Thesis students demystify the bacc exam process
McKenna Mooney during her baccalaureate exam. Photo courtesy of McKenna Mooney.

Thesis students demystify the bacc exam process

A baccalaureate examination, referred to at New College as a “bacc,” is an oral defense of the senior thesis or project required for graduation requirements in a student’s Area of Concentration (AOC). Thesis topics are typically chosen in the fall, and students spend the year conducting tireless research and working one-on-one with a faculty member who serves as the senior thesis sponsor. The examination committee is made up of the sponsor and at least two other faculty members who provide feedback and a final performance evaluation. Each student’s bacc exam is announced in advance and is usually open to anyone who wants to attend.

Bacc exams can be held at any time of year, but no classes are held during the designated Bacc days, which are scheduled for April 22-24 on the Spring 2024 academic calendar. These days provide an opportunity for all students to learn, support the process, and take note of what they will one day have to complete. The Catalyst reached out to thesis students to provide a preview of what to expect.

Thesis student and Psychology AOC McKenna Mooney defended her thesis, “ Job Satisfaction and Commitment in Student Employees,” on March 14. “My thesis focuses on student employee job factors, specifically job satisfaction, job commitment, and organizational attachment for student employees,” Mooney said. “I explored the sentiments they have towards their job and towards their organization as a whole.”

Mooney is no stranger to campus employment. She currently works at the Student Success Center (SSC) as a Student Success Coach and worked as a teaching assistant and orientation leader in 2023.

“I’m interested in industrial organizational psychology,” Mooney said. “So that’s kind of like the psychology of business. And it focuses on how organizations can run the most effectively and ethically. The organization can’t flourish if people on an individual level aren’t thriving.”

Mooney sent out a survey for student employees to complete and received 49 responses. “I found that, in general, most New College student employees are pretty satisfied with their jobs and pretty committed. However, I did find a significant relationship between avoidant attachment, feelings of avoidance towards one [fellow] student employee on a campus job, and organizational attachment. So the more avoidant someone felt towards their job, the less likely they were to be committed, and the more they intended to leave their job.” 

Mooney also discovered that when comparing the mean scores of gender groups—female-identifying students, male-identifying students, and those who identify as nonbinary—overall, non-binary-identifying student employees indicated they were less satisfied with their jobs than male- and female-identifying student employees.

Mooney said she has attended bacc exams prior to her own, as many introductory or intermediate psychology courses require younger students to attend bacc in that field during bacc days when there are no classes.  Mooney found it helpful to know what was to come by and familiarize herself with the process and the environment. 

Mooney picked professors for her committee with whom she was well acquainted and knew “pretty well”— a tip she mentioned to lighten thesis students’ nerves. “As a presenter, I felt pretty comfortable with my faculty members that were sitting on my committee mainly because I’d been taking classes with them for four years.” Her thesis sponsor is Dr. Steven Graham, associate professor of Psychology. 

The bacc begins with a 15-minute presentation where a thesis student will discuss what they deem most significant about the project. The rest of the hour is for committee members to ask questions. “I think it’s definitely the most nerve-wracking part of the bacc examination process,” Mooney commented.

Then the audience members are asked to leave so the committee members can talk to the student privately about their academic history at New College. “They asked me more personal questions about my academic goals and where I’m going next,” she explained. “And then they asked me to leave the room while they filled out some paperwork, and then they came out and told me a few minutes later that I passed.” 

Mooney was not as nervous as one would think while waiting outside that room. She said a thesis sponsor will not allow their student to perform a bacc if they believe they will fail. 

“A couple weeks before I gave my bacc presentation, I had to give a paper copy to my other committee members and that gave them the opportunity to read it and suggest edits to my thesis project,” Mooney stated. “My advice for students that are thesising next year is to start early and it’s okay if you don’t have a solid idea yet. But just starting to gather some sources and finding a way to organize them will put you multiple steps ahead in the game. And meet with a student success coach.”

Third-year Environmental Studies and Policy AOC Colin Jefferis brought his thesis to Florida’s lush Everglades. He described his work as “an anthropology [and] environmental policy thesis that looks at the current situation of water quantity conflict in the Everglades. It mainly centers around the Miccosukee tribe and the Indigenous people there. It focuses on Everglades restoration as well as Everglades management.” 

Jefferis was inspired by a trip to the area in his first year. “If I’m doing something that’s environmental in Florida, I have to talk about the Everglades. Then I took classes with Professor of Anthropology Erin Dean that were about conservation and Indigenous knowledge and ecological anthropology, which talked a lot about the role of Indigenous people in the environmental field.” Jefferis immediately became intrigued by the policy aspect of Indigenous sovereignty with respect to the environment, which is how he came to be on the environmental policy track. His thesis is sponsored by Dr. Erin Dean, associate professor of anthropology. 

Jefferis conducted seven interviews with people involved in different aspects of the Everglades and its restoration. In his 15-minute oral presentation, he plans to discuss the history of the Everglades within a framework entitled settler colonialism, and how it can be applied to the ecological degradation of the Everglades. He will end his presentation by discussing the Big Cypress National Preserve and how its inhabitants are employing community-based conservation. This means that the local community participates in protecting the biodiversity of its area.

“There’s this intersectional movement that folded Indigenous rights in with conservation because they were opposing a pipeline,” he explained. And talking about how conservation movements going forward need to be intersectional, and that conservation movements need to include Indigenous rights.” 

As a veteran actor at New College, Jefferis is not very nervous about his bacc. He said he looks forward to an interesting discussion with his faculty committee because they are all professors whom he has taken classes with and knows quite well. 

“My advice is [to] start as early as you can,” he said. “Manage your time. Divide the work and stick to it. Dean had, after ISP, made us write 10 pages a week. And my draft is now done, which is earlier than a good amount of people’s drafts are done.”

The Florida Everglades. Photo by Colin Jefferis.

Thesis student and zoology AOC Megan Nigro has focused on the enrichment responses of captive animals. Last summer Nigro had an internship at a wild animal rehabilitation center, which inspired her project. 

“So in simplest terms, I gave each animal a box to see if their behavior changes,” Nigro stated. “I saw some individual changes. Like the red foxes really liked the box. And then the bobcat didn’t care for it at all. There are also limitations or outside factors that would have applied. So for example, they all have different ages. The bobcat is 19 years old, while one of the red foxes is one. Or the bear, his name’s Max, he is very interested in people, and so if any of the rangers are behind the scenes, he will go back and pace.”

A presentation slide for Megan Nigro’s thesis. Photo courtesy of Megan Nigro.

Nigro will be baccing on April 24 in Hesier 116, a classroom she picked for its familiarity.

“I’m very excited and very nervous. I really don’t like giving presentations, but I can just kind of click on the presentation mode and just go at it,” she said. “And luckily my advisor has been very helpful throughout the whole process. We do two mock presentations in class and one with the Career Engagement and Opportunity (CEO) office. So I’ve been fully prepared for this.” Her thesis sponsor is Dr. Athena Rycyk, assistant professor of biology and marine science. 

Nigro offered advice on communicating with one’s team early. “The earlier you book the time, date and room, the better. You don’t want to wait until the last minute and then none of the rooms are available.” 

The Catalyst is proud of all thesis students and the hard work they have devoted to furthering their education.

Leave a Reply