vocalizations. We wanted to see if the vocalizations changed when there were boats around," Biedron said.
Right whales are among the most threatened marine mammals. There may be as few as 200 left in the world, according to Biedron, who is an environmental studies major.
Biedron also observed the behavior of seals in a channel.
"I compared the seal's diving rates for when there are boats and when there aren't," Biedron said.
She concluded that boats definitely disrupt seal behavior, but could draw less firm conclusions for right whales.
"The overall finding was that there is a lot of uncertainty, but the potential for an effect is great," Biedron said.
Biedron also said she greatly enjoyed her thesis, emphasizing the unique opportunity to watch whales.
"It also helped me make connections for where I'm going to work next year," said Biedron, who eventually plans to study marine mammals in graduate school. "It made people more willing to take me seriously in the field I want to go into."