2008-2009 Distinguished Theses and Dissertations Feature Timely Research| October 12, 2009
A key indicator of a university's strength is the quality of its graduate research. The 2008-2009 A&S Distinguished Thesis and Dissertation Award recipients demonstrate that the College is definitely thriving. Particularly impressive is that W&M graduate students in Arts & Sciences are consistently producing work at the forefront of their disciplines that speaks to critical, current issues. Since 2005, the A&S Graduate Studies Advisory Board has sponsored thesis and dissertation awards to recognize the significance of graduate students' original research.
In the wake of the global financial crisis of last year, questions abounded about how such large scale, systemic problems were unforeseen. Carolee Klimchock's thesis in American Studies, "Plastic Capital: Wilmington, Delaware and the Deregulation of Consumer Credit," offers insights. Klimchock, the first Graduate Studies Advisory Board Recruitment Fellow in 2006-2007 and a recipient of the 2008-09 Distinguished Thesis Award in the Humanities, considers how Delaware's deregulatory practices were transported throughout the national economy via consumer credit companies. Her legal and financial examination is coupled with a spatial analysis of Wilmington's changing landscape, including the displacement of many long-time African American residents. Klimchock praises W&M for the "wealth of intellectual guidance, support, and inspiration" she has received in completing her research.
While the financial picture may look dim for many, Gillian Freeman's Psychology thesis, "Does Humor Benefit Health in Retirement? Exploring Humor as a Moderator," suggests that there is more to long-term wellness than financial security. With help from an A&S Graduate Student Research Grant, Freeman's surveys of 265 retirees revealed that the effects of different kinds of humor on health largely depend on perceived stress levels as well as gender. Alumni contributions are integral to the College's ability to expand the grants that support similar outstanding research by A&S graduate students.
Karl Kuschner's work in Physics is another example of innovative graduate student research with immediate relevance. Kuschner received the A&S Distinguished Dissertation Award in the Natural and Computational Sciences for his study on "A Bayesian Network Approach to Feature Selection in Mass Spectrometry Data." Funded primarily by the National Cancer Institute, the research involved developing data analysis methods that resulted in a "cancer bioinformatics grid" compliant tool that can be used to assist mass spectrometry groups nationwide in identifying biomarker candidates. Kuschner plans to pursue a career with the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency working on technologies related to national security.
While these accomplishments in graduate research speak directly to crises of our current moment, other 2008-2009 Distinguished Thesis and Dissertation Award recipients prompt us to reexamine familiar institutions and pastimes with new acuity. Amy Green's History thesis, "'Dance, Dance Revolution': The Function of Dance in American Politics, 1763-1800," positions the ballroom as a "secondary battlefield" in which partisans were able to sway public opinion. The unusual power wielded by women in the ballroom is indicative of a social custom with highly political implications.
In her History dissertation "Forgotten Masters: Institutional Slavery in Virginia, 1680-1860," Jennifer Oast examines a historical institution wherein political significance is taken for granted but not fully understood. Oast's research considers how slavery as practiced by churches and colleges both strengthened and weakened slavery in the state during the antebellum period. Her dissertation is replete with insights on reasons why individuals bequeathed slaves to institutions and on the consequences to the slaves of serving as institutional property. This research complements recent work in the field such as Melvin Ely's Israel at the Appomattox: A Southern Experiment in Black Freedom from the 1790s Through the Civil War and Douglas Blackmon's Slavery by Another Name: The Re-enslavement of Black Americans from the Civil War to World War II.
The breadth and quality of graduate student research at William & Mary is a testament both to the vitality of our academic community and to those who support its achievements. The valuable work of the Graduate Studies Advisory Board as well the generous contributions of alumni are instrumental not only in attracting strong candidates to our A&S programs, but also in nurturing their productivity. Continuing support ensures that the bar remains high for graduate research at the College.