Person of the Week
Keegan Smith Focuses on East Haven for SCSU Honors Senior Thesis
Keegan Smith recently defended his thesis about climate change, which involved interviews with East Haven residents, for the Southern Connecticut State University’s Honors College. (Photo courtesy of Keegan Smith)
Keegan Smith never had planned on attending Southern Connecticut State University (SCSU), originally having his sights set on going to school in the Boston area, but after being accepted to the Honors College at SCSU, he changed his mind. He is now a psychology major with a minors in theater.
“I went to an essay day at the school to write an essay and do a discussion with faculty and students,” says Keegan. “That solidified that I wanted to go because it was a tight-knit program in bigger school, which is best of both worlds, plus it was close to home and cost-effective.”
As Keegan is preparing to graduate this coming spring, he had to complete a thesis project. When it came time to decide what his focus would be for the project, he recalled a marine science class he had taken through the Honors College.
“We took field trips to East Haven to measure elevations and a boat trip in New Harbor to measure sediment and, though those do not sound very exciting, they were so much fun and made environmental science very real to me, not just ‘memorize these rocks and minerals for the quiz,’ so I liked the realness of the project,” says Keegan. “I really enjoyed the research and I had data from the area already so I though East Haven was a great fit.”
Inspired by that class, Keegan did an independent research study about how individuals in separate communities perceive climate risk when it concerns themselves versus when it concerns those in other towns to contribute to the field of environmental psychology. Keegan hoped to be able to identify why more isn’t being done on the topic of climate change in his thesis: East Haven vs. West Haven: A comparative study on public perceptions to climate-induced coastal hazards.
He was inspired by his professors, Dr. Vincent Breslin and the “late, great” Dr. Jim Tait, who “helped me see the severity of the issues at hand and made it personal.” Keegan realized the importance of making climate change personal to people.
To begin his project, he first took the prospectus class where his thesis advisor guided him through formulating a research question and hypothesis. Keegan then had to decide how to implement the study and do a literature review to strengthen points and provide evidence for claims.
He worked on the draft throughout the spring and summer to prepare for the second part of his project this past fall. Keegan began to refine his prospectus and started his fieldwork. He reached out to residents in East Haven and West Haven.
“The response from the East Haven community was absolutely incredible,” says Keegan. “I did not know much about the town, but through this, I have found that East Haven people are incredibly eager to lend helping hands and their kindness is very apparent. Even when I reached my maximum for research participants and was turning people down, East Haven residents continued to wish me luck and send nice messages even though they could not be chosen to be a subject.”
Keegan defended his thesis on Dec. 6 with a Powerpoint presentation to his thesis advisor and two committee members. Keegan’s original thesis advisor passed away during the process.
“Overall I found people are more concerned with climate and engaging with the climate when it affects their own home versus others,” says Keegan. “A lot of time people when I asked about an issue, people would say, ‘I’m not an environmental expert,’ but then I’d show them a map with their home marked and all of a sudden, they still weren’t an expert but had more to say. It made it more personal and brought the issue into their world.”
Keegan interviewed four East Haven residents with an average age of 58.5 years old. He found that all of the residents were concerned about a Hurricane Katrina-level storm affecting their homes and their community with all calling for building in flood zones to be stopped.
“The conclusion I draw is that people aren’t doing more about climate change because it’s not personal to them, but East Haven residents had more of a legislative approach to action,” says Keegan. “Everybody was very kind and so great to interview and work with. It was really a pleasure to get to know some members of the community in the way I did.”
Keegan’s idea with his original advisor was to present his findings to the town’s engineer once his thesis was complete. He is now working with his new advisor on bringing that plan to fruition.
While Keegan has been busy with his thesis project, he is still involved in many other things at SCSU as well. He is a member of several honor societies, including Omicron Delta Kappa, Psi Chi, and Zeta Delta Epsilon, which is a service-based honor society.
In addition to performing with SCSU’s Crescent Players, he is the construction crew head. Keegan has been involved in theater since he was eight years old, starting with shows at his hometown’s Southington Community Theater and his church. He participated in school productions through the John F. Kennedy and Joseph A. Depaolo Middle School Drama Club as well as at Southington High School.
“Theater is the fun piece and I help build sets as well as perform on them and it keeps the balance of not always doing work,” says Keegan, who has been dancing for many years. “Theater allows me to express myself in many ways. I’ve met so many great people, including all four of my roommates, through theater.”
Now that Keegan has defended his thesis, he’s looking forward to his final semester at SCSU and starting to think about what lies beyond college.
“I am not entirely sure of what I would like to do because there is so much that interests me,” says Keegan. “Right now, my ideal job would be to get a sport psychology degree and work for the Red Sox or really any MLB team as a mental skills coach. Either that or some kind of interactive research role would be great, too.”
Jenn McCulloch is the Correspondent for Zip06. Email Jenn at .