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Senior Research Projects: a Novel Idea and a Germ of an Idea

May 4, 2012

Senior year, arguably one of the best and most stressful times in a young person's life. The best because, to coin a phrase, the world is their oyster. The most stressful because there are papers to write, tests to take and grades to keep up with. For students in Averett's Honors Program there is the additional work of a senior research project, which covers two semesters and delves into a topic of each student's choosing that relates to their major.

This year, two Honors Program students, seniors Spencer Bennington and Mira Tissari, had their research projects accepted for presentation at the annual Southern Regional Honors Council Conference in Tampa, Fla., March 30-April 1.

For Bennington, choosing what his senior research project would be was relatively easy. As someone who is "very much interested in creative writing" Bennington chose to write a novel, a feat he was already planning to accomplish. Starting with an idea he had in high school, Bennington crafted a story about a Sunni Muslim who meets a boy from the Bible belt and the secret relationship that develops between the two.

"I was my own biggest challenge," Bennington said of writing his novel, titled "Wrestling with God." "As a writer, you want to make changes and fix things as you're writing. I had to set deadlines for myself so that I stayed on task."

For his presentation at the conference Bennington chose to focus on the sex scene in his novel and the creative process behind it. The title of his presentation was "Reaching a Literary Climax: Writing a Good Sex Scene." He talked about what sex means in literature and the ultimate coming together and tearing apart of characters. He also differentiated between literary sex and erotica as well as shared his ideas about how to write a good sex scene.

"I wanted a big audience," Bennington said. "And I got one. I felt like a rock star."

Tissari's topic, "The Effect of Professional Dental Cleaning on Oral Microbiology," appealed to a different audience. For her project, Tissari worked with Dr. Donna Helton, a local dentist. Using eight patients, she swabbed the inside of their mouths before, during and after a cleaning. She then worked in one of Averett's biology labs to identify the different oral micro-organisms.

"It was very extensive research," Tissari said. "My biggest challenge was figuring out how to proceed to the next step. As I was doing my research, I didn't always have a specific set idea of what I would do next. I would have to wait for the research to tell me.
Looking at the swabs under the microscope I would discover pink, white and yellow colonies, which led me to believe they were different species.

"It was a very rewarding experience. I got really good feedback and would absolutely do it again."

All total, she was able to identify 21 different oral micro-organisms. She also discovered that professional dental cleaning improves a person's oral health and reduces the micro-organisms living in our mouths by as much as 60 percent.