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Senior Projects 2014

Sometimes I feel as though the pleasure of co-teaching the Visual Studies Senior Seminar is closer to the terrifying thrills one enjoys at the circus watching aerialists perform death defying flips and jumps hundreds of feet above the ground than it is to the more humdrum satisfactions provided by conventional pedagogy.  In the course of one short academic year-eight months in the real world-we watched (and prodded and nudged) fifteen diverse complex and remarkably ambitious scholars bring fifteen equally various thesis projects gradually into focus. 

The range and creativity of VLST students’ interests never fails to amaze and impress me.  Listing just a selection of the fields they engaged during the course of executing their research projects; psychology, art history, fashion, advertising, design, screenwriting, performance art, cultural history, chaos theory, film studies, religion and brain science, only hints at the extraordinary efflorescence of curiosity, intellect and effort we were privileged to witness. This is a noteworthy group of students even by the Visual Studies Program’s high standards. This year’s graduating cohort boasts many truly extraordinarily original and challenging thinkers, not to mention gifted artists and free spirits of the very best sort.

This class has been a particular joy for me.  For three years now I have had the opportunity to follow their work and I have consistently been amazed and stirred by the achievements that have flowed from their energetic application of talent and skill to the challenges that confronted and inspired them. A teacher asks for nothing more.  

     - Matt Freedman, Visual Studies Senior Thesis Seminar Instructor



From choosing an original topic to sustaining independent work over a full year, preparing a senior thesis always presents formidable challenges.  The Visual Studies Program adds an extra one:  students are required to work across disciplinary boundaries and draw together threads from their studies in psychology, fine art, philosophy, history of art, media studies, and cognitive science. 

All these hurdles become more manageable through the collaboration and mutual support of classmates.  Each week throughout the year seniors meet in a thesis workshop to discuss their progress and to encourage and challenge each other’s thinking and making.  This year’s discussions were noteworthy for their tough love.  At the start of the year presenting one’s work to this class required some courage, given that challenging questions and suggestions would inevitably come from all sides.  By the end of the year, the candor and constructive criticism were expected and fully appreciated.  The value of all that tough love is evident in each and every one of this year’s projects. 

Appreciation is due to Professor Matt Freedman of the Fine Arts Department, who co-led the senior thesis workshop with me this year and who is a bottomless well of astute insights, wise suggestions, and sharp humor.  Megan Velong, Program Coordinator for Visual Studies, was a crucial contributor to the workshop and was instrumental to the material realization of the projects.  As usual, she generously assisted this year’s graduates with navigating all the requirements of the Visual Studies Program.

We wish this year’s graduates the best of luck as they seek gratifying and productive channels for their imaginative intelligence in the world beyond Penn’s Visual Studies Program.  We expect to be surprised and amazed by what you go on to do.

      - Michael Leja, Director, Visual Studies Program