Senior honors projects: Going the extra mile

Seniors already have a lot on their plate, but every year a group of senior students go the extra mile to complete PLNU’s Honor Scholar Program.

Becca Aguilera is a senior international studies major with a writing minor at PLNU. She and 34 other seniors completed their honors projects on April 18.

“I studied the power of perception through clothes in the executive branch of the United States,” said Aguilera.

Aguilera took Linda Beail’s Women in Politics class her junior year, which sparked her interest in fashion in female executive candidates. In this class, she realized how gendered things really are and she questioned why it was that way.

“It raised questions like, ‘Why is pink associated with women?” she said. “It challenged the way I, as a feminist, personally applied concepts of gender to objects and people within my own life.”

Aguilera chose Beail as her mentor for her project.

“Dr. Beail has been amazing,” said Aguilera. “No way I could have done it by myself.”

Beail said it has been exciting to work with Aguilera on this project.

“She has experienced some of the struggles, like problems with data, that surprise all of us when we actually do research, and the thing I’m most of proud of is how resilient, creative and persistent she’s been in the face of those unexpected challenges,” Beail said. “It’s been a privilege to mentor her on this journey, to help her think through how to find the answers she wants and to cheer her on through the highs and lows of a big project like this. It’s a joy to see her thrive and truly emerge no longer just a student, but now a fellow scholar.”

Aguilera experienced a heart stopping scare with her research.While in New York doing an internship with Cosmopolitan Magazine over winter break, Aguilera had her first breakdown. She had just finished her first day in her dream internship when she saw her sister, Christine, walking out of the elevator.

“I was so high off that first day and she is sitting there with my computer and I said, ‘That’s weird,’” said Aguilera. “Christine said, ‘Your computer crashed, but don’t worry I saved everything you needed.’”

But when Aguileria looked through her computer, she saw that her honors project was not there.

“I was done with about 75 percent of my research,” said Aguilera. “The comforting thing was that I emailed Dr. Beail right away and she said, ‘Don’t worry, this happens, just back it up next time.’”

Aguilera knew she had a lot of resources in New York, so towards the end of her winter break, she started researching again, this time in New York’s Public Library.

“It was actually a blessing because it made me refine what I was researching,” she said.

It took Aguilera two months to catch up with her lost work.

Aguilera’s research showed that the more masculine a female candidate dresses, the more electable she is. She conducted an online survey to get a better understanding of what people think makes a female candidate more electable based on their attire. The survey had various females and one male all dressed differently from a black pant suit to light colored skirts and blouses. Forty surveys were collected.

“People do like feministic traits on somebody but in a masculine package,” she said.

Mark Mann, the director of the honors projects and Wesleyan Center, said students benefit from being a part of the program.

“They learn productive skills. It is student orientated. There are no deadlines; you have a full year to work on it,” Mann said. They get to walk right along a mentor and learn what it means to be a scholar.”

Students are required to take a class, Honors Seminar, which is worth three units free of charge. They learn basic skills like preparing a PowerPoint and developing strategies to speak in front of an audience.

The Honors Program helps prepare students for graduate school and for professional work after graduating PLNU. The program began in 2003-04. On average the program has 40-45 applicants every year; they lose about 10 students for different reasons yearly.

“It’s a stepping stone to a professional scholarly life that will allow students to explore more deeply a topic of their choosing,” said Mann.

Mann explained that students with a 3.5 grade point average qualify to be part of the Honors Scholars Program. Students who have a desire to participate in the program pick a topic on which they will perform an in-depth research project starting the summer of their junior year. After picking a topic, they also pick a mentor who will work alongside them throughout the process.

An Honors Journal will be published with all of the honor students’ final work during summer.

Aguilera managed to complete the year-long program in the midst of all she had going on.

“First semester was incredibly challenging,” she said. “I had three internships, 17 units and I was trying to move to New York for winter break. But I think the important thing with projects and things you are passionate about is resolve. This semester I decided not to intern anywhere because I had a strong resolve to finish what I started. I believe if you truly are passionate about a topic or anything, you will find a way to see it through.”