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Symposium breaks record for presenters

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Students learn details about the student symposium, which will feature over 200 presentations./Darcy Mullen

Over 200 students will participate in this year’s Student Research Symposium on April 16, an increase of 50 percent from last year. The event has been expanded for the first time to include performances in the Kevin P. Mahaney ’84 Center for the Arts and presentations in foreign languages.

The symposium is a day-long event in which students present original research that they have completed for a variety of purposes ranging from internships and study abroad programs to classes at Middlebury and senior theses. Students may present using PowerPoint presentations, posters, demonstrations and performances.

“Having a full day has just meant that all departments have really embraced this as the program of the day, so it’s drawn more attention,” said Associate Dean of the College Karen Guttentag, one of the main organizers of the event.

“This year, I’ve found that there’s a lot more department advocacy and involvement in making sure their department is represented.”

Since its inception four years ago, the symposium has sought to encourage students to pursue their academic passions and allow faculty and other students to learn about their peers’ interests. Although there is an application process, the symposium isn’t selective; the only requirements are that students have a ‘mentor’ — for instance, a faculty member to a boss from a summer internship — and have some kind of “inquiry-based” project.

The goal is to ensure that the symposium isn’t “competitive and cut-throat,” Guttentag said. For seniors presenting theses, the symposium is voluntary and doesn’t count as their thesis presentation. Although the vast majority of the participating students are seniors, there has been a marked increase this year in the participation of first-years, sophomores and juniors. When the symposium was originally launched, there was discussion as to whether it should be open only to senior presenters. However, the committee decided to open it to all classes in the hope that it would provide an opportunity to students to practice their presentation skills year after year.

“This is about sharing what you’re passionate about,” Associate Dean of Undergraduate Research and Professor of Geology Pat Manley told participating students at a meeting on March 4. “This is not going to be graded … it’s a good feeling. The main thing is for you to smile and enjoy the day.”

Organizers of the Symposium also hope that the presentations will allow students to share interests with each other that they might not generally discuss in social settings.

“Students don’t always have an opportunity to present to their friends and peers exactly what they have been researching,” Manley said.

The oral presentations are grouped into four-person sets by a single uniting factor in the presentation, rather than by department. For example, the “Women of the World” grouping will include topics in English, Economics, History and International Studies, while the “Marketplace” grouping will include presentations in Political Science, International Studies, Geography and Economics.

“We find that it’s a more interesting way to present; it means that economists aren’t presenting to an auditorium of economists,” said Karen Guttentag.

“Coming at the same issue from a variety of perspectives not only gives you a 360-degree lens on the topic itself, but you have an audience that is hearing about their area of interest from a completely different perspective.”

The Center for Teaching and Learning Research (CTLR) will work with oral presenters to ensure that their presentations are polished and professional by offering public speaking workshops. For the first time, the school will offer “media tutors” to ensure that students can properly utilize all technology available to them.

Students who set up posters about their projects stand by their posters and answer questions about their research, and a handful have interacting elements. This year, an 11-foot wind turbine and glass blowing display will be presented.

Gruia Badescu ’07 will give the keynote address for the event. Badescu was a geography major who has continued to do research since his graduation. The symposium tries to choose Middlebury graduates who have graduated in the last 10 years as keynote speakers because they “bridge the gap between a full-blown career of accomplishment and where students are right now,” Guttentag said.

“The topics themselves are so broad and so fascinating,” Guttentag said. “Seeing students at the top of their game in this way is really inspiring for all of us. It’s a snapshot of some of the most exciting work that goes on here at Middlebury and a celebration of the learning process in the purest sense.”

1 Comment

One Response to “Symposium breaks record for presenters”

  1. Charles Joel Vaughn on March 11th, 2010 11:14 pm

    What a great process–a forum broadly defined for research aggressively and carefully pursued–for giving all students the chance to extend their interests into the reality of application through presentation.

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Symposium breaks record for presenters