Uncovering a Good Thesis

Keilani Hernandez is a senior maritime archaeology major at the University of West Florida. Keilani is currently working on her thesis for the Honors Program, which she must complete and present before her graduation this spring.

I sat down with Keilani at a fundraising event to learn a little bit more about her thesis work and the steps she has taken as part of the process.

I know Keilani Hernandez: she is from a small town in Central Florida, there is a story behind her Hawaiian name, and her dad farms. Keilani enjoys scuba diving and crafting. She is an avid reader and committed student. She makes excellent buffalo-chicken dip.

What I do not know is the story of her thesis.

Keilani’s interest in Southern Florida’s extensive history and marine culture led to her major, maritime archaeology, and from there, UWF. Keilani chose the University of West Florida because it was one of the few schools that offered the major of her interest. Beyond that, she was swayed by UWF’s face time with professors and hands-on approach.

During her time in the UWF Maritime Archaeology program, Keilani studied the maritime landscape of everything from shipwrecks to crashed planes to the Arcadia Mill site in Milton. Keilani already finished her program requirements and is currently working on her minor in Spanish and lab work for her thesis.

Keilani will be attending grad school at UWF with a three-year Public Archaeology assistantship with the Florida Public Archaeology Network (FPAN).


Keilani’s thesis focuses on the 1989 Hudson group model of Tristan de Luna’s expedition into the interior from 1559-1561. Luna and his men traveled inland to Georgia in an attempt to find new land to settle, but ultimately returned to their original settlement in Florida. Keilani is currently revisiting Hudson’s work to see if his 1989 model is still relevant when compared to new information on the subject. The idea for this project came straight from her thesis advisor as well as Keilani’s own desire to do work close to the community.

Much of her work involves reading scientific articles and primary sources written by members of the expedition. Most of these primary sources are written in old Spanish, which Keilani translates as part of her research. From there, Keilani compares the information she gathered to that of Hudson. When asked why this work is significant, Keilani explained that recently there have been many new discoveries involving the Luna settlement in Pensacola, so it is important to go back and update the old data.

At this point, Keilani has finished most of her research, but still needs to wrap it all up in a nice little 20-page paper. She will also need to present her research sometime this spring, and is hoping for a chance to get published as the final step in her thesis process.

Keilani is an active member of the Kugelman Honors Program. During her time in the program, Keilani regularly attended Honors Council as well as program events. She worked with many of the committees and went on to serve as the single chair for Social Committee her junior year.

Keilani is attending graduate school here, at UWF, to study historical archaeology. During this time, she hopes to continue research and to become involved with more projects associated with the archaeology department. When asked if teaching is an option for her post-grad, Keilani reluctantly replied that it is an option. She believes that her thesis will help polish the skills needed for grad school and later work in her field.

Keilani’s biggest advice for young honors students is not to wait. Get out there early, do some start-up research, and talk to your professors because they have “a ton of ideas just sitting around.”


Written by: Alyssa Elliott, third-year student, studio art major & Honors mentor


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