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UMaine Honors College welcomes alumni to give current students advice

On Wednesday, Feb. 15, the University of Maine’s Honors College held the first webinar of their new Alumni Connections series, allowing current Honors scholars preparing to work on their thesis to connect with alumni who have advice to share.

A group of several Honors undergraduates, ranging from from first-years to fourth-years, joined three panelists from a wide breadth of majors and thesis topics. The panel consisted of Christine Gilbert, an International Affairs major and 2014 graduate whose thesis focused on the meaning of sustainability in journalism and media; Morgan Kinney, a social psychology student and 2014 graduate whose thesis was in anti-gay bias; and Seth Robertson, a microbiology major and 2006 graduate whose thesis concerned arsenic in Maine mill waters.

The discussion was moderated by Denham Ward, a 1969 graduate of the Honors College, whose thesis focused on a computer simulation of what a self-driving car may look like. His career, however, was in medicine — another example that a thesis can be a reflection of interest and not career choice.

All three of the panelists and moderator Ward are members of the Honors College Board of Advocates, which serves to advise Honors scholars and faculty on community and connections. Dr. Ellen Weinauer, the Dean of the Honors College, joined the webinar and shared her excitement.

“These are people who have been where you are and have watched their interests evolve and change,” Weinauer stated, “but keep coming back to their Honors College experience.”

Kinney, who now works at Rice University in Houston, Texas as the Associate Director of Domestic Programs and Partnerships, said that working in Dr. Jordan LaBouff’s psychology lab was a good opportunity for her to branch out and try new things.

“I think of it as trying to unearth or develop knowledge,” Kinney stated of her view on thesis work.

Robertson was an involved Honors scholar and UMaine student, and that work ethic took him to work at Boston University, Boston College and Northeastern University as an educator.

“When I was at UMaine, I did the new student orientation, I gave campus tours, and I started the alumni group in Boston,” Robertson stated, explaining that his work at Boston-area schools seemed like the next step for him.

“One of the things about research which I think is sometimes forgotten is that it’s this ongoing process,” Gilbert said of her thesis experience. “It’s not easy, but that’s the beauty of it.”

Gilbert now works as an assistant professor of climate communication at Stony Brook University.

“We’ve all been in higher ed, but I don’t think anyone’s Honors thesis matched what they’re doing now,” Ward stated. “Which I think is kind of what happens, because the topic isn’t necessarily as important as the process.”

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