Sneak Peek! Senior Seminar Conference 2016

Eleven extremely thoughtful English majors will be presenting their research at a department conference on Thursday, 5 May 2016 in the Swartz Center Rooms C & D at Marywood University.


Front: David, Diane, Marilyn, Elise, Amanda, Jamie; Back: Nicole, Paul, Jessi, Kathleen, Riley

If you’d like a sense of their work, check out their blogs (linked just below). You will find an abstract for each conference presentation, and you can even peruse each student’s blog to discover more about what they’ve been thinking about over the course of the semester.

And if you’re looking for someone to hire, be sure to check out their resumés!

I. Of Demigods, Dystopias, & Dastardly Dames: Stretching Gender Roles in Literature & Film

Nicole Meshko: “‘Are You a Boy? Or Are You a Girl?’: An Analysis of Gender in The Lightning Thief”
Marilyn Anderson: “She’s the Man Coerced into Womanhood and She’s the Girl Transformed by Manhood: The Hunger Games and Divergent
Elise Cargan: “The Not-So Villainous Villainess: How Traditional Gender Roles are Challenged and Combined in Disney’s Maleficent

II. The Maniacs, the Deafies, & the Homies: Representations of Minorities in Popular Culture

Diane Congdon: “This Playbook is a Handbook for Mental Awareness”
Amanda Thornley: “The Silence is Deafinitely Getting Louder: Deafness and Deaf Culture in Switched at Birth
Kathleen Blazosek: “Yo, Son, You Catch Last Night’s Episode? Slang and Stereotypes in Law and Order: Special Victims Unit

III. Harry Potter and the Sounds of Silence

Riley Covaleski: “Harry Potter and the Fountain of Youth: Categorizing the Kid Wizard”
Paul Capoccia: “‘They don’t understand, do they?’: Screaming, Sound, and Silence in Our Town and Death of a Salesman

IV. Is What You See What You Get? Social Critique in 19th- and 20th-Century Fiction

Jamie Linde: “‘The Constraint of Day’: Observing the Body in Tess of the d’Urbervilles
David Burns: “Monstrous Behavior: Investigating the Normal in Grendel
Jessi Terry: “A Corrupt Society: Discovering the Effects of Consumerism and Media in White Noise”

We look forward to seeing you at the conference!

intros, conclusions, titles…oh, my!

Students in ENGL 495 Senior Seminar discussed intros, conclusions, & titles in preparation for pulling together full drafts of their capstone papers. They were so happy with the guidelines gathered during class that they said it belongs on the English Department blog. So here it is!

Be sure to read far enough that you discover what the reverse-mullet title might look like…

The different parts of the essay are like the parts of a sandwich or a burger...

photo credit /


  • Start general, get more specific as you move towards thesis
  • Introduce your topic (text[s] and theme you’re working with)
  • Preview main points from lit review (Research shows….Scholars have argued…)
  • Use a transition sentence to show how your primary analysis responds to your lit review. For example, it might be that scholars have not put ideas together when discussing your text, or it might be that they have ignored something important or been misguided in some way, or it might be that they’ve done good work but you’re going to add some nuance
  • Preview your main points from primary analysis as an answer to the lit review
  • End with a thesis that pulls it all together; if the sentences before the thesis statement are specific and lay out the major components of the argument, the thesis statement might be brief, but it should still be specific (“Novel is thus an example of how religions can be represented progressively in some ways while being strongly critiqued in other ways.”)


  • Recap main point(s) in 1-4 sentences
  • Explain in several sentences why it matters—what can readers do with the information you’ve provided? Why should anyone care? What’s the significance?
  • return to the intro or to the title, creating a circle or an echo that helps readers see how far they’ve come (especially effectvie if you use something fun in intro or in title!)


  • quotation(s)—perhaps from primary text(s) or from relevant secondary research
  • something shocking! provide that oomph factor
  • alliteration
  • short, pointed sentence…even an intentional fragment. The worst novel imaginable.
  • a brief personal narrative or anecdote–what gave rise to your research question or interest?
  • an analogy

    photo cred / Con Air via


  • focus on the topic
  • alliteration!
  • word play, cleverness
  • “Party in the front and business in the back”: The Reverse Mullet Title

photo cred / Full House via

Thinking about moving from college to career…

The Senior Seminar class started reading Getting from College to Career by Lindsey Pollak (Harper, 2012). Here is some of the advice that seems helpful after reading the first few chapters.

  • Don’t worry about money when looking for a job
  • “Start wherever you are”….Regardless of where you are, remember that everyone starts somewhere, so don’t worry about being behind
  • “Shine online!” …make sure there are not bad things and there ARE good things!
  • “Embrace your stereotype”….that means that when people treat you as clueless or aimless, you can ask those people for advice—even if those people are being condescending or rude
  • Study the field you want to get into. Read their journal & blogs.
  • “It’s never too early or too late!”


Senior Seminar Research Abstracts

Please hear the full version of these projects at the Senior Seminar Mini-Conference, Wednesday, 6 May 2015, 6:00pm in the Swartz Center at Marywood. 


