The Middlebury Campus

Spring Symposium Set to Impress

By David Yang

The Spring Student Symposium, in which students present their academic and creative research and thesis work to the community, will begin on the evening of Thursday, April 10. The symposium, which is in its eighth year, is being held a week earlier than in past years to accommodate for Easter the following weekend.

In 2007, 94 students presented at the symposium, which at the time was a one-day event. Over the last few years, the number has increased to more than 300, with 368 students participating in total last year. A Thursday evening keynote address and introductory celebration were added to the program in 2011. Over the past few years, the symposium also saw an increase in the participation of younger students. While this year’s symposium will feature more poster presentations and fewer oral presentations than last year, the total number of participants will be comparable to last year’s number.

“I’m expecting [the number] to be very similar to last year’s, so we’ll probably end up with around 350 students participating in different ways,” said Lisa Gates, Associate Dean for Fellowships and Research and co-chair of the Symposium Committee.

The symposium includes presentations in a variety of formats and across different disciplines.

“The goal has always been to recognize the work that Middlebury students do in a broad spectrum of sub-disciplines,” said Pat Manley, Professor of Geology and co-chair of the Symposium Committee. “It’s a way for the community to see the breadth and depth that our students investigate things in.”

The structure and order of the presentations is also interdisciplinary in nature.

“The members of the Session Committee read through all the abstracts and organize the different sessions,” Gates said. “They look for connections between different disciplines and projects and come up with a really interesting interdisciplinary frame for the session.”

In past years, presentations have proven helpful for underclassmen who are still trying to decide on a major.

“One of the most fabulous things about the symposium is that for underclassmen, it is a great opportunity to see what kinds of work students are doing in different departments and programs, talk to them, [and] get a sense of their research methodologies and the questions they are focusing on,” Gates said.

For presenters, participating in the symposium can be a way to prepare for the real world.

“The symposium is actually modeled after how you would go to a national meeting,” Manley said. “We want students to enjoy themselves but it is also a more professional way of growing. ”

For seniors like Ben Kallas ’14, the symposium will be a chance to showcase their senior work.

“[Given] the amount of work I’ve put into the thesis and the relevant nature of the topic I want to give a presentation to anyone who is interested in hearing about it,” Kallas wrote in an email. His oral presentation will focus on information technology’s effects on insurgents.

Alison Cook ’16, who will be presenting a poster about a research project titled “Optogenetic Control of Neurotransmitter Transport,” is also excited to share her research with a broad audience.

“There is so much incredible work going on behind the scenes … that most people don’t get to see,” Cook wrote in an email. “I think the spring symposium is a great way to let these students share their hard work.”

The keynote speaker, novelist, journalist and activist Vendela Vida ’93, will speak at the Mahaney Center for the Arts on the evening of April 10. Vida will also be moderating one of the oral presentation sessions on Friday, April 11.

“This is a rare occasion for us as a college community to both explore and celebrate the interesting and impressive work that our students are doing through their studies here,” Gates said.

Leave a Comment