Exploring the Breadth of the Senior Thesis Through the Class of 2024: Part 2


Aviva Vic Maxon ’24 

Staff Writer 

The required senior thesis is the culmination of our learning at Scripps. The thesis is written over one or two semesters and utilizes many skills a Scrippsie learned during their college experience. With so many theses produced every semester, many of them go unnoticed and underappreciated. 

The following Q&A highlights three of the thesis projects from the class of 2024: Soleil Laurin ’24, majoring in Organismal Biology; Rebekah Bodner ’24, majoring in Art History with a minor in Chemistry; and Larkin Barnard-Bahn ’24, majoring in Economics with minors in Data Science and Spanish. 


The Scripps Voice (TSV): Tell me about your project. 

Soleil Laurin (SL): I was looking at forest distribution essentially along a polluted river in my hometown. I grew up in the area [rural Massachusetts, along the Housatonic River] and was surrounded by … [contaminants in the Housatonic River] growing up. As I was growing up, the river was being remediated. They’ve only managed to do about three miles of the river in the last 30 years. The EPA does not move quickly, especially in rural Massachusetts. It allowed me to do my thesis over the summer when I was home and go out and do field sampling in my hometown, and it was also relatively cheap to do. I bought a plant identification book and then I just grabbed my tape measure, a jacket, a mosquito net, went out in the woods, and just measured out transects and identified plants. 

Rebekah Bodner (RB): My thesis topic is a discussion about the separation between art and science. I’m arguing that they’re not separate, but are interdependent. And the way it shows that is through a timeline of anatomical studies from the Renaissance through the model here. My specific focus is with Italian Renaissance artists. I talked about Leonardo da Vinci and connected him as both an artist and a scientist and that those weren’t separate fields for him but his work in one completely influenced his work in the other and vice versa. I talk about the Baroque period, and artists like Rembrandt who are depicting scientists in their field doing what they’re doing. Showing that it is an integral part of his artwork, that he is depicting these doctors in these positions … and that the terminology that we have in the modern period, to be anatomy theater, is inherently that term ‘artistic display,’ and that we would not have anatomical textbooks without artists or illustrators. And so therefore, the two are completely intertwined.

Larkin Barnard-Bahn (LBB):  My thesis topic is how the public release of ChatGPT has affected the relative demand for soft skills and hard skills in the job market, as proxied through the job board Indeed. It was meant to be just a semester-long economics thesis, but after my challenges with finding data, Professor Pedace very generously offered to use some of his Endowed Chair funds to purchase a dataset so that I could really work on a thesis that was meaningful and I’ve been really grateful for that. Then I … refined [the scope] due to the availability, or lack thereof, of [data] related to AI. I have been cleaning this dataset and getting it ready for analysis. Most of the fields aren’t numbers, this introduces a lot of challenges. So, for example, in order to get to the conclusion of how the relative demand for soft skills and hard skills [have] changed, I need to quantify the percent of soft skills and hard skills present in each job description. So I’ve been working on gathering a list of soft skills and hard skills and making sure that they are formatted in a way that won’t lead to double counting. That has been taking a long time, just because I currently have over 100,000 rows of skills and I need to iterate over each of them and compare each row to all of the other rows essentially. And so there I have run into issues, computing resource issues. And I’m very glad that I have my data science background, [I] would not be able to do this thesis without it. So I’ve learned a lot through the data challenges of this project. 

TSV: How did you choose your topic? 

SL: I chose this topic because I grew up in my area of Pittsfield Massachusetts and we have this river, [the] Housatonic River, that flows through our region. It goes through the whole western side of Massachusetts, and down through Connecticut and empties into the Long Island Sound. Starting in the 30s, the company General Electric started pumping PCB waste into the river. In 1979, PCBs were officially outlawed by the US government by the EPA [and after] 40 years of river contamination, the EPA has started a cleanup process in the river because [PCB] was found to be possibly carcinogenic or cancer causing. So they started a removal process in which they were dredging the river, removing all the river sediment, soils, anything that was contaminated with PCBs and replacing it. So my thesis was looking at how that remediation process can impact forest communities and species composition of plants mainly.

RB: As an art history major, but a pre-med student, I often get when people ask me what my major is, and then what I want to do with it, and I tell them that I don’t really want any intention of doing anything with it, because I want to be a doctor. They get confused why I would be an art history major but I want to be a doctor. And I think that throughout my undergraduate experience, I’ve become more in tune with explaining that they are not in fact separate but along two beats. Things I’ve learned in art history are applicable to things that the doctor does, like looking at the body for the unusual and analyzing images and trying to [make] observe[ations] [and] conclusions.

LBB: I knew I wanted to do something with AI because it’s been something that I’ve been really interested in. I’ve taken a machine learning class and it has been something that’s been on my mind because it’s clearly going to change the world, whether we like it or not. And it’s also something that’s moving at such an incredible speed and growing at an exponential rate, that we are potentially crossing boundaries and making changes before we know that we’re doing so. I think it’s really important to do research on how AI is affecting different aspects of our society because it is such a revolutionary technology that can be used for so many different things, and that to me is really exciting. I think it’s really important to understand what it is affecting and how. It was this whole long process because the data on AI use is actually very difficult to get. One of the main hurdles in my thesis has been data, and it is the reason why I ended up switching my thesis topic from how AI use or how the growth of AI has impacted the relative demand for soft skills and hard skills to specifically ChatGPT, because that was a concrete date that we could look at. There is no comprehensive data set that I can find that would be available to me about either the use of AI or the growth of AI. 

TSV: What is something that you learned through this process? 

SL: I learned a lot about the scientific process, just how much thought goes into selecting specific areas to do a study. For me, I was comparing areas that had not been remediated and areas that have been remediated, and then as my control, I was looking at areas that were so far up the river that they had never been touched by contamination and also had a base level of environmental management. […] All of the pre-research before I was able to even actually go out and start my sampling took about a month to two months just of me researching, trying to contact people, and asking questions. All of that was difficult. I was able to call a few people and get a few answers, enough to do my research and enough to make a decent enough thesis out of it. 

RB: I certainly learned more about how I use my art history degree in my daily life, and I hadn’t really taken the time to think about that before. It pushed me to look at connections between the two things and then to argue them but in a concise and cohesive way that I hadn’t really thought about arguing before. 

LBB:  I’m really excited for the results. I feel like today, we expect data to be so accessible to us because of the internet and because we can find things in a second. And so the inability to find quality, freely accessible data on artificial intelligence that I could use for analysis was really surprising to me, because artificial intelligence is such a hot topic. Of course, it’s new and that’s the reason why there isn’t data … but even still that surprised me. How expensive data is [also] surprised me, because I talked with a lot of different vendors who sell data. They were offering us a discount because we’re an educational institution, and even then it was incredibly expensive. So seeing those barriers of entry was definitely surprising to me for research, as someone who hasn’t engaged in this type of research before and other surprising things or things I’ve learned. 


Interviews were edited for length and clarity. For more senior thesis highlights read volume 32, issue 7.


Photo Courtesy of Ella Lehavi ’24

Don't Miss