Whitman Wire

Senior Thesis Profiles

Natalie Berg

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Many seniors have spent this year researching and writing theses in their major. The Pioneer spoke to three of these seniors about their projects.

Nate Higby – Sociology

The Pioneer: Tell me about the subject of your sociology thesis.

Nate Higby: My thesis is looking at the relationship between demographic information such as race, gender, income, education of those who identify as culturally Deaf and seeing if there’s a relationship between those demographics and various attitudes they might have about cochlear implants, which is a device to enable profoundly Deaf people to hear.

Pio: What does it mean to be culturally Deaf?

NH: It’s a very subjective term, but it’s [people who] adopt the social model of disability. They see that there’s nothing wrong with them … It’s only that society disables them. They adopt that [model], they speak American Sign Language and they actively communicate with other people who identify as culturally Deaf. Those are the three main criteria.

Pio: How do some culturally Deaf people feel about the cochlear implant?

NH: They see it as a device of ethnocide or eugenics. Ninety percent of deaf children are born to hearing parents. Most hearing parents want [their deaf child] to be a hearing person and be able to assimilate into hearing culture … so they choose the cochlear implant. [The culturally Deaf] worry that eventually, over time, their culture would diminish.

Pio: Why did you choose to study this topic?

NH: It’s an important discussion because we’re talking about the potential to wipe out a culture and no one knows that. No one realizes that there’s this community of people whose future might be at risk … I’ve always wanted to tell everyone, to share this debate with other people. I feel like it’s important for them to understand that this whole medical narrative we have, that deafness needs to be fixed, is problematic. I guess it’s kind of my main reasoning for wanting to do my project on this.

Pio: What has been the biggest challenge?

NH: Coming to understand that both sides are right in the way they feel, so trying to come to a conclusion about where to go with this, that’s something I’ve had to think about more.

Alissa Becerril – Religion

The Pioneer: Tell me about the subject of your religion thesis.

Alissa Becerril: This is a thesis on how these Adventist scientists have been able to reject evolution despite the evidence. They’ve been supporting creation. … So how exactly do they teach biology? How do they understand the theory of evolution and how it relates to their faith?

Pio: Why does this topic interest you?

AB: I’m a BBMB major too … I was curious to study [the scientific perspective] through the humanities and look at the history and philosophy of science.

Pio: How have you researched the Adventist approach to science?

AB: There’s a research institute based in California called the Geoscience Research Institute that’s funded by the Adventist Church … I looked at two biologists and how they address issues of evolution within their Adventist faith.

Pio: What have you found?

AB: Their definition of science is more like “the study of nature,” using empirical methods, but there’s this presupposition underneath it that the Bible is true … They use this theistic framework to interpret evidence and study nature. For example, [the human] genome is very similar to a plant genome. They say that it’s actually evidence of a designer that used the same model as with a plant or an ape.

Pio: As someone who studies science at Whitman, where we take evolution for granted, how do you react to such a different approach?

AB: The religion major has helped me. We look at understanding world views, so I’ve come to this conundrum of people rejecting evolution from that context … There is a tendency when you’re talking about science to say what is right and what is wrong. But with religion, you’re talking about world view and respecting, understanding other ideas. When you put these two things in conversation with each other, how do you reconcile those? That’s been hard for me.

Pio: Have you enjoyed your thesis project?

AB: It’s been a lot of fun to think about science in a humanities perspective. When you’re in the science building you’re learning these biological mechanisms, but it’s fun to ask bigger questions. Science does that and religion does that. It’s great when you see how they ask and answer similar questions.

Andrea Chin – Biochemistry, Biophysics and Molecular Biology

The Pioneer: Tell me about the subject of your BBMB thesis.

Andrea Chin: My thesis is on how stress sensitivity and stress exposure can affect the serotonin system in the hypothalamus of primates.

Pio: How did you start this research?

AC: My project was an internship in the summer of 2013. I was offered the opportunity to work at the Oregon National Primate Research Center, which is part of the Oregon Health and Science University. [My project adviser] was working on neurochemicals, how stress can influence neurochemicals and also how it affects the reproductive system further.

Pio: How did you study this topic?

AC: They had the primates put under a stress control … They knew if they were stress-sensitive or stress-resilient based on whether or not they mensed after stress. They put them under stress and then euthanized them. From that they took the brains out. We had brain slices, basically. From that I stained the serotonin in the brain slices.

Pio: Are your findings generalizable to humans?

AC: The primate model is really well-used, especially in her research, she’s been using it a lot … Stress can stop you from ovulating and stop your menstrual cycle. That can be a major cause of infertility in women. The reason we were looking at stress-sensitivity in individuals; some people are more stress-sensitive and some are more stress-resilient … Looking at how the effects of stress can differ based the individual and how it affects the neurochemicals can change how we treat stress related disorders, especially those related to sub-clinical levels of stress.

Pio: Do you plan to continue this research?

AC: Personally I find it really interesting, but it’s not exactly what I’m interested in. It just happened to be what my research internship was on. I’d like to work in the lab, medical research sort of thing, but I’m more interested in infectious diseases, tuberculosis, malaria, that sort of thing … I intend to study those more in grad school eventually.

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Senior Thesis Profiles