Finishing the Race: Kent State Senior Is Weeks Away from Defending her Honors Thesis

Self-professed research addict prepares for big spring events and commencement

Kent State Today is following a group of Golden Flashes for the 2023-'24 academic year chronicling their efforts and successes during the fall and spring semesters. The group includes students, faculty and administrators who are at different places on their Kent State University journeys.

Hannah Fender is entering the home stretch.

Year with a Flash Graphic

She crunched her bachelor’s degree studies into three years, packed them full of research and other activities and now she is staring down the final 10 weeks of her undergraduate college career.

A psychology major in the Honors College, Fender has devoted much of her three years to taking part in undergraduate research. Her degree program includes a concentration in counseling careers, with minors in Spanish and creative writing.  

At Kent State, undergraduate students have numerous opportunities to take on research of all varieties, and students are encouraged not to wait until they are seniors or graduate-level students to get involved.  

Fender took that advice to heart and already has been part of the research teams of two professors. These days, though, it is her honors thesis that is consuming her time and her brain space. The work, she said, is going well.  

“It’s very exciting to see everything kind of come together since it’s been such a long process,” she said.  

“We’re trying to find out how children learn language,” she said. Specifically, Fender’s thesis looks at how declarative memory – memory that allows people to recollect events and facts – plays a role in language development in very young children.

“This would really help us to help children who may have disabilities, who struggle to learn language,” she said. “For me, it’s really looking at the practical applications of it and how what we learn can actually help other people.”  

Phillip Hamrick
Phillip Hamrick

Phillip Hamrick, Ph.D., associate professor of psychological sciences, who is Fender’s thesis advisor, said her research into language development in children at very early ages was previously unstudied.

“The results show clear connections between the two and have broad implications for everything from neurocognition of language development to possible interventions for children whose language acquisition is impaired or delayed,” Hamrick said. “She's presented her work at international conferences and Kent State events, and we plan to submit the paper for publication this summer. That's a rare feat for an undergraduate.”

Hamrick attributes Fender’s success to her strong work ethic and being a self-starter.

“The reason this project was successful was not just Hannah's intellectual promise, but also her work ethic. Hannah has maintained regular contact with me this entire time, routinely self-establishing clear goals and deadlines for each step of the project. She always met or was ahead of her schedule. Her work ethic was independent, but she also knew when to come to me for help,” Hamrick said.

Currently, Fender is taking five classes, and her research work is at a feverish pace. She is looking forward to spring break for some time to visit her boyfriend who attends St. Vincent College in Latrobe, Pennsylvania, and to celebrate Easter with her family in Chagrin Falls, Ohio.  

On her first day back from break, April 1, Fender will stand before a panel of four professors to defend the work of her honors thesis – the culmination of three semesters of research. Rather than being daunted by the April Fool’s date, Fender, a devout Roman Catholic appreciates the proximity to Easter and the hopeful message it brings.

“Right now, I’m definitely nervous, but I know once it comes it will be a mix of nerves and excitement,” Fender said.  

The Undergraduate Research Symposium on April 5, where Fender will present her research again, and finals week will complete Fender’s sprint to commencement on May 10.  

Just one last big question is still looming for Fender: What’s next?

While Fender is still weighing her options, Hamrick is confident that success is in her future.  

“Hannah is an outstanding student, and it has been an honor to be her honors thesis advisor. I'll be sad to see her go, but she definitely has more amazing things to come,” he said.

POSTED: Friday, February 23, 2024 02:15 PM
Updated: Tuesday, February 27, 2024 10:26 AM
Lisa Abraham
Kent State University and Lisa Abraham