The communication gap between undergraduates and mathematics professors, that is, and how exactly I’m gonna go about closing it. Totally.


Hey everyone,

Well, I’m all finished. I turned in my completed Honors thesis, “Closing the Communication Gap Between Undergraduates and Mathematics Professors,” a week ago today. Thanks to a lot of diligent work over the summer and winter breaks, I was able to send off my final draft to my committee a full EIGHT DAYS EARLY. It was a great feeling to be able to relax for the last week before its due date. And it gave my committee an extra (and probably badly-needed) week to read my thesis. I say it was probably badly-needed because my thesis ended up being of considerable length.

How long? I’ll preface this by saying that it was at least shorter than Henry Kissinger’s infamous thesis at Harvard, which led to the Government Department there imposing a 120-page limit on future theses. His thesis, entitled “The Meaning of History: Reflections on Spengler, Toynbee, and Kant,” clocked in at 377 pages. By comparison, mine is a slender 231 pages. Much of that space is taken up by my 19 appendices; the manuscript ends after a modest 150 pages.

My defense will be held on Wednesday, April 28, at 1pm in Blair 215. The beginning portion, an oral presentation of the thesis, is open to the public (unfortunately, the committee questioning will be closed). Come on out if you’re at all interested in hearing the presentation! After my defense, I will post a link to the finalized version of the thesis on this blog.

Until then, here’s a bit of a sneak preview: the Acknowledgements page (actually, I had so many people to thank that this section is almost 3 1/2 pages long!). Enjoy!


The phrase that appears on the front of this thesis, “by Daniel James Villarreal,” is a bold distortion of the truth; indeed, a long line of people have been instrumental in making this thesis happen, and it is as much “by” them as it is “by” me. I will attempt to give them their due here, and I sincerely apologize for any omissions.

First, I owe a great debt of gratitude to my participants. Your willingness to set aside time for my research made this thesis possible, but you did so much more than idly participate. The eagerness and candor with which you addressed the discussion sessions revealed a vast network of issues, emotions, and concerns surrounding the communication gap, making possible a rich analysis of your responses. Thank you, thank you for everything.

Second, I thank the professionals who guided this project along the way, with contributions both large and small: Anya Lunden, who first introduced me to linguistics and helped with acoustic analyses; Talbot Taylor, whose service as a committee member has been irreplaceable; Chi-Kwong Li, who has unfailingly encouraged my exploration of this issue—one that is met with unease by many mathematics colleagues all across the country—from the earliest stages of this project; Jack Martin, who expressed faith in my abilities to do linguistic research and provided advice with this project; Kushal Sen, who was a lifeline for my project when finding stimulus materials looked to be impossible; Richard Wright, whose simple suggestion drastically improved my project’s design; Pauline Filemoni, Iyabo Osiapem, Marylou Zapf, Gexin Yu, Hyunju Ban, Doug Price, and Christen Cullum, who generously allowed me to speak to their classes/seminars for recruitment; Paul Showalter, who was more than happy to let me, only an undergraduate, reserve the Dulin Learning Center; and Susan Bosworth, David Hasler, and Carl Strikwerda, who provided me with essential information about hiring practices and teaching statistics at William and Mary. Most importantly, however, I thank Anne Charity Hudley, my advisor in linguistics, from the bottom of my heart. Over the last four years, you have guided and shaped me as a student, at the same time giving me freedom to choose my own path. You were there from the moment I first had the germ of an idea to do linguistic research, and you’ve been an unyielding ally in all of my research and academic endeavors since. Beyond all of that, you’ve been a friend. As much as I look forward to studying in Davis next year, it is a shame that you won’t be there, too. Thank you, thank you for everything.

Third, I thank the wonderful people at the Charles Center: Joel Schwartz, Lisa Grimes, Diana Morris, and others. You have been behind me in my research endeavors as an undergraduate ever since I decided to spend ten days trekking around Manhattan the summer after my freshman year. You expressed powerful confidence in my abilities as a student and person with the Class of 1940 Scholarship; to that end, I also thank Captain Garrett and Virginia Wetter, remarkable alumni whose example of giving back to William and Mary I can only dream of matching. Many thanks are of course also due to Ted Dintersmith, whose generosity made my fellowship possible, and who I imagine received the reaction of confusion, with which I am now well acquainted, associated with telling people of his combination of concentrations (English and physics). My fellowship was also made possible by the generosity of alumni Eric and Carolyn Mollen. To the people who have supported my studies and research I cannot express sufficient gratitude. Thank you, thank you for everything.

Fourth, I thank the fellow William and Mary students who provided help in ways I could never have conceived prior to this project. Thanks are due to Anna Dausman and Jacob Lassin, who assisted with my testing sessions; Allison Corish, whose steady eye made far fewer grading errors than did mine; Mike Blaakman, who helpfully informed me on day last year that I had to do an Honors thesis; Kristine Mosuela, Tara Safaie, and all the members of Prof. Charity Hudley’s lab group, who were instrumental in helping recruit students for this project when numbers seemed frightfully low; Meg Southern, who provided helpful suggestions and steadfast support during the times when the outlook for this research seemed bleakest; and Chelsea Marotta, who attended my pilot testing session and provided invaluable advice. Most of all, I am grateful to my extraordinary friends at William and Mary, a compassionate, brilliant, energetic group of people who have made William and Mary my second home. You have all made the hard work worthwhile. Thank you, thank you for everything.

Fifth, I thank my family, both distant and close, for their love and encouragement for 22½ years and counting. Diana, it has been a blessing to have you at school with me this year, and in a few short months I have watched you grow from a frightened prospective student to a confident, knowledgeable, and well-loved member of the William and Mary community. I also cannot forget the help you have provided me with this project, from recruiting your friends to storing dozens of Cheese Shop sandwiches in your kitchen. Mom, you have been everything a son could ask for. You have let me become my own person, and you did not protest when I decided to spend my last summer of college away from home in pursuit of this project. I love you both very much. Thank you, thank you for everything.

Finally, I dedicate this thesis to my father, James Villarreal. Your “accent that I couldn’t hear” (in the words of Rosina Lippi-Green) was the impetus behind this project, and you are no doubt a large part of my desire to pursue work in academia. You have always been a wonderful father to me, and I cannot hope to repay you for all of these years of love and support. You are an inspiration to me, and I love you very much. Thank you, thank you for everything.

April 15th, 2010 at 7:25 pm tagged ,

Comments are closed.