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Members of the Class of 2020 Defend
Their Senior Theses — Online

Posted: April 21, 2020

Virtual Senior Thesis Defense

For 45 years students at Thomas Aquinas College have capped off their four years’ studies by writing a senior thesis, then defending it before a faculty panel. In 2020 they have, for the first time, defended their theses virtually, meeting with the panels via Zoom video conferencing rather than across an oak table.

“Planning for senior thesis defenses by means of Zoom certainly posed some challenges, especially finding a way to allow friends and family to watch the defense while minimizing the distraction to the senior and the tutors on the defense board,” says Dean John Goyette. “But all things considered, the defenses have worked out well.”

Virtual Senior Thesis Defense

For students, who have been conducting their classes via Zoom ever since being sent home one month ago, the online defenses were less disorienting than some had feared. “It felt like what I imagine an in-person defense would be like — same nerves beforehand and a great conversation,” says Monica Konizeski, who successfully defended her thesis, “Can Beauty Save the World? An Analysis of the Role of Moral Virtue in the Experience of Beauty.” The conversations have continued more or less as usual. “The faculty members on my defense board asked excellent and informed questions, and we carried on a great conversation,” adds Miss Konizeski. “The time flew by and I was shocked to find we had been discussing for a full 45 minutes when it was over.”

To be sure, there have been the minor technical glitches that often accompany video conferencing, especially initially. “Not everyone is familiar with the way that Zoom works, so there has been the occasional problem with background noise from visitors unaware that their microphones were turned on,” says Dr. Goyette. The virtual meeting, however, also has its advantages. “Under normal circumstances, not all families are able to attend their senior’s defense, and attending would normally entail taking time off work and paying for an airline ticket,” Dr. Goyette adds. “This year, however, the online format makes it possible for more family and friends to observe the defenses.”

“Including all of my friends and family was certainly a silver lining!” says Miss Konizeski. “I got to invite lots of friends and family from all over the country to ‘Zoom in’ to the defense and watch. A lot of the people who had the opportunity to watch over Zoom would not have had the opportunity to come out to California to see an in-person defense.” 

Virtual Senior Thesis Defense

Although online, the structure of the thesis defense is unchanged. Having spent most of the academic year working on a 20- to 30-page paper about a topic of their own choosing, the seniors present an oral defense of their work before faculty panel. The tutors listen to the defense, ask pointed questions, then recess to decide whether the student will pass, fail, or pass with distinction. Given the amount of time taken to prepare the theses and the oversight of the seniors’ thesis advisors, failures are rare, as are marks of distinction, which are awarded only in instances of truly superior work.

Missing from the online defenses, however, are the festivities that ordinarily follow. “A Zoom thesis defense falls short of the experience of an in-person senior thesis defense,” says Dr. Goyette. “Usually a crowd of fellow students and family gathers on the campus quad afterward to offer their congratulations to the senior who has just finished defending his or her thesis” — a beloved custom for which there is no virtual replacement. 

Nonetheless, members of the Class of 2020 are having no trouble finding ways to rejoice in their accomplishments, even amidst the Great Quarantine. “When I found out that I had passed,” notes Miss Konizeski, “my family helped me to celebrate all of the hard work that I had done.”

Virtual Senior Thesis Defense

“I was moved and edified by your remarkable fidelity to St. Thomas Aquinas. Your academic program proposes an original way of training men and women capable of reading, thinking and interpreting tradition correctly.”

– Marc Cardinal Ouellet

Prefect of the Congregation for Bishops