By RACHEL MANNING
Girard Bucello, senior international affairs major, was chosen to give a presentation at George Washington University on Feb. 13. During his presentation, Bucello spoke about his research on the Baltic countries. Though this is a distinguished honor, it may not even be the apex of Bucello’s academic career. It is only a portion of his senior honors thesis project, an impressive endeavor that he has been working on all year.
“In a nutshell, [my thesis] studies European Security,” Bucello explained In particular it looks at NATO and the European Union and it focuses on the three Baltic countries; Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. The reason it focuses on them is because they are the only former Soviet Republics to be admitted to NATO and the European Union. That, among other things, makes them unique.”
His interest for this topic sparked when he began studying international relations. “If the Cold War is over, why do we still have NATO? Why didn’t NATO simply dissolve after the Cold War ended,” Bucello wondered. So, he decided to embark on an individual study as part of his honors thesis. In late October, with funding from the university, he traveled to Tallinn, Estonia.
There, at the Estonian Defense College, he met with people from a think tank that focuses on the security of the Baltic countries. “Three people [from that think tank] graciously agreed to sit for interviews,” Bucello said. “A lot of what they had to say was worked into papers I’ve written.”
After returning from Tallinn, Bucello wrote a paper and submitted it to Pi Sigma Alpha, the National Political Science and International Affairs Honors Society. “The kinds of students that they allow to present up there generally are very, very good. If they weren’t good they wouldn’t accept them,” said chair of the International Affairs Department Dr. Jack Kramer. Bucello’s paper was accepted and he presented it at George Washington University on Feb. 13.
“The fact that Bucello was selected to present at such a prestigious place demonstrates that he is a very hardworking and proactive student,” said Kramer, who is Bucello’s academic advisor.
“It was reassuring to me to just know that my work was on the right track; that someone else who had no prior connection [to it] can look at it and say ‘this is good.’” Bucello’s paper was even accepted at another conference, one at the University of Pittsburgh, where he will be presenting there on April 1. “I’ll definitely be able to incorporate the feedback [I got at the February conference] there,” Bucello said.
Even that is not the end of Bucello’s thesis journey. Due to the success of his trip to Estonia, he was able to apply for another undergraduate research grant and is now going to Brussels to interview officials at NATO over Spring Break.
“Once you do it for the first time, it makes it easier to do the second time because you’ve already shown that you can do it,” Bucello explained. “If you are able to demonstrate that the research grant is going to be put to good use and that the research topic is worth pursuing and that you’ll be responsible with how you spend the university’s money, there’s no reason [your grant] wouldn’t be approved.”
One of Bucello’s biggest recommendations is that all students “no matter their discipline, look into conducting research and look at the possibilities of presenting and publishing [since] it will do wonders for your career.” He said even if you don’t have the GPA to do an honors thesis, you could do an independent study.
“The actual substance [of a senior honors thesis] doesn’t really differ from an independent study,” Kramer explained. “The main difference is that, in honors projects, we have a second reader, two faculty members, and they both have to approve it. If we then approve it for honors, the actual paper gets bound and it goes into the Simpson Library Catalogs.”
Touching on the topic of student’s future competitive abilities, Kramer said, “Students need to appreciate that when you get out into the real world you know it’s very competitive. You might have two hundred people applying for the job you’re applying for. Somehow, you have to differentiate yourself.”
As both Bucello and Kramer know, embarking on such a project is incredibly beneficial to students in both an academic and a personal sense. “One of the biggest things that I have seen with [Bucello] is that this project has really improved his interviewing techniques. The other thing is that he learned a lot about how to put a trip together. He made all the arrangements. I don’t think a lot of undergraduates would have been able to do that as well as he did,” Kramer said.
“There’s a tremendous sense of accomplishment,” Bucello said in regard to his thesis project. “You’re done at the end of the semester and you say ‘Yes! This is done and it’s not a [prerequisite] or a required class that the university is making me take. I chose this and this is my work and this is what I have to show for it.’”