Students and Faculty Discuss Winding Path to Senior Capstone Projects

Program sponsored by the Center for Teaching and Learning

HARTFORD, CT, February 7, 2014 – The Center for Teaching and Learning, whose mission is to identify and disseminate good teaching practices, constantly asks how the College can do things differently -- or better -- in order to enhance a student’s academic experience.  Thursday’s panel, featuring three seniors, provided some insight: There’s no substitute for faculty mentoring and involvement. Indeed, it’s a refrain that’s been heard previously.

Each of the three members of the Class of 2014 – Taylor Murtaugh, Sade Parham and Victoria Trentacoste – attributed their collegiate success, whether selecting a major, choosing to study abroad or writing a thesis – to the able and generous support of attentive and interested faculty members, who, by no coincidence, were also on the panel (though the students did most of the talking).

Murtaugh, a chemistry major, gave a shout-out to Chemistry Professor Timothy Curran; Parham, an international studies and Hispanic studies major, gave a tip of her cap to Thomas Harrington, associate professor of language and culture studies; and Trentacoste, who is majoring in English and studio arts, had only good things to say about Fine Arts Professor Joseph Byrne and Ciaran Berry, assistant professor of English and director of the creative writing program.

​Taylor Murtaugh '14
For example, Murtaugh said she came to Trinity determined to be a pre-med major, but after taking a course in organic chemistry, had a change of heart. Curran was there not just as a teacher but as someone who shared with her problem-solving and decision-making techniques that “helped shape what I want to do in the future.”

For his part, Curran said he immediately sensed that Murtaugh was a student who was willing to try something new, dig beneath the surface and take on independent projects. He said they were hoping to co-author a paper.

Parham, who is writing her senior thesis on Chinese immigrants in Argentina and “trying to understand cultural hybridity,” said the department of language and culture studies was where she found direction and a home. Harrington credited Parham “with a very sharp sensibility about multiculturalism.”

Victoria Trentacoste '14
Trentacoste, who is writing two senior theses, was grateful for the support she received from the professors in both the English and studio arts departments, which she described as “really close-knit.”

Berry praised Trentacoste for her intellectual and artistic curiosity, which “led her on a series of random steps and a circuitous route, one that ended in an interesting place.”

Asked by a member of the audience whether any of the students had experienced bouts of despair while working on their senior projects, each of the three dismissed the notion. Murtaugh said she tells herself that “it will get done” so it’s best “just to step away, refresh your mind and come back to it tomorrow.” Trentacoste acknowledged that sometimes “it can be tough,” but you have to keep telling yourself “why it is you love what you’re doing.”

Harrington said there have been debates about the utility of having seniors do challenging projects and theses, but that the consensus is that they’re valuable scholarly exercises. “We’re giving students the experience of getting lost and coming out on the other side.”

Curran noted that “fighting through the obstacles and the roadblocks” is an important part of the [college] experience, and “says a lot about the person when the chips are down.”

Byrne said he’s often torn between lending a hand and “giving students free rein to figure things out.” But he typically comes down on the side of having students work through their problems because that’s “where the real learning takes place.”

Jumping to their post-graduation plans, Murtaugh said her experience at Trinity has caused her to question whether she is going to become a doctor, which at one time was a given. Other options include research or teaching.

Parham mildly complained about Trinity’s course requirements, saying she has always known that she wanted to do marketing and branding and would have preferred not having to take a math class during her final semester. But she shrugged it off, saying her experiences at Trinity, including a summer job in marketing, has helped her to crystallize her views and understand the multi-cultural world.

Trentacoste said she is considering going into the field of event planning, which would combine her love of words and images – her two passions.

Home Page Photo: Sade Parham