Student Conference: IU Southeast tradition showcases bold ideas and academic passion

17th April 2017
Students present poster.

Students bring subject matter expertise, presentation skills and loads of energy to the Student Conference. Pictured: 2016 participants Matthew Ballard, Nolan Pruett, Stephanie Craig.

By Steven Krolak

(NEW ALBANY, Ind.)—This week, the largest student conference in the IU system returns to IU Southeast for the 13th year.

Forget Thunder. This is the real fireworks.

From the evening of Thursday, April 20 to the afternoon of Friday, April 21, some 304 undergraduate and 29 graduate students from all schools will deliver 212 oral and poster presentations in University Center and Hoosier Rooms.

Theses will be demonstrated, hypotheses tested, eyebrows raised, heads shaken, minds blown. Presentations will be scored, awards bestowed. And the campus will echo with questions raised by impassioned scholars and their provocative research.

Questions like:

Can mammoths be brought back from extinction?

Does it make good business sense for the Silver Dollar bourbon bar to add craft beers to its menu?

Can you commit a murder while sleepwalking?

Which chemicals are present in fly ash from Louisville’s coal-fired power plant?

How—and where—does time exist?

“The conference is a celebration of the wonderful research and creative work of the students at IU Southeast,” said Diane Wille, dean of research and conference organizer.

For students who have worked hard on long-term projects, often in collaboration with one another and with faculty, the conference is a chance to demonstrate a command of their knowledge base, and to communicate a passion for their field.

“In many ways, the conference is emblematic of the amount of engagement that occurs regularly between faculty and students,” said Uric Dufrene, executive vice chancellor for academic affairs. “That engagement drives submissions to the conference, and has resulted in strong growth of the conference since its inception.”

“It’s their baby”

When it comes to posters, the department of geosciences is a beast. Geoscience students have been poster award winners every year save one. This year, six geoscience majors will be presenting on topics ranging from the provenance of Black Sea sand from Bulgaria to the mineralogical composition of canine bladder stones.

Dr. Glenn Mason, professor of geosciences, attributes much of this success to the hands-on approach that infuses capstones, research projects, internships and senior seminars in the department. It creates a mentality of deep diving that pays off in the presentation of material.

“Students find out that applying their knowledge is far more rewarding and a better learning experience than just ‘playing it back’ for tests,” Mason said.

More interest translates into more depth. And that results in greater investment.

“It’s their baby,” Mason said. “They must have ownership in the research, and I am there to help, offer guidance and sometimes even give them pep talks, but they are the ones who have to do the work.”

In the process of doing that work, students learn to manage their time, use specialized instruments and tools, plan, write and problem-solve.

“The rachet of learning”

Rodney Roosevelt, visiting assistant professor of psychology, agrees that the conference provides many benefits for students.

“The student conference is easily one of the most important events that IU Southeast hosts over the course of the year,” Roosevelt said. “More importantly, it serves as a mechanism to encourage students to engage in scholarly work throughout the rest of the year.”

That is especially important in Roosevelt’s realm, where long-term applied projects, often extending over multiple semesters and even years, are the norm. Roosevelt notes the maturation of inquiry over time that is reflected in more sophisticated questioning, and more polished presentations.

“When that happens, you know that students are gaining a solid education that will serve them and society well,” Roosevelt said.

While Roosevelt values the projects themselves as “tremendous engines of learning,” he also sees presenting as an introduction to the professional format of sharing scholarly work. In this regard, the conference helps reduce anxiety and encourage students to attend off-campus academic meetings in the field.

And it isn’t only the students who gain from the conference experience. Faculty members also reap personal and professional rewards.

“The student conference is invaluable to me as an educator,” Roosevelt said. “To successfully complete a project to the point it is ready to present requires the student to apply classroom material in meaningful ways that simply care not achievable from lectures or reading along. Real world problem-solving is the ratchet of learning.”

Advancing the profession

Julie Mattingly, assistant professor of nursing, has helped three student groups in the field of community health prepare presentations for this year’s conference. much of it coming out of the work she and her students have been doing on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota.

The themes range from the on-campus health fair to health promotion work among the Lakota tribe to a pre-prom health and safety initiative for Lakota youth.

According to Mattingly, the conference benefits her students in numerous ways, from developing a professional voice to networking. They are required to dig into topics in a deeper way, and while this brings rewards, it also brings the challenge of having to present more complex information clearly and concisely to diverse audiences of lay persons.

Mattingly is quick to observe that what happens at conference does NOT stay at conference. This is real research, with primary importance for student and teacher, but with relevance for the entire field, since students often take their presentations to other professional meetings. For example, two of the nursing groups presented their posters at the National Student Nurses’ Association Conference in Dallas, Texas.

“Disseminating their project findings helps to advance the profession,” Mattingly said.

“A peak performance”

Over the years, Wille has seen the student conference grow from a small scrum in the old dining commons to today’s teeming bazaar of ideas that crams the University Center and Hoosier Rooms.

From year to year, she has also seen a growth in faculty and administrative support for the conference, as it has become a tradition that brings together so many aspects of the university’s mission and values.

“IU Southeast faculty and administrators understand the value of providing students with opportunities to carry out research and creative activities,” Wille said. “These types of experiences are high-impact educational practices which promote student development and enrich the students’ future career opportunities.”

Wille also notices changes in the makeup of the participants: more students participating early in their IU Southeast careers, with all the attendant advantages of depth and routine.

If anything remains the same, it is the passion of the presenters, and the satisfaction—if not amazement—of their instructors.

“The students are all giving a peak performance,” Wille said. “And it shows.”

2017 Schedule of Events

The Conference kicks off on Thursday, April 20 with graduate poster and paper sessions beginning at 5:30 p.m. in University Center North. Dr. Gloria Murray, professor of education, will speak at 6:35 p.m. on the topic, “What comes after action?”, and award winners will be announced at 7 p.m.

On Friday, April 21, paper sessions begin at 8:30 a.m. in University Center, and poster sessions start at 9 a.m. in Hoosier Room West. Table-top poster presentations will be located in the hallway between UC North and UC South. A second paper session begins at 10:15 a.m.

Awards will be presented during the Luncheon beginning at 11:45 a.m. in the Hoosier Room. Speakers will include IU Southeast Chancellor Dr. Ray Wallace, Dr. Bernie Carducci, professor of psychology, and Melissa Fry, associate professor of sociology.

Homepage photo: Liz Garnar explains her geosciences project to IU Southeast Chancellor Dr. Ray Wallace at the 2016 IU Southeast Student Conference.

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