Through the Looking Glass Slipper

1. Emily Dean  “Down The Rabbit Hole: How Alice: Madness Returns Subverts the Inner/Outer Associations of Alice in Wonderland”

Alice in Wonderland has been adapted several times in many different forms of media, each with their own unique spin on the original work, as well as criticism and analysis concerning the text.   Alice: Madness Returns, however, is a new form of adaptation for a well-known text. As a video game, it is a radically different spin on the Alice in Wonderland story through its use of mature subject matter, complex characterization, and immersive settings.  It takes the concept of a internal world/external world dichotomy present in the original text and subverts it by creating a melding of the two through use of psychological elements, and historical criticism.

2. Chelsea Epler “Bippity Boppity Feminism: The Magic of Female Representation in Media”

Many people believe that pop culture is a mind numbing experience with little relevance within the real world. Despite this popular opinion, the representation of a society within a media can offer insight into the social and economic status of its inhabitors. By using the movies Cinderella (1950) and Cinderella (2015) we can observe the alterations made due to the change in priorities and morals. Since the two works span 65 years and were created by the same Disney company, the amount of altering force behind the changes lies only within the time in which they were created.

Labeling the Ladies

1. Heather McDonald Budow  “’Now our bodies are the guilty ones’: The Madonna-Whore in Contemporary American Musical Theatre”

The Madonna-Whore dichotomy is a common archetype followed in many areas of literature and art. Despite the fact that all women carry that dichotomy within themselves, the genre of American Musical Theatre has forced its female characters into fully embracing either the Madonna or Whore. The way this is portrayed is evident in the musicals Wicked and Spring Awakening.

2. Allison Ranieri “Hedwig, An Inch Too Masculine for Feminism? A (Trans) Feminist Examination of Gender”

The film Hedwig and the Angry Inch has created analytical divides amongst critics of Feminist and Transfeminist schools of thought concerning gender-identification. Although some scholars consider the film to be ultimately patriarchal, others argue that it reflects more feminist messages than misogynistic views. Regardless of the divides, most scholars have agreed that Hedwig, a partial male-to-female transsexual German rocker, is not actually a transgender individual despite being socially labeled as one by fans. Within this group of critics, many believe Hedwig’s gender-mislabeling constitutes the rejection of the film from Transfeminist and Feminist narratives. However, these criticisms have ignored the inherent acceptance of gender-ambiguity within the trans-community and consequently have reinforced the rigidness of gender-convention the film combats. Through an examination of the masculine, feminist, and gender-ambiguous features of the film, I will attempt to clarify Hedwig’s gender-identity and secure the film’s position as a text worthy of a Transfeminist and Feminist labeling.


Seeing & Believing

1. Patrick Kernan “’Or, at least, I think that’s what happened’: Authorial Involvement and Factual Accuracy in Journalistic Works”

Criticism of Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood, Hunter S. Thompson’s Fear and Loathing in Lost Vegas, and Jon Krakauer’s Into the Wild often centers around the problems with the texts, typically regarding the factual veracity of the texts. What has not been done regarding these texts is an examination into whether or not the author’s choices were ethical in a journalistic sense. Also, there has not been a comparison of the three texts, to show a progression from least ethical to most ethical. In addition to this, critics have not given much thought concerning how the ethicality of the texts also affects their entertainment value. In this paper, I argue that Capote’s work is least ethical because he hid his factual failings, Thompson is in the middle because he still failed but acknowledged his failings, while Krakauer is the most ethical because he uses traditional journalistic techniques. This paper examines different ideas of truth, including Capote’s and Thompson’s feeling that emotions were an important part of truth, while Krakauer uses a more objective sense of truth that focuses strictly on facts.

2. Erica Kester “Fact vs Fiction: The Misrepresentation and Glamorization of Terminal Illnesses in The Fault in Our Stars and A Walk To Remember

Young Adult Literature has increased in popularity over the past decade. With its increasing popularity well known authors have immerged. Two of these authors are John Green and Nicholas Sparks. While their works have been well received by both literary critics and their young adult audiences, their novels that focus on cancer (The Fault In Our Stars and A Walk To Remember) have recently received some less than favorable reviews. More and more critics are now asking the question of “How far is too far?” when it comes to discussing such a heavy topic with a YA audience. This paper will explain how the glamorization and misrepresentation of terminal illnesses is affecting its YA audience and the effect it is having on the YA genre as a whole.

3. Megan McDonnell “Angels and Demons: A Cultural Comparison of Magical Realism in the Americas”

Magical realism is a genre that has been studied extensively in Latin America for its ability to blur the lines between reality and conjecture. In this way, magical realism seeks to confront perceptions of reality, an aim easily documented by research and criticism in the genre. However, there is not much research dealing with magical realism across cultures, especially as it pertains to the United States. Offering a cultural comparison of how magical realism manifests in both Latin American and American cultures provides a lens through which we can examine commonly held beliefs and views not otherwise apparent. Through a close comparison of Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s “Un senor muy viejo con unas alas enormes” and Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Black Cat,” the stark contrast between the author’s respective cultures comes into sharper relief.

