May 18, 2023
Rachel Newcomb and Patrick Baliani putting up Necomb's self portrait in the Poetry center

Rachel Newcomb (left) hangs her painting with the help of her thesis advisor, and award-winning Franke Honors Professor of Practice, Patrick Baliani (right).

On May 11th, 2023, after more than three years, the COVID-19 Public Health Emergency officially expired. The effects of the pandemic, however, which cost innumerable lives and impacted the ways in which we live and learn, will likely be felt for a lifetime.

Rachel Newcomb, a W.A. Franke Honors graduating senior majoring in Neuroscience, delved into the raw realizations of the early quarantine days of the COVID-19 pandemic, when the unknowns outweighed answers. Newcomb’s Honors Thesis, titled Alone, Together, was inspired by her personal experiences and interactions during those early days. Through art and poetry, she explores the emotions experienced by four different subjects, including herself—feelings like loneliness, isolation, fear, and uncertainty. Each subject is triadic and tells a story through sight, sound, and word.  

Last month, the culmination of her thesis work was on display at the University of Arizona Poetry Center, in the form of mixed media: paint on canvas, poetry, audio interviews, and graphite and ink on paper.  

Patrick Baliani looking at Rachels sketchbook while she watches window background

Baliani was an essential mentor to Newcomb throughout the production of her Honors Thesis, meeting periodically with her to discuss and uplift her creative process.

Newcomb’s interviewees were related to her in different contexts. From a 30-minute interview with each subject, Newcomb thoughtfully selected audio clips and pieced them together, condensing the overarching story of the interview into poetics. From there, she transcribed the audio into the written word, structuring each poem alongside their audio counterpart. The final element for each subject was a portrait, each of which communicates their own story through visuals.  

While investigating the emotional throughline of her interviews and creating a storyline for her thesis, Newcomb unexpectedly found herself as the centerpiece when she tested positive for COVID-19. This up-close encounter with the pandemic became the influence on Newcomb's impressive self-portrait, complete with colorful red hues on canvas.  

Franke Honors Professor of Practice, Patrick Baliani, advised Newcomb throughout her Honors Thesis journey. Baliani has been teaching at the Franke Honors College since 2012 and was recently awarded the Gerald J. Swanson Prize for Teaching Excellence.  

“I love combining the arts with the sciences and Professor Baliani approaches this interdisciplinary work elegantly and passionately, making his classes enjoyable and enthralling.” said Newcomb, on her experience working with Baliani. His class was one of Newcomb’s first ever in person classes during her spring semester of freshman year, as in-person classes gradually resumed in early 2021. 

The Honors Thesis is a large final project that every student must complete during their final year, in order to graduate with honors. Depending on a student's major, the project can manifest as a research paper, design project, video project, live performance, or artwork. Newcomb’s thesis is a great example of combining a creative passion with a discipline such as Neuroscience.  

Newcomb is graduating with Honors this spring and has been accepted into her top choice Masters program in Mental Health Counseling in Boston, MA, which she will begin attending this coming fall.  

See Rachel's thesis work come to life, below: