The Write Stuff: Four 2015 Graduates with World-Changing Theses


Each year, hundreds of undergraduate students go about the daunting task of developing, researching, and writing a thesis. This year’s graduates have produced cancer-fighting technology, water conservation tools, and re-shaped perceptions of disease, to name just a few. Put on your thinking caps, because it’s time to learn.

Caleb Real PhotoBen Parker

 MajorsArchitecture & Mandarin Chinese

 Thesis: “Chinese Characteristics: Foreign Architects and National Identity in China’s Architecture: 2001-2015”

At his time at the University of Texas, Ben Parker discovered his two passions: architecture and Chinese culture. But it wasn’t until a semester studying abroad in Beijing that he was inspired to combine them in a form of a senior thesis.

“When I went to study abroad, there was a ton of [foreign architecture] in Beijing,” Parker says, which lead to his research on architects and nationalism in China.

Through reading Chinese newspaper articles, scholarly articles, and interviews with foreign architects, Parker put together an overview of foreign architects in the country. According to Parker, due to the lack of an economic recession in China, architects from around the world flooded to the country, resulting in a phenomenon of foreigners designing Chinese buildings. Parker analyzed how the architects engaged with Chinese culture and how they approached their work.

The thesis topic is who I am…when I do go on to design things later on, it will be informed by what I did in the thesis.

“[It was] a good way to wrap up a double major,” Parker says. “It was a chance to combine both my Chinese major and my architecture major into a single project, which I hadn’t really been able to do before.”

Now that he’s graduated, Parker has secured a job at Overland Partners, an architecture firm that has a history with Texas (even designing some UT-Austin Buildings), but the company is also beginning to work in China. And although Parker is exiting the university, he doesn’t plan to leave his research behind in his new career.

“[The job is] the perfect bridge for me—Texas and China,” Parker says. “And the [thesis] topic is who I am. I will be a foreign architect working in China … when I do go on to design things later on, it will be informed by what I did in the thesis. It was a great chance to develop sensitivities … and how I can design better buildings.”

Parker will begin his career later this summer after (of course) a short trip to China. We wish you 祝你好运 (Good Luck)!

Emily PhotSharon Hoefer

 Majors: Plan II & Social Work

Thesis: “Worth the Wait? The Consequences of Abstinence-Only Sex Education for Texas Students”

Sharon Hoefer is a bright and bubbly graduate who tackled one of the most controversial issues in modern Texas history: abstinence-only sex education.

“I grew up in Texas and experienced abstinence-only sex education … [the topic] is something I’ve been passionate about it for a long time,” Hoefer says.

Hoefer used her Plan II thesis to innovate the traditional study of sex education. Rather than simply examining and analyzing the curriculum, Hoefer studied how the program affected traditionally underprivileged students, specifically LBGTQIA+ students, women, and students of color.

One thing I really loved was giving a voice to students who may not otherwise have one in this discussion.

Hoefer found 16 UT-Austin students who had experienced Texas’ sex education curricula to interview. From there, she coded each interview for keywords used to describe the student’s experiences. She found that curriculum often oppressed marginalized groups, from women being blamed for sexual assaults to the depiction of almost all white bodies. She also noted the irony of queer students being told sexual intercourse out of wedlock is immoral in a state that does not allow them to marry their partner.

“One thing I really loved was giving a voice to students who may not otherwise have one in this discussion,” she says. Hoefer hoped her work will bring new light into the conversation of sex education in Texas.

“A lot of the research out there is put out by political or lobbying groups. While I came to my thesis with a perspective, I think it does help to contribute less-biased literature on the subject.”

Hoefer plans to pursue a masters in social work at UT. She said writing her thesis made her feel ahead of the game and ready to pursue her goals in her continued education. To the class of 2016 thesis writers, she advises: “Be passionate about your topic, otherwise you’re going to go crazy.”

Check out more of Hoefer’s work here

DDalton Photoalton Dinderman

Majors: Plan II & Mechanical Engineering

Thesis: “Perspectives on 3-D Printing: A Close Examination of Legal, Ethical, and Social Activity”

Dalton Dinderman is no stranger to innovative work. In fact, his already-innovative work inspired his thesis. In a student design class, Dinderman created a 3-D printer powered by solar rays that cost under $1,000, which motivated his interest in 3-D printing.

