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Thesis in the Spotlight: Sarah Lawhorne

Publication date

February 21, 2018 5:30 PM


Jake Ward

Sarah Lawhorne

Sarah Lawhorne is a senior Finance major. 

Senior Finance major Sarah Lawhorne is writing her Honors Thesis to take advantage of the resources she has available at Tulane to complete a large project.  Her thesis looks at distressed retailers, a topic she thinks is particularly pertinent at this time, and features a case study of struggling US retailer Sears.

The US retail market is changing.  The rise of online shopping, embodied by Amazon’s newfound dominance, is challenging traditional business models based on brick and mortar stores.  Over 365 retailers declared bankruptcy in the US in 2017 alone, Sarah says.

Sears has been a major player in the retail industry for over a century, but now is facing what Sarah terms a “downward spiral.”  A combination of market changes and poor business decisions have left the company in an increasingly difficult situation.  Sarah’s case study explores the reasons behind Sears’ struggles, and their options for resolving these issues.

Sarah says a number of factors persuaded her to write an Honors Thesis, which Sarah thinks more students in the Business School should pursue.  Her main driver was the large amount of resources she has at her disposal as a Tulane student—including access to sometimes expensive databases, writing help, and world-class faculty.  She wanted to take advantage of these resources while she still could.  Not only that, but the thesis will serve as a great writing sample if she chooses to apply for graduate school, a step she is strongly considering.

Having decided she wanted to write a thesis, Sarah also knew that she wanted her topic to be salient to contemporary business challenges.  Sears’ problems make her case study a perfect window into the recent dramatic changes in the retail industry.  Yet, market changes are not the whole story: some retailers are doing just fine in the shifting environment.  Sarah describes the mall in her hometown, where the parking lots in front of other stores are full; the one in front of Sears is typically empty.  Observing this persuaded her to dig into the story behind Sears’ problems in her Honors Thesis.

An Honors Thesis in the Business School is a little different to one in the other undergraduate schools.  For one, Sarah has only two readers, both Business faculty: Professor of Practice in Management Michael Wilson and Assistant Professor of Finance Sakya Sarker.  Secondly, she has a little more structure, with weekly thirty-minute meetings for feedback and review.  These meetings, Sarah says, have helped keep her accountable throughout the process.

The structure of Sarah’s thesis itself is also a little different.  It comprises of three main sections: a literature review on distressed retailers, the Sears case study, and an “Instructor’s Manual.”  The entire project is configured so it could be used by a professor as the basis for a ninety-minute class period—the final section contains questions and activities for students based on the previous two.

Sarah’s advice to other Business School students considering writing Honors Theses is to start thinking of a topic early, and to take advantage of the resources on offer.  Exploring databases with subscriptions paid by Tulane, and talking to Business School faculty, will help to guide your thinking.  Sarah is approaching her project as potentially the last time she will have access to such a huge range of resources, and she wants to make the most of the opportunity.