When Natasha Daviduke wrote a paper on modern school segregation for “Schools in American Cities” course during her junior year, she had no way of knowing that the brief work of scholarship would inspire the capstone project that would engulf her senior year. But when it came time to pick a thesis topic, the political science major, who also minored in education, returned to that rich topic, as it encompassed both of her academic areas of interest and has real-world ramifications.
“I wanted to tackle a current issue, and I didn’t want to examine how it had come about, I wanted to understand how to fix it,” said Daviduke.
Her thesis, “A District Divided: Analyzing Policy Responses to Racial Isolation in U.S. Schools,” ended up being a policy analysis of two different methods of socioeconomic-status-based school integration. She was excited about her project not just because she was passionate about its practical applications, but because, she says, it contributes to relatively new area of scholarship.
“I interviewed a few policy experts working in this particular field and they confirmed that the comparison I’m making is an original one. They asked to read my work when it’s complete,” says Daviduke, who plans to be a teacher. “Responding to the growing problem of school segregation is very much a work in progress, and policies are constantly re-evaluated and re-designed. I hope that my thesis can, in some small way, contribute to a growing archive of research on the issue.”
How did your advisor help you develop your topic, conduct your research, and/or interpret your results?
[Associate Professor] Zach Oberfield’s fall seminar helped me understand the structure of a policy analysis, and he guided me through narrowing my topic and my case studies. Zach consistently asked me questions that caused me to turn back to my own assertions and make sure they were solid. My thesis was also the first time I’d done any extensive quantitative analysis, and Zach has really helped me to find reasonable methods for evaluating my data. Something that I very much appreciated about him as an advisor is his investment in my topic. I often found articles about integration in my inbox with the caption, “Have you seen this?” His interest in the issue has helped motivate me to keep digging.
What is your biggest takeaway from this project?
I think my biggest takeaway is that it can be valuable to have somewhat inconclusive results. I walked into this project hoping that I would have a clear, exciting finding, and the results have instead been complex and full of limitations. [Once I was] nearing the end of the process, a few professors told me that theses are rarely an end—they’re often much more of a beginning. If I ever wanted to explore this topic further, I could expand upon the work that I’ve done this year, already knowing what it’s missing. But for now, having inconclusive results means that I didn’t choose a simple problem, and there may not be a simple solution. While it doesn’t necessarily feel like a great conclusion to the year of work that I have done, it has taught me that research opens more doors than it closes.
“What They Learned” is a blog series exploring the thesis work of recent graduates.