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Senior to Present Capstone Research to U.S. Congress on Capitol Hill

Julie Thompson '13 presents her senior capstone to the campus community on March 26, 2013. She has been accepted to present her research to Congressmen on Capital Hill on April 23-24.

Julie Thompson ’13 presents her senior capstone to the campus community on March 26, 2013. She has been accepted to present her research to Congressmen on Capital Hill on April 23-24.

Thompson '13, with Richard Davis, son of Earl Davis, who was held up at gunpoint by Karpis in Garrettsville during the 1935 train robbery. Davis was one of several community members who attended Thompson's capstone presentation because of its local connection.

Thompson ’13, with Richard Davis, son of Earl Davis, who was held up at gunpoint by Karpis in Garrettsville during the 1935 train robbery. Davis was one of several community members who attended Thompson’s capstone presentation because of its local connection.

Julie Thompson ‘13 has a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity this April to present her senior capstone to members of the United States Congress.

She is one of 60 students from across the country accepted to have her research presented as part of the Council on Undergraduate Research’s 2013 Posters on the Hill Symposium. More than 800 students applied.

Thompson, a history major, along with her faculty adviser Vivien Sandlund, professor of history, will travel to Washington, D.C., April 23-24, 2013, for the symposium. There, Thompson will present her research one-on-one with her U.S. Congress representatives:  Sens. Sherrod Brown and Rob Portman, and U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan of Ohio’s 13th District. She will give a separate presentation to other student participants and their advisers.

Thompson’s capstone research relates directly to Garrettsville. Titled “The Thief and the Justice: The ‘Last Great Train Heist in American History’ and Its Influence on the Rise of J. Edgar Hoover and the FBI,” she explores the 1935 train heist that occurred in Garrettsville and how this incident paved way for many techniques the FBI uses today.

She formulated her capstone idea after watching the 2011 film J. Edgar, and drawing a connection between a scene with the word “G-Men” (a slang term for FBI agents) written on the walls and Garrettsville’s James A. Garfield Schools’ mascot of the same name.

“It caught my eye, and I recalled that Ms. Walker, who was my seventh grade social studies teacher, talked about this 1935 train robbery very briefly,” Thompson said. “So I started thinking about it and put two and two together, and I thought, ‘Wow, I need to investigate this; I think there’s a story to be told here locally.’”

And from there, her capstone unfolded. In it, she proves that the 1935 Garrettsville train heist, orchestrated by former Public Enemy Number #1 Alvin Karpis, was the last successful train heist in U.S. history. And in the FBI’s pursuit of Karpis, following the heist, the organization developed many of their modern techniques of human source intelligence, still used today.

Thompson said she is interested to see what Congressmen and women think of her research as it relates to the FBI and national security.

“I know (there’s) a lot of interest, and a lot of media attention is focused on national security and what the FBI is doing,” she said. “That’s really a good way to gauge (where our) focus is nationally.”

She is also excited to see what other students are presenting.

“The students are representative of where the public’s interest lies,” she said. “It’s a great way to see how the general audience’s focus is.”

An adult student, Thompson began as a Weekend College student at Hiram, and later enrolled as a traditional student in order to complete the requirements for the history major. Through it, she has continued to work and support her family. She has seen her Hiram College education as a new lease on life, and hopes to attend graduate school and eventually work in D.C. after graduation.

She said she is extremely grateful to both Sandlund, her adviser, and academic Dean Bob Haak, for helping her submit her work to the symposium on Capitol Hill.

“I think the moral of the story is, you’re never too old to start again, to make a difference and to take your life into a whole new direction that you never thought was possible,” Thompson said.

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