Senior Honors Fellows head online to defend theses

Thesis defenses are a benchmark of Elon's four-year Honors Program, a culmination of two or more years of intensive, mentor-led research.

“Quiet, please: Thesis defense in progress.”

Family inside Elena Lostoski’s home were met with this request, posted on the closed door of a common room early Monday morning.

Elena Lostoski ’20

After two years of research and preparation, the senior psychology major and Honors Fellow wasn’t taking any chances that something might distract her from meeting online with her mentor and two other faculty to defend her thesis.

Like so much these days, this hallmark of Elon’s Honors Fellows Program has moved to video conferencing. Lostoski’s was the first honors thesis defense held online, a practice that will continue throughout April as 35 senior Honors Fellows meet with faculty to share findings of their intensive studies.

“Having to defend a thesis is distinctive and unique to the Honors program” among Elon’s scholars and fellows programs, said Lynn Huber, director of the Honors Program and professor of religious studies.

Elon’s Honors Fellows program is a community of exceptional students across all schools and majors at Elon University. The four-year program fosters broad and innovative learning and includes two years of thesis research with a mentor, capped with the thesis defense.

“This is often a high point for students in the program. We frequently hear from alumni who draw from their thesis experience in job interviews and when applying to graduate schools,” Huber said. “They are able to talk about a long, multi-stage and multi-year project.”

Lostoski reported Monday afternoon that her defense went well and her family heeded the request for extra courtesy. Her two years of research involved studying the effects of a serotonin precursor on human cognition.

“It wasn’t as scary as I thought it would be. I was more like a conversation,” Lostoski said after receiving news that her thesis passed.

Alex Toma ’20

Alex Toma, double majoring in strategic communications and media analytics, was also among the first to defend his thesis Monday.

Toma used case studies of companies that rebranded in 2018 — Diet Coke, Dunkin’ Donuts, IHOP, and Weight Watchers — to develop a theory of rebranding based on social science theories about how ideas and product spread through society.

“Everyone in my defense committee was super-accommodating about the defense being online,” Toma said. “We decided to hold it over Webex, so I defended my thesis, logged out while the committee deliberated, and then logged back in to receive their verdict.”

Both admitted some disappointment that this culminating event in their college careers had to happen remotely but were grateful for the experience.

Huber said that early feedback about the process had been positive.

“We want to be really focused on these projects. Our seniors deserve this attention,” Huber said. “It’s a celebration of what they’ve accomplished and what they will accomplish in the future.”