Finishing Strong

Photographs by Rob Mattson

Text by Emily Gold Boutilier, with reporting by Rob Mattson, Adam Gerchick ’13, William Sweet and Katherine Duke ’05

For his 2012 senior thesis, Richard Galluzzi wrote a novella, while Dana Kaufman composed an opera and Brian Kim figured out exactly how to throw a  curveball. Portraits of 10 of this year’s thesis writers.




Madness makes for good opera


Russian and music major Dana Kaufman wrote a one-act opera, Diary of a Madman, based on Nikolai Gogol’s short story of the same name. “I’d always dreamed of writing a Russian opera,” says Kaufman, who describes music composition as “probably my favorite thing to do in the world.” Set in St. Petersburg in 1835, the opera is about a man who descends into insanity. “Madness,” she says, “makes for really interesting art and really interesting opera.” The opera was performed in Buckley Recital Hall in January.

Next: Kaufman hopes to do service work in Russian-speaking areas of Eastern Europe. She and two friends share a long-term goal: “to get Ph.D.s, come back to Amherst, teach here, raise our kids here and see each other all the time.” 



Throw your curveballs low


Brian Kim’s math thesis uses baseball statistics to pinpoint, among other things, where exactly a pitcher should throw the ball.

“I’m trying to boil it down to only the pitcher, to isolate it to just what the pitcher can control.” He analyzed data on pitch speeds and locations to conclude that curveballs should go “down and away.” A right-handed pitcher, therefore, “should try to throw it to the bottom left-hand corner.” Kim has some as-yet-unsolicited advice for the pitcher of the Los Angeles Dodgers, his hometown team. “Clayton Kershaw,” he says: “Throw your curveballs low.”  

Next: Kim will begin a graduate program in statistics.




A symptom of racism


“Colorism is the tendency to privilege lighter-skinned individuals over darker-skinned individuals within an ethnic group,” says Shanika Audige. “It’s a symptom of racism. I studied it from a black feminist perspective.” The sociology and black studies major conducted and analyzed interviews with 12 Amherst students—all African-American women who identify as having dark skin. “Colorism does exist within the black community here,” she concluded. “It may not manifest itself academically, but it’s manifesting itself socially. The dark-skinned females I interviewed find that their lighter-skinned counterparts are a lot more active in the school’s social life.”

Next: Audige—whose classmates chose her to speak at Senior Assembly—will teach elementary school in Newark, N.J., with Teach For America. Eventually, she hopes to earn a Ph.D. in sociology.






Scopes: the backstory

Gregory Barrett wrote a radio play, Chimps, that tells the backstory of the 1925 “Scopes Monkey Trial.” In Barrett’s words, “Dayton, Tenn., was something of a dying town” when locals saw a way “to get their town on the map again, which was to take up a test case against the newly passed Butler Act in Tennessee, which banned the teaching of evolution.” Directed by Senior Resident Artist Peter Lobdell ’68, Chimps was recorded live in Cole Assembly Room. Why not a stage play? For one, the story required a mine explosion. “We decided,” says Barrett, a double major in theater and dance and American studies, “that sound might be an easier format.” He also wrote an American studies thesis about the trial.

Next: Barrett will join Teach For America in New York City.





Mountains and melt

Growing up in rock-free Florida, Michael Hudak had no particular interest in geology—until he came to Amherst and took an introductory course in the department. For his thesis he conducted field research in southwest Montana with Professor of Geology Tekla Harms and three other students. Together, they worked to trace the mountain-forming events that occurred “as early micro­continents assembled to form the core of
the North American Plate.” Hudak studied various igneous rocks—rocks that form when molten materials cool down—“to deduce what melted and when, which should say something about the nature of the collision between the two converging plates.”

Next: Hudak—a double major in geology and environmental studies—eventually plans to do graduate work in food policy, environmental policy or geology. 




Sensing predators


Biology majors Fabiana Kreines (far left) and Grace Li studied the lateral line—a system of sensory organs—in zebra fish. Explains Kreines, “Standing here right now, we have clothes on, but we don’t feel them all the time, because that would be really distracting. Our bodies have developed a mechanism by which we can weed out this unimportant information. This occurs in every sensory system, including the lateral line of zebra fish. They tune out the normal currents and only pick up on important things, like predators approaching or their school moving.” Kreines examined how this happens, while Li studied the organization of clusters of neurons that project from the lateral line to the brain.

Next: Kreines will work in a lab at Memo­rial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, and Li in a zebra fish lab at the National Institutes of Health.




Leaning right by leaning left


How do far-right politicians win votes in Europe? They appeal to liberals, argues Alex Hurst. His political science thesis examines why right-wing nationalists have found electoral support in present-day France and the Netherlands but not in the United Kingdom. In pushing anti-immigrant policies, Hurst says, the Dutch Freedom Party and France’s National Front have each positioned themselves as defenders of a “defining national characteristic” that is also a left-wing cause—in France, it’s the separation of church and state, and in the Netherlands, civil liberty. “A radical right-wing party,” Hurst says, “has the greatest chance of succeeding in a country that is facing questions surrounding its national identity and its place in the world.”

Next: Hurst will work for the French government as a teaching assistant in English.





Voice change

What are the consequences of having a voice that is at odds with one’s body? Lilia Kilburn’s anthropology thesis documents the experiences of transgender women (those transitioning from male to female) who’ve used speech therapy, books and videos to achieve feminine voices. “I became interested in this topic because of my own vocal transformation,” Kilburn says. “I used to be quite shy. Despite my fear of public speaking, I joined the debate team [at Amherst] and saw my voice utterly transformed by that process. In most film and literature, though, the voice is portrayed as an immutable part of someone’s personality.”

Next: As a Watson Fellow, Kilburn will travel to Ghana, Cameroon, Singapore, Qatar and New Zealand to document local interpretations of parliamentary debate. 







Dead—or not?

Richard Galluzzi’s thesis is a work of fiction, Séance with Crying Man. “In my novella,” says the English major, “a father’s only son is murdered—or so he thinks.” After the child appears at the father’s door and says he escaped death, the pair embark on a hunt for the attacker. “Complications arise,” Galluzzi says, “when others challenge the father’s sanity and he himself is suspected of involvement in the child’s murder.”

Next: Galluzzi is applying to be an officer in the U.S. Marine Corps. Longer-term, he’s interested in graduate school in creative writing or business.