Over the past several weeks, our seniors have shared their Senior Thesis presentations — a beautiful showcase of their year-long efforts conducting research and writing an original piece of scholarship in an area of passion. Students work on those projects in partnership with a BUA faculty mentor and an outside expert: very often a BU professor, but sometimes another researcher or scholar in the field.
The range of topics this year reflects the breadth of our students’ interests. Many dive deep into an area of scientific inquiry, often conducting research in labs around the area, and sometimes publishing their work in peer-reviewed journals. I heard presentations on using machine learning to improve genetic data analysis and health outcomes; applying lessons from tuna fins to increase maneuverability of large ships; and programming satellites to detect micro-plastic ocean pollution. I heard from students who explored topics in the humanities and social sciences: analyzing the influence of Ayn Rand on Paul Ryan; comparing Milton Friedman’s theoretical case for school vouchers with international case studies where vouchers systems have been implemented; predicting the future of telehealth using the lens of economic sociology. And these are only six of the 52 research projects our students engaged in this year.
One moment struck me in particular during this year’s presentations. During a senior-thesis Q&A, a student shared that while he loved math, it was when he applied differential equations to his engineering design project that the math really came to life. He saw the beauty and the purpose of that knowledge — and that he could use it to make a difference.
The tradition of writing an original piece of scholarship and sharing that work goes back to the school’s founding. It is built on the core assumptions that our students are capable of doing extraordinary work and that the deepest learning happens when students, independently but with mentoring, explore that place where their passion and real-world impact intersect. It reminds me of the central lesson of one of my favorite books: William Damon’s The Path to Purpose. One of our jobs — as parents, educators, and mentors — is not just to prepare students for a life of purpose someday, but to create opportunities for them to engage in purposeful work right now. Our seniors have done just that through these projects, and I congratulate them on their extraordinary research.