Category Archives: Capstone Adventures

Capstone Adventures: Convocation

Here I am with my beautiful poster and beautiful box of pamphlets. Good times.

Here I am with my beautiful poster and beautiful box of pamphlets. Good times.

You guys, I graduated from the Kellogg Honors College on Friday! My capstone project is finished!

Well, that’s not entirely true. I need to send one last essay out to a publication, but I’ll tell you about that later. Tonight I wanted to talk about the experience I’ve been working towards for an entire year. To graduate with honors, you have to complete a senior research project and present it at this poster conference. For the uninitiated, I did my project on postmodernism and the high/low culture divide. In a nutshell, I applied postmodern theory to examples of pop culture and made some connections.

The conference and the graduation ceremony is called Convocation, and it’s really fun — I’ve been going since I was a sophomore, and everyone’s happy to share their findings. Of course, I’ve learned tons through this project, but for this post I’m going to zero in on Convocation.

It’s actually really emotional. 

I came into KHC as a freshman, and have been consistently and actively involved in the organization. I was only 17 years old when they explained to me that I needed to complete a senior project, and at the time I remember wondering what in the world I was going to research. I didn’t even know postmodernism was a thing yet. I am so so so glad that I had the opportunity to do undergraduate research. I got even deeper into American studies and realized that my journalistic passion is writing about art and culture. In some ways, it inspired this blog.

In the past four years, I’ve taken eight honors courses, participated in six civic engagement opportunities, had three KHC Club officer positions, volunteered in three Showcases of Excellence and spent countless hours in the honors commons having memorable conversations about life and academia. It has become a more significant part of my life than I had ever really realized. I have met some of the most wonderful students, faculty and staff through the program, and for that I am eternally grateful. The honors college gave me a sense of community when I didn’t know very many people on campus, and made me feel like there was always a place for me and support if I needed it.

All that being said, you can imagine that it was a very emotional experience to have it all come to a close. Walking across the stage with my KHC sash and my pin, it hit me that I was done. It’s weird to think that it was only a four-year program and that it’s not going to be part of my life anymore. I wouldn’t be where I am now without the honors college.

I had copies of my SCCUR presentation and all three papers hanging below the poster, with the box of pamphlets on the chair. I am very proud of myself.

I had copies of my SCCUR presentation and all three papers hanging below the poster, with the box of pamphlets on the chair. I am very proud of myself.

The poster is as intensive as the actual project itself.

I made four drafts of my poster before settling on the final one, and I am so glad my wonderful capstone professor (if you happen by some chance to be reading this, Hi Dr. DeRosa) pushed me to do my very best. It’s very newspaper inspired, and I think I had the best balance of text, image and design elements. I’m not even going to skirt around it — I really think I had one of the best posters. It was aesthetically pleasing and easy to read, without being bogged down by dense theory (which I had a lot of) or abstract language. I moved most of my text to a pamphlet I made that people could take with them.

To be quite and totally honest, this is the crown jewel of the Zoë Pantheon.

To be quite and totally honest, this is the crown jewel of the Zoë Pantheon.

I also had fantastic layout and font advice, and of course, my best friend Paige was a crucial consultant. I was also so glad to show up on Friday and find that my poster was clear and crisp — I was very concerned that the photos weren’t high quality enough. I also took extra time on the title headings that ended up being a great idea. I wanted that particular font that isn’t a standard Microsoft font, so I took the time to convert them into images. Totally and 100 percent worth it. I think it’s what makes the poster.

In retrospect, I only would have made a few changes to my poster. I would have had a better definition for the simulacra (explaining that was incredibly difficult) and I would have given a little bit more room to Kanye West and John Green. I was so concerned with having a good balance of blank space and content, and I think I could have gone a little further.

The experience of presenting was incredibly gratifying.

I’ve been working on this project for a year, and it was wonderful to be able to explain to people what my project was about and have them actually understand it. Postmodernism is not an easy thing to understand — hell, I don’t understand it myself most of the time. But many people thought that what I was doing was really cool cool cool, and that in itself was entirely worth it. I loved that I was able to share my discipline with people from all academic and professional backgrounds. Plus, I was the only student who got a hug from University President Soraya Coley (I gotta say, we’re pretty tight), so all in all, it was something I’ll never forget.

In case you’re interested in reading my papers or reading my poster and pamphlet up close, I’ve uploaded the entire project to Dropbox.

You can read my Kanye West paper here.
You can read my Fault in the Stars fanfiction paper here.
You can read my Community paper here.
You can view my poster here.
You can view my pamphlet here.

