LOS ANGELES (July 12, 2017) – Capstone senior thesis projects from graduating seniors in Woodbury University’s School of Media, Culture & Design (MCD) can be both culminations and beginnings – and the recently-concluded academic year proved no exception.
“The 2017 year-end showcase of student work was, as we anticipated, among MCD’s best, highlighting the creativity and accomplishments of graduating seniors,” said Sue Vessella, M.F.A., Dean, MCD. “Opening student portfolios is often a revelation, exposing achievement and profound inquiry in equal measure. We were again blessed with a wealth of projects and are delighted to share brief glimpses of three capstone submissions of note, in the Communication, Graphic Design and Psychology departments. They’re representative of the quality of student work that continues to distinguish the School.”
Psychology: The Shame of Bullying
At the 2017 Western Psychological Association Annual Conference this spring, every graduating student in Psychology at Woodbury presented the results of his or her Capstone empirical thesis research project. Senior Nare Nazaryan addressed a topic now at center stage in public discourse nationwide, with her thesis, “It’s Not Just for Kids: Association between Bullying, Narcissism, Shame and Irrational Aggression in Young Adults.”
Nazaryan noted that bullying, an issue typically confined to younger people, was more prevalent in college than she anticipated. Based on her preliminary research, she was surprised at how little research focused on bullying among college students, so she shifted her focus to exploring socially aggressive behavior in young adults.
Fresh out of high school, many students maintain similar patterns of social interaction into their early adult years – but why would someone continue to engage in such negative behavior? Nazaryan was interested in how personality characteristics, such as narcissism, and emotional states, such as shame, manifested themselves. She found that narcissistic characteristics, relational aggression, and, surprisingly, shame, are higher in college students who have prior experience bullying others. In addition to completing surveys, participants wrote a response to a vignette about a frustrating social situation – in this case, being left out. Participants higher in shame and narcissism were more likely to perceive others as hostile and provide an ineffective solution to the vignette. Those higher in bullying and narcissism were more likely to provide an aggressive response to the vignette.
Nazaryan continues to work with her professors to develop her research for submission to an academic journal. “Working on my capstone project made me realize how much I love doing research,” she said. “My goal is to continue my academic and professional career in this field. The reason why I’ve developed a growing passion for research is because of my mentors, Dr. Christensen and Dr. Faber, who’ve made this process highly rewarding and enjoyable for me.”
Communication: The Art of Randomness
Among the 22 senior thesis projects in Communication was Jordan Alsobrook ‘s provocative “Arbitrary Art: The Improbable Inseparability of Music and Picture” (https://drive.google.com/open?id=0B5bgyJSSbvHzU2ZoWjJzSTJ6X00).
Evoking the late filmmaker Robert Bresson, Alsobrook advanced this thesis: “there is no real reason why [sound and image] pair so beautifully, yet they somehow manage to captivate us when consumed in unison.” Alsobrook created a video essay, including a filmed interview with KCRW music supervisor Liza Richardson, to explore the mysterious relationship between music and picture and, by extension, the embedded randomness of art.
Alsobrook strategically juxtaposed a scene from Friday Night Lights with one from Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby – the point at which “I really got to hash out the ‘no rules’” facet of the relationship of music and picture. In this, he drew inspiration from the creators of South Park: “[Matt Stone and Trey Parker] spoke about the importance of clarifying a narrative’s ‘therefore’s as opposed to its ‘and then’s.’” Alsobrook cited Nassim Taleb’s book Antifragile and the concept of “domain dependency,” which speaks to “our conditioned predispositions… concepts and understandings that we believe to be true aren’t always consistent in other arenas. Sound is entirely dependent on its picture—i.e. domain, and therefore it is totally random.
“I learned that reality more often than not looks different from our expectations,” he wrote. “I learned that being able to connect thoughts from various subject matters is equally difficult. I hope that we all learn to embrace the randomness of art more.”
Graphic Design: Not Just Off the Top of Your Head
As part of “Repeat10” Woodbury’s annual exhibition of Graphic Design students’ work, senior Czarah Castro developed a short video, “Dear Hair” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GqWvM8lGeJ0) that addressed the stresses of women’s tresses.
“In the lives of women, hair has been transformed into a medium of expression,” Castro asserted. “While it mainly serves as an element of one’s identity, hair has played a significant role in storytelling by self-expression. Now, women can curl, straighten, color, and mold their locks into anything they like,” but in doing so, “women end up in an abyss of mixed feelings and exhaustion as a result of hair’s unending possibilities. Playing as the roots to their flowering minds, hair has the ability to nurture or inhibit the confidence levels” among women.
Castro invited a variety of women to write letters addressed to their hair. These letters opened up “a monologue of confessions and revealed relationships that are unique to each woman and their locks… revealing that despite their differences, women can find a common ground with each other when they discuss stories about their hair. These declarations uncovered themes of frustration, endearment and identity.” Castro’s film urges women to take a reflective moment to understand how hair fits into their lives, encouraging them to celebrate being female and to acknowledge one aspect of their identity that helps complete the puzzle of who they are.