Novel American Morality

1. Sr. Maria Imbori “The Power of Moral Convictions: One’s Convictions Depict Who One Is and What One Stands for”

Scholars and critics have different interpretations when discussing literary works. The novels O Pioneers! by Willa Cather (1993) and Storming Heaven by Denise Giardina (1987) have been discussed in terms of environmental concerns. O Pioneers! is also focused on a gender role and religious references. Some scholars consider Cather’s O Pioneers! as a reflection of her own life because she put her own career ahead of her personal life as Alexandra did. Storming Heaven, meanwhile, has ideas about a community working together and the struggle for social justice. In both novels the main characters have demonstrated strong commitment.  Discussing these two books together helps us to see how individual characters have demonstrated their strong conviction in dealing with difficulties. As a matter of fact, our world today desperately needs models of conviction. The characters in both books provide such models. Looking at these books together helps us to understand and appreciate the work of literature.

2. Briana Galea “What Does it Mean and Why Does it Matter?: Kurt Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle as a reply to Mark Twain’s The Mysterious Stranger

Previously, critics have compared Mark Twain and Kurt Vonnegut’s use of satire. In this paper, I intend to highlight the ways in which Cat’s Cradleseems to be responding to The Mysterious Stranger. In order to do this, I discuss the ways in which Cat’s Cradle and The Mysterious Stranger argue that the meaning of life is in the perpetuation of the human race. This paper offers an analysis of the intangible qualities that appear in Mark Twain’s The Mysterious Stranger and Kurt Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle that characterize both novels as satire. While the ideas that appear in both novels are abstract, their foundations can be found in the very real ways people interact with each other and the ways societies conduct themselves.

Professional Advice in Senior Sem


During the second week of classes, students in ENGL 495 Senior Seminar spent some time reading the first third of Lindsey Pollak’s Getting from College to Career (New York: Harper, 2012), and they also received resume-writing advice from Katie Gallagher of Marywood’s Career Services.


We thought it’d be generous of us to share some of the tips we liked most. Here ya go!

  • Embrace your stereotype: If people assume you’ll have no chance, ask them for advice instead of feeling defeated
  • Tweet! You can use it to build your professional brand and put yourself out there professionally
  • When writing a resume, use action verbs!
  • Identify the people you admire and what you admire about them, and see how you can relate that to yourself; it can be a way to recognize your good qualities and sell yourself to others
  • Always include a cover letter when sending your resume
  • Be concise! People don’t spend much time reviewing resumes (usually less than 30 seconds)
  • Have the most pertinent information on your resume
  • There are jobs and opportunities out there that you haven’t even heard of
  • Including quantitative data on your resume is smart (number of people managed, etc)
  • Present the info on your resume that is most relevant
  • Network by talking with your friends and family
  • Use LinkedIn

We have three “Professional Nights” scheduled for the semester, so check back to see what else we take to heart. And please share your own tips in the comments!

–Dr. Laurie McMillan, faculty, on behalf of the ENGL 495 Senior Seminar class

ENGL 495 Senior Seminar is a capstone requirement for all English majors. Students work on independent research projects over the course of the semester while thinking more deeply about their education, from the usefulness of close reading, to the purpose of the humanities, to the changes of the digital age.

Connecting the major to future professions is another important facet of the course that reflects the English major at Marywood and the many doors it can open.

Closing Reflections

It is always profitable—and often very rewarding—to take time to reflect on a semester’s worth of learning.  And it’s all the more fun when our reflections take a creative form, as with this limerick from Melanie Peternel (’16; Philosophy), a student in Dr. Bittel’s Honors Composition and Rhetoric class.


Melanie_Page_2We hope that you own end-of-semester reflections fill you with pride, satisfaction, gratitude…and maybe a little bit of rhyme!

Good luck with the last of your finals!

(And thank you, Melanie, for permission to share!)

Things we’ll take with us….

blog waw picIt’s almost the middle of the semester, so my firstyear writing class, ENGL 160 Composition & Rhetoric, paused for a few minutes to reflect on learning from our course that could be applied to other classes or other writing situations.

  • Proper use of affect and effect (affect is an action word and effect is a noun…usually)
  • How to email properly with teachers
  • How to structure papers better, how to put points in order
  • Peer editing and teacher feedback help us pay attention to weaknesses so we can watch out for those things in other writing
  • Can notice if we’re using texting-style in our papers because we read about that
  • Understand that primary sources are firsthand and secondary sources are from others’ research

Once we are close to the end of the semester, I hope to have more extensive feedback to share. In the meantime, tell us, whether you’re a student or a teacher: What are some of the things you’re doing in your classes that you’ll take with you after the class ends? Leave a comment. We’d love to hear from you!

~Laurie McMillan, faculty

Laurie McMillan has been teaching ENGL 160 using a Writing-about-Writing approach. Students read composition scholarship to discover what is known about writing, and they do primary research that involves investigating real-world writing, ultimately building on the work of composition scholars.