And here I am with my sash and pin. The end of an era. Photo cred Paige.

And here I am with my sash and pin. The end of an era. Photo cred Paige.

Have questions for me or want to share your undergrad research adventures? Let’s talk about it in the comments.


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Undergrad Adventures: ENG 451 Presentation

Photo of me getting said presentation, courtesy of my friend Sarah, who is a great source of moral support.

Photo of me getting said presentation, courtesy of my friend Sarah, who is a great source of moral support. (See my very messy white board diagram in the back.)

Last week, I got an email from my capstone mentor asking me if I wanted to give a presentation on my last capstone paper in his Modernism & Postmodernism class.

He is always simultaneously my favorite and least favorite person.

“No pressure at all” yeah okay uh huh

So I took part of the afternoon off of work and went and gave what ended up being a much bigger presentation/discussion. Despite none of this being for class credit, I learned a lot about public speaking and giving a talk.

Reading from a formal essay will not always work for a talk. 

When I did SCCUR, all I had to do was get up there, read my paper and push along PowerPoint slides. I did a pretty good job of explaining Yeezus, and just about everyone there was already interested in the material.

A class of English students who had maybe seen a handful of Community episodes each makes things just a little harder. This paper is all about the Community episode “Critical Film Studies,” which is heavily entrenched in Pulp Fiction and My Dinner with Andre references. The particular publication I’ll be sending this to is online, so it’s easy for people to Google “My Dinner with Andre summary” or “who is Abed Nadir.” But when you’re in a classroom full of people who may not have seen either movie (most people had seen Pulp Fiction, but nobody had seen My Dinner with Andre), you have to reorient yourself a little bit. I started out with small summaries of the episode (which we had just watched) the two movies, and the definition of the postmodern concept — the simulacra — I was working with. I also added some preliminary questions to get people comfortable with what I was about to say. It was an easier way to segue into very dense material that requires prior knowledge, even if you’ve just watched the episode. When you’re writing a paper for a specific purpose, you forget that not everyone will be on the same page. I think I need to be a tad more cognizant of that for next time.

Nothing ever goes exactly the way you plan it. 

I was originally only supposed to talk and facilitate a discussion for 15-30 minutes. The entire thing, including watching the episode, turned into nearly 1 1/2 hours. The class had SO many questions about the concepts and great things to say, and even started small back-and-forths amongst themselves — I didn’t initially expect any of the scenarios. It was great for me, since I had to think on my feet and got new ideas from their discussions. There are a couple of things they brought up and fleshed out that I hadn’t even thought of that I think will really enhance my paper. I love working with other people like that, because it puts everyone’s creativity in high gear.

You don’t really realize just how important a good room is for teaching until you’re in one that really sucks. 

The classroom that this class is held in is a long and wide room set up to be a computer lab, with four sets of group tables in the middle and computer stations around the perimeter. There was no front table or lectern, and a humongous space between the front tables and the white board. I have a clear and loud voice, so I don’t think I had issues with the people in the back hearing me. But I felt marooned at the front of the room — I had nowhere to put my notebook or my notes, so I felt like an idiot standing up there without an anchor. Plus, I had to write super big on the white board so the quality of my handwriting instantly plummeted. Tl;dr Some rooms are just not good for presentations.


I am a halfway decent public speaker.

I was really nervous at the beginning (partly because the concepts are difficult and partly because my research mentor was sitting. right. there.) But I soon found a cadence, and was able to use my hands and move around the room without bouncing or shaking, something I usually do. I faltered over some words, which I should have rehearsed beforehand. I know from my foray into writing scripts for video that you can’t write anything that’s hard to say, and even though this is originally for print, I should have modified some words to help them glide better.

All that being said, I got a lot of compliments from my fellow classmates and the professor, who said I was a good public speaker. I don’t buy that completely, but we’ll see when I have to give my next speech in April — another undergraduate adventure for another day.

What’s your experience with giving presentations? Let’s talk about it in the comments.

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Capstone Adventures: The Fault in Our Stars Fanfiction

For some strange reason, people really like this book, so it was really hard to find good memes. Please go read  Shakespeare's Julius Caesar instead, which this novel's title stems from.

