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Tom DePaola ’10

Senior project allows PhD candidate to skip Master’s thesis.

Tom DePaola ’10 (literature and philosophy) was working at Starbucks when one of his regulars offered him a part-time position as external evaluator for a grant program at the Criminal Justice Academy at Bronx Community College (BCC).

The final report he submitted showcased his research and writing skills, and prompted an offer for full-time work as an activity coordinator. He turned the position into much more, however.

His senior project was an interdisciplinary investigation of the Great Recession’s housing collapse and the value placed on home ownership. “It’s not until you have a serious interdisciplinary project that you realize how it’s all connected,” he says.

He also had experience working in a youth mentoring program for AmeriCorps after graduation. BCC happens to be the poorest-performing campus of the City University of New York (CUNY), and it sits in the poorest neighborhood in the Bronx.

DePaola applied his collective knowledge to take a more systemic view of the issues the students face. “I was thrust into all of these issues about urban inequality that I had started to consider and explore in my senior-project research and in working with the AmeriCorps program,” he says.

He built an undergraduate internship program from scratch, helped overhaul the freshman programming, and published academic papers on his outcomes. “It was all of the research that I’d done in these far-flung disciplines that helped me view these new issues in ways that allowed me to make an inroad,” he adds.

DePaola hopes someday to conduct research that will influence higher-education policy. He’s now attending the Urban Education Policy PhD program at the University of Southern California.

“They don’t even want me to do a master’s first, specifically citing—and I’m not kidding—the fact that I had such a rigorous undergraduate experience researching and writing a thesis as proof that I can handle it,” he says.