Poster presentations may be a common task for natural and social science students, but Maryville College also offers the opportunity for humanities students to hone the skills needed to create and present a thesis poster in HUM 347, a course taught by Dr. Kelly Battles, assistant professor of English and Phillip Sherman, assistant professor of religion. “The poster presentations provide students with practice in boiling down complex ideas to their most essential parts and communicating those ideas quickly to an audience,” Battles said.
Poster topics ranged from “Severus Snape and the Ambiguity of Good and Evil in Harry Potter” to “Lawyers in Literature,” with students focusing on subject matter that will later be developed into senior thesis projects. “At the start of the semester, the senior thesis process may still seem distant and not quite real to the HUM 347 students,” Battles said.
“By the end, when their thesis prospectus and bibliography are due, they’ve done a lot of the initial leg work so that they are ready to hit the ground running with their thesis advisor as soon as spring term comes around.” Junior history major Emily Boren and junior religion major Brandy Milligan found the assignment to be useful in narrowing the subjects for their theses.
“I actually switched topics completely. The poster really helped me see what I was doing and lay it out,” Boren said, “I think I learned more doing the poster because it gave me more creative process, so I was able to have more to do with it than sitting down and writing a research paper.” “It’s definitely helped me define my questions,” Milligan said. Religion major Joshua Dixon said the event was a good idea but that he would have liked to become knowledgeable about his topic. “I wish I had weeks to devote specifically to reading, because I didn’t get to nearly as much as I’d like to [in order] to be able to talk intelligently about my topic,” Dixon said. Dixon plans to keep his general poster topic, the resurrection, for his senior thesis.
“I’d like to stay with this to some degree. I think it’s a little too broad right now. I’m going to have to specifically focus it a little more, but I want to stay in this same topic area. Dixon said he benefited from seeing the poster projects of other students that presented their posters before him. “I got general ideas about how to go about it – what looks good, what sort of information is pertinent, and what is not.” Hayden Brown, a junior history major, said the poster project event helped him rule out a potential thesis topic.
“[The posters are] a good idea in theory,” Brown said. “And I feel like it was a good way for me to start thinking about what I want to do for my thesis. From doing this process, I know that this is definitely not what I want to do for my thesis.” Senior Kelley Blankenship, who has already started her thesis, said that the project was a good idea but that the time commitment needed was difficult to manage. “I think it’s a good idea overall. I think it helps people to organize their thoughts about their theses. It is late in the semester, so it’s hard to do that together with everything else,” Blankenship said, “but I understand why they have us do it. Battles said that the product of this project is worth the time and effort students put into it.”
Although the time devoted to getting these final assignments completed may seem daunting to students, the time spent this semester exploring potential thesis topics, narrowing down broad ideas, and even sometimes hitting dead ends, will ultimately pay off when they are immediately ready to start writing in the spring,” Battles said. The poster presentations helped students to hone in on possible thesis topics and gain important skills for the future. “This course allows students to have the space to do that kind of topic exploration that there just isn’t time to do if they wait until the beginning of their first thesis semester,” Battles said. According to Battles, this project could potentially become a tradition that continues into the future.