Senior Thesis Spotlight: Mackenzie Daly & Peter Riley

This piece seeks to highlight members of the senior class who have completed or are in the process of completing their senior theses in partial fulfillment of their graduation requirements. If there is anyone who you believe should be highlighted, please feel free to contact The Bates Student.

Mackenzie Daly ’22—American Studies Major and History Minor

When The Bates Student interviewed Mackenzie Daly during Winter Carnival week, she had yet to bind her senior thesis. Daly submitted her American Studies thesis, “Reckoning with the Past at Long Island’s Sylvester Manor,” on Dec. 10, and by that time, many students had left campus for winter recess. She said, “I think I just ran around my room for a second and played some music!”

Daly was inspired to write her thesis by her time working at the Sylvester Manor in Shelter Island Heights, New York, during high school. While she worked as a farm employee, she was intrigued by the long and significant history of the former plantation. The manor was built in 1652 by Nathaniel Sylvester and his wife, who sailed to Long Island from Barbados.

“It was one of the biggest places of enslavement in the north, at least in the 17th century,” Daly noted. “And it’s a fairly underscored part of local history.” Daly learned that at its peak, the manor was home to more than 20 enslaved people.

Daly described her experience writing her thesis: “It is not as apocalyptic as everyone makes it out to be.” She found that writing a couple of pages each week made the whole process as manageable as possible. She noted that she is grateful to her advisor Dr. Anelise H. Shrout, as well as Finn Conway ’22, for making the process as collaborative and engaging as possible.

Despite having already completed her thesis, Daly is continuing to explore the history of colonization and enslavement in the Americas and the Caribbean. She is enrolled in Dr. Michael J. Becker’s INDS 290: A History of the Caribbean, in which students are studying colonization, emancipation, revolution and more. She noted: “It’s such a vastly understudied part of history.”

While she visited Sylvester Manor during the fall semester to conduct research, Daly has not been back to Shelter Island Heights since then. The resident archivist at the manor has yet to read her completed thesis. Daly said, “What is important to me is that this doesn’t just collect dust on a shelf in the American Studies Lounge.” She hopes to return to the manor during the February recess to give the archivist a copy of her bound work.

Peter Riley ’22—Politics & Neuroscience Double Major and Chemistry Minor

Peter Riley has had a very busy year. He has already completed his politics thesis, “Understanding the Space Race Competition Between the U.S. and China,” with Dr. James G. Richter. He is still in the process of completing his year-long honors neuroscience thesis with Dr. Michelle R. Greene. “I rarely felt like I had a handle on both!” he joked.

According to Riley, space has become increasingly more important to geopolitics in the past years. In his thesis, he examined how competition plays out in space, and if conflict between the U.S. and China is inevitable. His conclusion: “There is nothing inherent about space that makes conflict more likely. Space is another theatre of war.” Riley first became interested in space conflict during his freshman year of high school, and he still feels that there is a lot of research to be done.

The working title for Riley’s neuroscience thesis is: “Visual and Semantic Capacity Limitations and the Neurodynamics of Visual Processing.” The major question being asked is, “How do humans process the visual world?” Riley described how scientists do not know why the human brain takes longer to comprehend certain images over others. By testing a hypothesis, Dr. Greene and Riley hope to get closer to finding the answer.

One of Riley’s main theses challenges has been the amount of coding that he has had to do for his neuroscience thesis. Having only recently learned to code, he has run into some complications. He admitted, “Things that wouldn’t take someone else a long time take me a long time.” Still, he noted that this learning process has been very rewarding and interesting.

Despite these frustrations, Riley is learning about himself and what he wants to do after college. “Doing research long-term is not what I want to be doing,” he said, “As much as I enjoy coding, I want to have more experiences with humans.”

The day after Riley finished his politics thesis, he ran a half marathon to celebrate his accomplishment. He is considering binding both theses at the end of the academic year. Riley concluded by saying, “Overall, it’s been an enjoyable learning process, marked by some frustrating moments.”