Senior Projects Day

Anika Tobiason presents her senior art project, "Memory Sensations." She presented her film, "At Raymond Mansion," as her media arts project.

April 24, 2013

Students present varied research and work on Senior Projects Day.

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Nothing makes me want to go back to school as much as Senior Projects Day.

I’m sure for the many of the Pacific University students preparing to graduate from the College of Arts & Sciences, today feels like one of the most stressful experiences of their lives.

They’ve spent the better part of the last year — if not longer — working on this huge, culminating project, and now they have to stand up in front of friends, family, professors and strangers to give a 20-minute talk on their work.

That alone would have me shaking a bit.

But it’s so inspiring to see the breadth of subjects that our students explore and study, not to mention the poise and articulation that every one of them seem to possess.

Today, students gave more than 230 classroom presentations and other 40 poster presentations. I couldn’t get to them all, but here’s a quick look at some of the fascinating work our students have done:

Bear Watching

Trevor Puckett is a biology major who spent last summer working at an eco-tourism lodge in Alaska, where visitors paid premium prices for up-close opportunities to watch brown bears in their native habitat. The experience made him question, though, the impact that human observation had on those bears. He completed an extensive analysis of the research available to explore how bears’ habituation to humans at such bear viewing operations impacts their ability to catch salmon — the core of their diet — and their subsequent survivorship. The answer was an interesting, if mixed, bag. He learned that male bears do not habituate well to human observers and will seek more private feeding areas, if available. It would be interesting — if possibly prohibitively dangerous — to see if those male bears are able to catch enough food in alternative areas. Meanwhile, the displacement of the males opens more opportunities for female bears and cubs — which adjust better to the human presence — to hunt salmon. Which, Puckett says, prompts the question for future research into whether those cubs fare better because of their increased access to food. Overall, he said, he believes that ecotourism and bear viewing is important to conservation of bears and their habitat as it is lucrative and increases awareness. But, Puckett said, “Brown bear behavior is changing,” and that warrants caution.

Making a Movie: At Raymond Mansion

Anika Tobiason seems particularly drawn to all things spooky. Citing among her inspirations books, art and films of the horror motif, the film and video major explained that her inspiration for her senior project started on a family road trip. It started fairly upbeat, until long hours in the car started weighing on people’s nerves — and the ideas she was sketching turned darker, drawing more and more from the psychological thrillers and tales of insanity that she enjoys. Tobiason wrote a screenplay for her film and found a family in one of Forest Grove’s historic homes that allowed her to film on-site. She ended up challenging herself by using high-end, but newer-to-the-industry editing software to tell her story. The film, along with other senior projects from the program, will be screened on campus May 11 from 7 to 9 p.m. in Taylor Auditorium.

Re-ranking College Football Teams

Evan Cooper is — let’s face it — is just smarter than me. I’m good at math, for a journalist, but not next to this math major. Cooper took a look at two models for ranking Division I college football teams, other than the outgoing BCS model, and put his own spin on how they should work. One model, developed by a 2009 Pacific University alumnus, may be an accurate predictor of outcomes but doesn’t follow the basic tenants of the game, he said, arguing, as an example, that a 2-point win and a 1-point win aren’t that different in a game where scores come in threes, sixes and sevens. Another model, he argued, could predict bowl games with some accuracy, but mathematically seemed backward — giving negative weight to offensive yards, as an example. I wouldn’t dare try to summarize Cooper’s formulas, other than to repeat his claims that they are more accurate representations of the actual game and fan experience — and that I took away a nugget of arcane college football rule knowledge that stumped even my gridiron-loving husband.

The Science of the Séance

It started with two sisters who claimed a knocking noise in their house was a form of communication from the dead. It turned into a societal trend that impacted the women’s movement and left society with remnants such as the Ouija board. History major Hannah Gramson spent her 20 minutes explaining the historical significance of the spiritualist movement in America, which she argued was a way for people to deal with the mass casualties of the Civil War and to balance their spiritual beliefs with the increasing popularity of scientific discovery (which was well-known, if not well-understood). Spiritualists, she said, argued that they practiced science, with séances serving as experiments. They gathered evidence, and they claimed that the activities of spirits were part of the natural — not supernatural — world. Everything, they said, came down to energy, specifically electricity, which is what spirits were made of. They believed that negatively charged people (often women) were passive and open enough to be moved by that energy. And, they compared themselves to Galileo and Benjamin Franklin, progressive scientists whose discoveries were just misunderstood. Spiritualism was not, Gramson conjectured, a religious movement, as some historians have claimed, but a bridge between religion and science at a time of schism. “Spiritualism’s most ardent followers understood it as scientific religion,” she said, noting that it was a conscious backlash against the divide.