“I wanted to learn more about it, and if it could be harmful or beneficial,” said Dinderman.

His curiosities manifested in the form of his Plan II thesis: an exploration of the societal reactions to 3-D printing through a legal, ethical, and social scope. Starting in September 2014, Dinderman researched different industries and reviewed literature in order to understand the current and forthcoming consequences of 3-D printing.

Have fun with it…embrace everything you like about the topic!

“Because there is a ton of ambiguity [regarding uses of 3-D printers], there’s a lot of speculation of how things may go,” Dinderman says.

According to Dinderman, due to the contemporary nature of 3-D printing, United States printing laws are messy, and it’s still unclear how to legally protect designers and their creations. Currently, model plans are easily stolen online and people can print dangerous designs without much legal consequence. In particular, Dinderman cited former UT student Cody Wilson, a gun rights activist who created Defense Distributed, a website that hosts free weapon designs.

“It can be very dangerous,” Dinderman says. “It’s hard to combat 3-D printing.”

And, according to Dinderman, while printing offers exciting opportunities, such as creating organs for transplant patients, the consequences of such actions are still relatively unknown.

Dinderman’s work is particularly significant because it opens discussion in the new world of 3-D printing. Because it is such a recent phenomenon, scholarship in the field is just beginning to develop, but he’s already contributing and shaping the study.

“I reviewed literature and noted certain things in trademark law, but nothing else has analyzed 3-D printing on whether it be good or bad for the average person,” Dinderman says.

Going forward, Dinderman plans to utilize the skills he obtained writing his thesis as he begins his career in San Francisco at PricewaterhouseCoopers. Dinderman is excited to begin his new journey, though he encouraged writers who have another year at UT-Austin to “have fun with it … embrace everything you like about the topic!”

DSC_0242_00028Emily Mixon 

Majors: Plan II Honors & Environmental Science

Thesis: “A Modis Based Examination of Annual Burned Area and Photosynthetic Response to Seasonal Fire in Southern Africa’s Dry Sub Humid Ecosystem”

Emily Mixon’s passion for environmental studies pushed her farther than she had ever gone before, so much so that her studies reached beyond the United States. In her Plan II thesis, she used the knowledge gained through her Environmental Studies major in order to expand the examination of the African environment.

“I am graduating with degrees in areas I find truly inspiring, and in which I believe I can do impactful work,” Mixon says.

Mixon studied how vegetation health in southern Africa affects which areas of the country burn, as well as comparing burned and unburned vegetation health. Amazingly, Mixon never had to leave campus, much less the country, to conduct her research on African plant life. By using remote sensing, a method which studies the wavelengths of reflecting objects on the Earth’s surface using satellites, Mixon was able to do most of her work in the geography department’s computer lab.

I am graduating with degrees in areas I find truly inspiring, and in which I believe I can do impactful work.

“Using earth imaging is one of the few ways we as scientists can get a truly big picture look at earth processes,” Mixon explains. “Remote sensing can also be used to study areas that are hard to physically get to.”

She found that vegetation was healthy in areas that burned, which indicated that small and frequent fires were beneficial for plant life. However, extreme weather caused by climate shifts could negatively affect the balance by causing extreme fires, which in turn adversely impact plant life. Mixon emphasized the importance of the balance for the African environment.

“It’s important to keep an eye on [the area] as the climate shifts,” she says.

As she leaves the university, Mixon plans to pursue her passion for the environment. This summer, Mixon will be working as a Mickey Leland intern for the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, and in the future she expects to attend graduate school for hydrology. As she progresses in her career, she says she will continue to utilize her research skills garnered while writing her thesis.

“I think I will always use the character skills my thesis taught me, discipline and self-motivation being big ones,” Mixon says. “I also learned a lot about asking for help when I need it, dealing professionally with a scientific team, and working as an individual contributor to a wider intellectual community, something I see using in the workplace and beyond.”

See more of Mixon’s work in this short video:


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