Recently, I had the opportunity to speak with May graduate Madeline Ninno about completing her Honors Thesis titled “Remittances in El Salvador: Economic Decision-Making in Transnational Households.” Traditionally, the “Thesis in the Spotlight” article highlights the intriguing questions and findings of an individual’s Honors Thesis, yet much of our discussion centered on the added challenges we faced while doing research after Tulane’s campus was closed to limit the spread of COVID-19. In this special edition of the Thesis in the Spotlight, Madeline shares her experiences completing her Honors Thesis from home, defending it over Zoom, and presenting in the virtual Honors Thesis Forum.
Hailing from Orlando, Florida, Madeline returned to her family’s house in the Sunshine State once Tulane announced its campus closure. Transplanting to a new workspace at the end of the semester posed its own unique set of hurdles. Displaced from her usual study spaces like the library and New Orleans’ coffee shops, Madeline had to carve out space in her childhood home: “I don't have anything like an office space here. I was doing everything out of my bedroom.” Displacement from Tulane’s academic community made progress on her thesis seem irrelevant, at least initially. She notes that when contributing to her field miles away from her professors and classmates, “I feel like I'm writing into a void.” In addition, she felt dismay and a lack of direction brought on because of the larger context of the global pandemic: “You kind of can't help but ask yourself—is this even what I should be dedicating my energy towards right now?” Still, she trudged on and turned in her completed thesis despite the added challenges, conveying the personal importance her research had attained: “I think for me, it was the one thing I completed this year that felt meaningful.”
After Madeline’s thesis defense over Zoom, her feelings were bittersweet. On the one hand, her defense was a momentous occasion she and her readers had worked toward for an entire year. Speaking on behalf of herself and her committee, she notes that her defense was “a celebratory moment for all of us.” Yet the celebration and thankfulness Madeline would have liked to share with her readers was stinted by the defense’s virtual format. She notes that over Zoom, “it's very difficult to convey gratitude.” While not as formal or satisfying as an in-person oral defense, “I was still able to present, and [my readers] still asked really great questions. And I felt like I got a lot out of it in terms of content,” she states.
Madeline was one of several students to participate in the virtual Honors Thesis Forum. As the forum could not take place in person this year, thesis writers were asked to record presentations which were then uploaded to the Tulane Honors website for the wider Tulane community. Although it was not as immediately gratifying as presenting in person to a crowd of her peers, Madeline says taking part in the virtual forum was still a worthwhile experience. Having progressed from just an inkling of a research topic to a complete summary of her question and findings, Madeline described her presentation as more than anything, “my gift to myself.”
As practically nothing has gone according to plan in this first half of 2020, accomplishing the ordinary can feel exceptional, and accomplishing the exceptional can feel beside the point. For Madeline and our fellow thesis writers, let’s be sure to take the time to feel remarkable for the important work we’ve done this past year.
Madeline Ninno’s involvement with the Honors Program began as a first-year student in the “demanding, yet rewarding” Honors Colloquium, “Global Urbanization Challenges”, taught by Colin Crawford. She became a Newcomb Scholar in her first year and continued her work in both areas, working with Professor Patrick Egan in the Honors Summer Research Program. After spending a semester in Argentina, she returned and became a member of the first cohort of Honors Undergraduate Teaching Fellows where she provided support and guidance to first-year Honors students in Dr. Charlotte Maheu Vail’s “The Quest for Answers.” In her last year at Tulane, Madeline served as an Honors Senior Fellow. In this role, she was responsible for providing guidance to the Honor Undergraduate Teaching Fellows, co-chairing the Honors Thesis Forum, and providing support to the Honors Program and Honors students.