Valerie Purcell combines biology and studio fine arts for her senior thesis


For many seniors at Union, fall term means it is time to begin thinking about thesis. Whether it is focused on engineering a robot, or evaluating students in the psychology lab, the theses at Union College vary immensely and offer a unique look at the hard work and study across curriculum that Union values so dearly. Valerie Purcell ’17, a senior studio fine arts major, is working on her thesis through her independent study this fall term.

While Valerie is well acquainted in the art department at Union, she did not always envision herself joining the studio fine arts department. In fact, she used to be a biology major.

Through exploring the wealth of courses Union has to offer, she found that her passion did not lie within the laboratory, but rather in the art studio. She explains, “I used to be a biology major, but I found myself wanting to take more art than biology classes, so I kind of fell into it. And last year, once I had declared my studio arts major, it just felt right”.

Although she is no longer a declared biology major, Valerie still manages to bring attention to her former interests. In particular, she incorporates evolutionary biology into her art. In a fitting roundabout fashion, her thesis is focused on a part of the body: “My thesis is on the evolution of human teeth. I decided on this topic because it was an idea that I had never seen done before. I loved evolutionary biology and wanted to incorporate it somehow into my thesis.”

What is so remarkable about Valerie is her ability to combine her interests into a tangible artistic subject. Even after declaring herself a studio arts major, Valerie did not abandon biology, she just looks at it through an entirely different lens.

Valerie’s overall experiences in the art department at Union have been extremely positive. When asked about her favorite art class she could not come up with a straight answer. Instead she mentions, “Honestly, I don’t know if I can pick a favorite. All of the classes I have taken are so great in their own unique way.”

Finally, I asked Valerie what she hopes to get out of her thesis when she completes it and she responded: “My hope for my thesis is that other people get something out of it. I think it’s pretty cool that my subject is something that everyone can relate to because we are all evolving and changing.” Her stance toward her thesis reminds us that we all experience some sort of metamorphisis with age and experience, and college is no exception.

Valerie’s thesis work will go down as an example that each major can be incorporated into a seemingly unrelated one. It goes to show that Union’s philosophy regarding the importance of integrating the sciences and liberal arts is indeed achievable and all the more encouraged among students with interdisciplinary interests.

On a related note, Union students, faculty and staff are finally able to see the newly renovated Visual Arts building. For many art majors, this is a dream come true. The upgrade goes beyond just the building’s bettered facilities — it allows students to delve deeper into the experience of being an artist by protecting the integrity of fine equipment, some of which is becoming more and more extinct on other college campuses. The new space allows art students to create, innovate and experience, similar to Valerie’s work on her thesis.

When asked what Valerie thought about the new visual arts building, she had a frank response, “AMAZING.”

Valerie’s thesis will be made available for public viewing in the spring term of 2017 along with other art senior theses. They will be on display in the new Feigenbaum Center for Visual Arts as a part of the Crowell and East Galleries.

The Feigenbaum Center for Visual Arts is now available for public use. The exceptions to the general public are studios that hold specialty equipment. Such rooms require authorized key-card access.


Leave a Reply