For some strange reason, people really like this book, so it was really hard to find good memes. Please go read Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar instead, which this novel’s title stems from. It’s free, and you can find it here

Way back in March when I had decided on what my honors college capstone was going to be about, I knew that in talking about postmodern popular culture I had to talk about a contemporary popular book. This was right around the time when the The Fault in Our Stars movie was coming out, and I was really interested as to why so many people were interested in this young adult fiction novel. In my project proposal, I said I wanted to talk about how the mythology of death figures into the story, and left it to revisit in the fall after writing the first essay about Kanye West. As part of my research, I read the novel (and really really really disliked it, but that isn’t the point of this post) and some Roland Barthes and started to think about what I was going to write about.

In one of my many really interesting and enlightening conversations with my capstone advisor, I brought up the idea of how today’s readers engage with texts in unprecedented ways, one of which is writing fanfiction and posting it to an online forum. We both thought it was a really fascinating phenomenon, and after three different incarnations of a draft over the past two months, I turned in the final paper this past Sunday night. Ultimately, I talked about how The Fault in Our Stars fanfiction writers’ collective creativity is stifled by the digital structures of the forums they use, specifically, and how there are socially and digitally constructed limits on what these writers can and cannot do.

As you might imagine, this was quite the adventure.

Delving into the fanfiction community was a very interesting experience, to say the least.

I know a few people who write and read fanfiction, but this was brand new territory for me. I spent a lot of time combing through The Fault in Our Stars fanfiction to see what these people were writing about, and what their community is like. (Their community is imagined, but it is still sort of a community by digital constraints.) Culling information and data for this paper was really difficult, because so much of fanfiction operates under anonymity.

I also read a lot of scholarship about why people write and read fanfiction, and that was interesting too. I’m sure that they probably wouldn’t appreciate my paper or my ideas, but that’s part of the deal in doing research.

 I have an entirely new understanding of the postmodern reading experience. 

I’ve read quite a few books, and while there were a couple where I wished for more story, I’ve never felt the inclination to write more about them. A lot of fanfiction writers in the The Fault in Our Stars camp really wanted more story, especially about the main characters and their intertwining lives. I had to read stories about unplanned pregnancies, imagined conversations, and even one where Hazel met the Doctor from Doctor Who. It was really wild and interesting research, and I was definitely on the outside looking in. With the advent of the Internet, it is very easy for people who are dying for these extensions of the story to write/find them. All in all, I’ve come to understand that fanfiction is a valuable source of information for theorists and researchers who are interested in reader engagement and what makes something culturally significant. Even though the paper is done, I’m still thinking about what I found.

Writing about things where there is very little research done for you already is both fun and difficult.

Despite being a very popular fanfiction website, I found only one source that briefly mentioned it. A lot of what I found about fans and fandom weren’t expressly about fanfiction, so most of my paper is all me. This was cool but also very very hard. I had to make it work, and I think I did okay for having a limited amount of time.

The spirit of Tim Gunn was most definitely with me.

The spirits of Tim Gunn and making it work were most definitely with me. This is also how I felt after accidentally stumbling on really smutty fanfiction.

My next and final paper will be on NBC’s Community, which I am “researching” by rewatching the whole series over again and analyzing how the series incorporates meta. Will that paper actually be about meta, considering my track record with the previous two papers? Probably not, but we’ll see how it goes.

Want to discuss fanfiction? Let’s talk about it in the comments.


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Capstone Adventures: Research Conferences

Hey look, that's me!

Hey look, that’s me!

Over the weekend, I crossed an item off of the undergrad adventures bucket list: presenting at a research conference.

I participated in the Southern California Conferences for Undergraduate Research at Cal State Fullerton at the suggestion of my capstone advisor, and I’m really glad I did. I gave a 15-minute presentation on my research on Yeezus to a semi-full room, which by my standards is pretty successful. I was the first student to present out of my four-person group, and some of the other student presenters in other groups came just to see mine and left after the second presentation. That was incredibly flattering.

Of course, I learned a lot about presenting research and going to a conference.

People are researching some really cool things these days.

I didn’t get a chance to go see any of the presentations outside of my session, but the research interests in the program were incredibly varied: social psychology, education assessment, political studies and so on. When you’re in a specific discipline, it’s easy to forget a) about everything outside of it and b) other disciplines are just as dense and complex as yours.

Presenting at a conference is A LOT of work.

I suspect that most of the other students who presented at SCCUR were also using longterm research projects, because a 15 minute oral and visual presentation actually requires a significant amount of research. It took me three or four days to just decide on what I wanted on my PowerPoint.

You have to have some kind of visual component.

