Three Minute Thesis Competition Allows Architecture Students to Showcase Research

KENNESAW, Ga. | Jan 20, 2021

For fifth-year architecture major and Honors student Kathryn Stapleton, her thesis project presented an opportunity to expand her horizons and grow as a student in her final year at Kennesaw State University. This month, her research and presentation skills were rewarded as she won the annual Cooper Carry Three Minute Thesis Competition.

Inspired by an urban studio she took earlier in her undergraduate career, her thesis seeks to rectify the problems many waterfront cities face when storms bring rising water levels and heavy damage to their neighborhoods. Stapleton analyzed East Boston, which has a lengthy history of reclaiming land from the ocean, effectively eliminating a natural barrier that could protect existing structures.

“Throughout this competition and thesis process, I could sense that I was becoming more polished as a presenter and developed a deep connection to my research,” she said. “All of these are vital skills that will help me as I look to break into the field of architecture.”

Stapleton was one of 12 students presenting their theses in the competition. The event, which follows the format of the University of Queensland’s Three Minute Thesis competition, challenges students to deliver a convincing pitch for their thesis project in a short timeframe using only a single PowerPoint slide.

The event hosted by Kennesaw State’s Department of Architecture is unique in that all participants are undergraduate students, as the University is one of only a handful of programs nationwide that requires its students to pursue thesis projects while earning a professional architecture degree. KSU’s Graduate College also hosts a separate Three Minute Thesis competition for master’s and doctoral students.

In order to qualify for the competition, students begin presenting their proposals as fourth-year architecture students in a thesis prep course. From those presentations, finalists are selected to participate in the competition. Prior to the event, the finalists take part in a three-hour training session with three professional presentation coaches. During the event, students are judged by a panel composed of industry experts and academicians, and the winners are awarded cash prizes sponsored by local architecture firm Cooper Carry.

“Thesis coordinator Liz Martin-Malikian established this skill building exercise within the architecture department to empower students to be able to clearly articulate their ideas and help guide the future leaders of our industry,” said Rick Fredlund, associate director of Cooper Carry. “Now in its ninth year running, we’re really proud to support Kennesaw State in our shared interest in not only advancing design quality by highlighting the art of presentation, but also giving students a leg up when applying for an architecture job.”

In addition to the winner, prizes are also given to the runner-up and the winner of the People’s Choice Award, both of which were given to Olivia Harrell. A Savannah native, Harrell sought in her thesis to memorialize African American history through architecture by paying tribute to the victims of slave trade who have passed through Savannah ports. Though the city is recognized as a top tourist destination and an important logistical cog for the transport industry, Harrell said its history is often forgotten.

“Despite the fact Savannah is predominately African American, you don’t see many remnants of our history when you walk through downtown,” she said. “I wanted to draw on that history and make sure it is presented in a respectful way.”

Like Stapleton, Harrell said the fifth-year thesis project is unique in that students are able to build on the momentum of their research across several semesters.

“This is something that we’ve been working on for more than a year, and it allows us to build a connection with our topic,” she said. “I can say that my research is still growing even at this point in the process.”

– Travis Highfield

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A leader in innovative teaching and learning, Kennesaw State University offers undergraduate, graduate and doctoral degrees to its more than 45,000 students. Kennesaw State is a member of the University System of Georgia with 11 academic colleges. The university’s vibrant campus culture, diverse population, strong global ties and entrepreneurial spirit draw students from throughout the country and the world. Kennesaw State is a Carnegie-designated doctoral research institution (R2), placing it among an elite group of only 7 percent of U.S. colleges and universities with an R1 or R2 status. For more information, visit