Seniors share thesis work at Celebrating Creativity

Thesis students in the Class of 1998 displayed their works for presentation and discussion at “Celebration Creativity: Thesis Works 1998” on April 22. Students and faculty alike said they were pleased with the evening and considered the celebration a success.

This event was sponsored by Phi Beta Kappa and coordinated by Associate Professor of Mathematics and Phi Beta Kappa President Edward Burger as the inaugration of what supporters believe should become an annual tradition on campus. All thesis students were invited to put together a presentation and display their work in Griffin Hall, and nearly half of the students displayed their work.

Students, faculty and members of the community attended the event to view the work undertaken by students, and to talk with them and catch a glimspe of the original work occuring over this past year. Excited and talkative students stood by their work with pride and energy, and throughout the evening discussed their intellectual journeys with interested guests.

The students there represented many fields of study, from astronomy to women’s studies, and said they felt the evening was a great opportunity to share and a great success in general.

“It’s not ordinary to have a time when people are willing to listen to you talk about esoteric math or whatever you are working on for 10 minutes,” Andrew Raich, ’98 said. “This event gave us that chance and has been very successful.” Raichís thesis, titled in part “Z^2 Actions,” is a mathematics thesis exploring ergotic theory.

Surach Tanboon ’98, an economics major, agreed. “It’s a great opportunity for the students and the community to come out and see this. Professor Burger has done a great job.” Tanboon, author of “An Analysis of the Thai Currency in Retrospect: Visceral Fear or Misalignment?” said the turnout was very impressive. Both Raich and Tanboon were surprised by the number of students who visited, and both met a number of visitors from the town.

Mary Gehring ’98, author of biology thesis “The Root of the Matter,” was interested in the work of her classmates and said the event was a great opportunity. “I may know what other biology majors are doing for their theses, but I don’t know what English majors are doing, for example. This event gives us all a chance to see what is happening all around the College.”

Burger said all of his goals for the event were summed up in the title of the exhibition. “The students’ creativity is exceptional, and we have to celebrate it. We have to show the community and the world how exceptional these students are. They’ve got to see what leadership we have.”

The presence of students from a variety of majors proved that the ideals of the liberal-arts education are alive and well on campus. Both the force and charm of the evening came from this careful balance between in-depth, highly esoteric studies in particular fields and a broad, multi-disciplinary representation.

The students were undoubtedly the focus of the event. “These are some of the most over-extended students on campus,” Burger said, “but they are examples of the original and thought-provoking work that is going on around the campus, and I think that this work is the strongest thing we have here. It’s a tribute to the living power of our students.”

“We wanted to show the best work that the students were producing,” Burger explained, “and show that high mark to inspire others to pass it. And then you pass that. To keep raising the bar, and to keep inspiring students to jump it—that is the constant goal of a great institution. I believe this is what we are doing with events such as “Celebration Creativity.”

After a three-year presidency of Phi Beta Kappa, Burger is taking a sabbatical to work as a visiting professor at the University of Colorado next year. During the first year of his term, the organization sponsored a dinner open to the public at the Faculty House asking the question, “What does it mean to be creative in jazz?” Burger’s term with Phi Beta Kappa ends with the “Celebration Creativity.”

Phi Beta Kappa, a national scholastic honor society was founded in 1776, making it the oldest such institution in the country. Students “of the highest academic standing are eligible for election to membership” in the Williams chapter, according to the Phi Beta Kappa admission procedures. Students must have a GPA of 3.3 and at least a Pass in all Winter Study Projects to be nominated for membership. Two elections are then held, one at the end of a particular student’s junior year, and the second at the end of the student’s senior year.

He said of his experience, “I think Phi Beta Kappa is a place where people can get inspired, and go and do great things.” He stressed that Phi Beta Kappa should not be an elitist institution.

“Phi Beta Kappa is one of the oldest and most prestigious national honor societies around. But I don’t think that it should be elitist. It should be a force in the community, not a place to massage your own ego.”

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