In the humanities, you don’t have to memorize your presentation. However, some of the other presentations I did see consisted just of the student reading their paper without any handout or PowerPoint. It made it incredibly difficult to catch the paper’s thesis and its idea map, and I realized just how important the visual component can be for comprehension. I really would have loved to have asked better questions after the presentations without visuals, but since I couldn’t follow the presentation, my questions weren’t very good.

Having to get up in front of people and speak is actually a really good experience.

Because I had never presented at a research conference before, I kinda expected the worst. No one was going to be able to follow what I was saying, my powerpoint wasn’t going to work on their computer, and I was going to flub all of my answers to the audience’s questions. Besides giving presentations for class, I had never presented my work to a group of people I didn’t really know. The idea of that is scary, understandably: you’ve put a lot of work into something, and strangers are going to critique it and ask questions you might not have the answers to. The night before, I was thoroughly stressed out.

However, SCCUR wasn’t scored and therefore had very low stakes. It was really cool to have a low-pressure environment to start out in. I ad-libbed my presentation a little bit, and the only question I got was what had drawn me to research on Kanye West. I’m sure any kind of public speaking experience will serve me well in delivering story pitches or presenting at meetings. In that sense, participating in undergraduate research conferences are a great way to practice. And it was a reminder for me that the trivial things I worry about don’t ever happen, and that things always work out the way they’re supposed to.

Have you had any research presentation experience before? Tell me about it in the comments.


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Capstone Adventures: Finishing Kanye

Last night, I turned in a final draft of an article about Kanye West for Part I of my honors capstone project. I spent all summer working on it, and although I’m mostly happy with it and the experience I had writing it, I’m glad that it’s over.

I wrote a paper about “Yeezus” and the exploration of a producer/product relationship, and what that adds to postmodern art. If it isn’t published anywhere, I’ll be sure to post it here.

My first idea for my capstone project was to write a collection of personal essays, and then write a reflective paper about the entire experience. But because that didn’t happen, I’m going to put it here. Self-reflection is an important step in the writing process, because it’ll eventually make you hyper-aware of your own process.

I seem to be best at brainstorming if I have unlimited time to come up with ideas. I write better under tighter deadlines.

The reason the first essay took so long was partly because I had a full work schedule, but mostly because my procrastination was at an all time high. I had due dates, but I couldn’t get my brain to understand that this was a Very Big Deal. But at 10:30 p.m. every deadline night, I was typing like a madwoman.

If you don’t make something a priority, it’ll never get done.

Related to that, I realized that I have to put more time into the next two essays I have to write — especially now that I  have class to go to and grad school apps to finish.

Me for most of this project. But seriously, I know that it's going to make me a better writer so I'm glad that I'm getting the chance to do it.

Me for most of this project (and the rest of this year, quite frankly). But seriously, I know that it’s going to make me a better writer so I’m glad that I’m getting the chance to do it.

Getting feedback from other people who understand you and how your brain works is crucial.

I was really lucky that I had a couple of friends who were interested in the subject and reading my work, and caught syntactical and grammatical mistakes that I had missed in my haze of furious typing. I’d also like to find some kind of nonfiction writing group to share my work with, but most of my friends in the English department prefer writing fiction.

Drafts are wonderful because you have multiple chances to really nail something.

The first draft of the essay was absolute crap, but the fifth and sixth ones were actually pretty okay. There’s nothing like awesome track changes comments from your professor about the things you did right.

You really have to examine all of the theoretical aspects of writing before or close to the start: structure, purpose, etcetera.

I almost always sketch out how I want my essay to look and where I want to place things, but for the next two essays I want to set them up better. I started thinking deeply about the structure and my significance statement in the third and fourth draft, and I’d like to hit that in the first or second draft.

Idea maps are awesome.

Typing my ideas at the bottom of my word document or keeping the structure in my head are both ideas that do not work for me. I found that the best way to organize all of my thoughts and decide what to keep or cut was to actually write it out. I took a huge piece of craft paper, taped it on my wall, and wrote all of my ideas out on it so that I could see something physical. It was easier to draw arrows and lines connecting things than trying to do that electronically. I found this cool program called FreeMind late in the project, but this helped me preserve my ideas when I got sick of staring at the paper.

My very high-tech and innovative brainstorming method. I go to a polytechnic, you know.

My very high-tech and innovative brainstorming method. I go to a polytechnic, you know. (Gratuitous appearance by my record player and AM.)

Keep up momentum.

I need to block out significant chunks of time on my schedule for the rest of this project on a more consistent basis. One essay down, two more to go.

Do you have any tips on paper-writing? Let me know in the comments.


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