Developing an Electronic Repository for Undergraduate Theses
Undergraduate honors theses represent an intellectual asset that a university should recognize and manage as such. However, when theses were submitted exclusively in print copies, the work often faded into obscurity, forgotten by all but the student and mentor. While theses for advanced degrees have been accessible for many years via interlibrary loan or abstract services, similar access options have been unavailable for undergraduate theses because these works are most often associated with and maintained by the institutional honors program without involvement or support from the institution’s library system. At best, an index of undergraduate theses might be available to the public, but print copies—often the only versions of theses—are traditionally housed in honors and are difficult, if not impossible, to obtain.
As undergraduate honors theses have become more commonplace and as online access to research has become virtually universal, honors programs do a disservice to their students, faculty, and the public if they do not provide access to the original scholarship produced by undergraduates. Furthermore, introducing undergraduates to electronic publication provides educational value by exposing them to the publishing demands they will likely encounter in their future education and professional careers. Two additional benefits to students are that an electronic publication saves the student time and expense in producing their final work and, most importantly, makes their work available worldwide to potential research partners and employers.
An electronic thesis repository provides several instruction-based opportunities to advance learning. For example, courses within an honors college often enroll students from a variety of disciplines. In research methods courses, students can easily examine examples of theses to familiarize themselves with the writing styles and formatting in their discipline. Similarly, in a colloquium-style course that addresses diverse topics, students can use the repository to become familiar with research approaches and writing styles outside of their discipline; this is a particular advantage for undergraduates because, as they progress in their course of study and certainly once they begin graduate or professional programs, they rarely have time for this type of cross-disciplinary interaction. In addition, faculty in diverse disciplines can assign repository reviews, either in courses or when mentoring honors students, to demonstrate the level of scholarship expected in honors thesis work. Although these goals could be accomplished using hard copies, our current students are more comfortable with and more likely to access electronically available materials.
East Tennessee State University (ETSU) has made undergraduate theses available to the campus community and general public through an electronic repository and catalog maintained by the university library. The electronic system we implemented and others of similar quality provide a user interface developed for manuscript submission, review, and approvals. This type of system takes students’ research experience to a final level of completion and assures that they learn how to navigate a process analogous to manuscript submission. Because adapting our institution’s system for graduate theses and dissertations was not a feasible option and we could find no general guidelines to direct our efforts, we developed our own undergraduate honors thesis repository, and we hope that our efforts in this process will provide insights and guidelines for other institutions.
Levy, Foster; Pyles, Rebecca; Szarejko, Celia; and Wyatt, Linda. 2012. Developing an Electronic Repository for Undergraduate Theses. Honors in Practice. Vol.8