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During her junior year, Rachel Gallagher ’07 (Allentown, Pa.) took the course Single Motherhood: Myths and Realities taught by Deborah Byrd, associate professor of English. Byrd required students to create relationships with single mothers in the area, particularly teen moms in the Family Development Research Program at Easton High School and mothers living at Third Street Alliance for Women and Children.

Now, the program at Easton High School is at risk of losing its funding and Gallagher has decided to help the cause through an honors thesis.

Gallagher’s thesis, entitled “Teen Moms and Caps and Gowns: An Analysis of the Family Development Research Program and their Educational Impacts on Pregnant and Parenting Teens” is both a sociological and activist project. She is interviewing past and present participants to determine how the program’s emphasis on graduating high school has impacted their personal and individual educational success.

“The Family Development Research Program is a grant that provides a ‘wraparound’ support network for pregnant and parenting teens in the Easton School District in order to help them graduate from high school. They are at risk of losing their funding, and my thesis is compiling data and impressions from the participants themselves that hopefully the administrators can use in other grant applications and requests for funding,” says Gallagher. “I am excited about this project because it allows me to work with an organization that I care a lot about. Additionally, the activist component of my thesis is allowing me to have a special and important purpose to my paper, which would be missing with a regular research project.”

Rebecca Kissane, assistant professor of anthropology and sociology, is Gallagher’s thesis adviser.

“Professor Kissane is highly qualified and has done a wealth of research on welfare and welfare reform, which intersects with my thesis topic,” Gallagher explains. “This project is allowing me to connect my academic experience to the community, along with learning traditional research skills. I am learning to create relationships and work with real people in fields linked to my career interests in advocacy. I am excited to create a project like this that I can put Lafayette’s name on.”

Kissane is excited to work with Gallagher as her thesis unfolds in the next semester.

“Working with Rachel has been a wonderful experience. She is very engaged with her thesis topic and is a bright young scholar,” she says. “This thesis project allows Rachel to get experience doing rigorous research on a policy-relevant subject. She can hone her writing skills as well as learn how to collect and analyze qualitative data. She is also gaining the valuable experience of presenting her work at academic conferences.”

Gallagher was recently awarded the Undergraduate Social Action Award from the Sociologists for Women in Society (SWS) for the work she is doing on her thesis. She will present her work at its conference in New Orleans this February.

The Undergraduate Social Action Award is designed to carry on the SWS tradition of acknowledging, affirming, and inviting students to participate in SWS. The three winners of this award are invited to attend the SWS winter meeting and participate in a panel session discussing how their internship experiences advanced the purpose of SWS by working to improve women’s lives and create feminist social change.

Kissane believes Lafayette provides an excellent environment for students like Gallagher.

“Lafayette has enabled Rachel to develop her own major, equality and justice, and through this she has been able to chart her own journey – one which has allowed her to take courses across different disciplines,” explains Kissane. “This Lafayette experience has culminated in her senior thesis research, which speaks to many different academic disciplines, such as women’s studies, sociology, and policy studies. She will leave Lafayette with quite a unique educational experience.”

While she hopes to attend law school after graduation, Gallagher would also welcome the opportunity to move to Washington, D.C. and work on advocacy campaigns for women’s issues.

“I truly admire Rachel’s commitment to making a difference in the world,” says Kissane. “I expect great things from her in the future.”

Along with Byrd, Miranda Dolan ’07 (Pitman, N.J.), and several Easton community members, Gallagher presented a workshop on student involvement in the community at the National Women’s Studies Association Conference held in Oakland this past summer. Gallagher is a member of the varsity swim team, Synchromotion dance team, and College Democrats. She also is a Writing Associate.

Honors theses are among several major programs that have made Lafayette a national leader in undergraduate research. The College sends one of the largest contingents to the National Conference on Undergraduate Research each year; 40 students were accepted to present their research at this year’s conference.

Categorized in: Academic News