AgoraTalks to Showcase Senior Theses, Celebrate Academic Diversity

Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.

Each year students in several majors, including linguistics, psychology, and sociology/anthropology, write senior theses. In general, each student’s thesis has been read only within their department. But today, seniors will have an opportunity to talk about their research with the entire campus community at AgoraTalks.

Modeled after the popular TEDTalks, the first Agora Talks will be held between 3:45 p.m. and 5:00 p.m. in Science Center 101. Seven pre-selected senior panelists will be presenting their theses in a forum meant to evoke the spirit of the ancient Greek “agora,” or gathering place.

Jonathan Molloy ’14 started the project to give an opportunity to faculty and students from different departments to discover and appreciate different senior theses. Kieran Reichert ’13, the other student organizer of the event, said that the Talks will display an array of projects to people who might never have had the opportunity to hear about them otherwise.

Molloy and Reichert received 25 nominations and selected seven students to speak at AgoraTalks. An ad hoc committee of faculty panelists from the three divisions selected the student candidates.

“I think it’s a good way for people from all disciplines to get exposed to all sorts of different research,” said chemistry major Steven Barrett ‘13, whose senior thesis concentrates on DNA anomalies.

Barrett’s advisor recommended that he participate in the project in order to give students an idea of what it is like to conduct scientific research at Swarthmore.

AgoraTalks will also feature the installations of studio art major Soomin Kim ‘13. “Through my multi-media projects, composed of materials such as wood, hand-blown glasses, fabrics, CRT TV monitors, and different kinds of lights, I’m constructing and exploring various liminal spaces, in which flatness/ three-dimensionality and stillness/ movement coexist and interact,” Kim wrote in an email.

Alejandro Sills ‘13, a history major and honors music minor, will also be presenting his history thesis on John of Damascus, an 8th-century Syrian monk, at AgoraTalks.

Reichert, who wrote a thesis for the English literature department, won’t be presenting his thesis at AgoraTalks. He said he did not feel satisfied with the thesis-writing experience. Since joining Molloy on the project, Reichert has mainly been taking care of logistics.

Molloy said he hopes that by participating in the project, seniors will take away important oral presentation skills and give them something to strive for in their thesis process. “Since it’s filmed and archived online this is something that family members and job recruiters can see,” he said.

“As a sort of basis for the idea and for promoting the liberal arts aspect of it, we thought it was important to have a variety of presentations from each division,” Molloy said, “This is a platform where no one has to go against the inter-departmental politics because it’s an event where students are talking about their research.”

Sills said that AgoraTalks plays into the notion of exchanging ideas, which “is essential for a higher learning institution.”

Reichert said that a February talk at Swarthmore by American writer and academic Louis Menand “resonated with me [in talking] about how the future of the liberal arts depended on the departments de-Balkanizing and interspersing ideas. This concept encapsulates the project pretty well.”

Molloy said he has received positive feedback about AgoraTalks from the Institute for the Liberal Arts and hopes to make the presentations at Swarthmore a tradition in the years to come.

“The project at large can reinforce the dialogue that the Institute has started this year,” Reichert said.

Correction: Due to an editing error, this article originally stated that John of Damascus worked during the 18th century. He worked during the 8th century.


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