Students Present Work, Research at Symposium

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Last Friday, April 15, students presented research projects in the Spring Symposium.

The College hosted the tenth annual Spring Student Symposium in McCardell Bicentennial Hall on Friday, April 15. The event, which ran throughout the day, featured an array of oral presentations, posters, artwork and other performances by current students. Topics ranged from Abraham Lincoln’s speeches to Zambian gardening programs, encompassing a wide variety of academic disciplines.

Mitchell Perry ’16 delivered an oral presentation entitled “Down with DOMA: America’s Evolution on Marriage Equality Policy.” The presentation, which Perry adapted from his Political Science senior thesis, focused on the methods by which same-sex marriage advocates reshaped public opinion on the issue. Using Vermont, California and Minnesota as case studies, Perry determined which techniques caused the greatest shifts in public support for same-sex marriage.

“As a gay male who grew up in Minnesota, I came out right as Minnesota was voting on a ban on gay marriage, and they defeated that ban,” Perry said. “And then, six months later, they passed same-sex marriage. So for me, that shift had a lot of personal reasons why I thought it was really interesting. But from a political science perspective, the rapid shift in marriage equality policy and public opinion is just fascinating.”

Perry said he relished the opportunity provided by the symposium to showcase his work on a larger scale.

“My thesis research allowed me to pursue [my interest]. But what the symposium does that’s special is give you a venue to share something that matters to you personally. You’ve spent hours and hours researching it, and your friends are genuinely excited about the academic pursuit you’re doing. We always go to plays, we always go to friends’ sports games, but how often do you get to applaud somebody or give support to your friend for an academic interest?”

Morgan Raith ’16.5 presented her senior thesis work for Architectural Studies. Her poster,  titled “A New Approach to Middlebury,” contained a plan for a new public transportation center in Middlebury, featuring indoor play spaces, including a climbing gym and dance studio.

“Making the poster was the easiest part,” she said. “Putting all of the designs together and figuring out how to visually communicate my ideas — that’s always a challenge.”

She continued, “Coming to the symposium is really fun, because normally we’re just presenting our designs in Johnson and a couple people come, and it’s relatively quiet. But it’s awesome to be placed in an arena where so many other amazing research opportunities and projects are happening.”

Weston Uram ’18 based his project titled “My Emoji” on the Kimoji app recently released by Kim Kardashian.

“It made over $80 million in a week, and it’s baffling that people are actually spending money and engaging with it,” Uram said. “And what does it mean for someone to take that body representation and send it to somebody else, therefore identifying with Kim herself? So I was like, ‘well I can just do that — I can just create that application.’”

Uram’s presentation included a television screen displaying samples of his work, including a stylized depiction of his own winking face.

Lisa Gates, associate dean for fellowships and research, helped organize the event as co-chair of the Symposium’s Planning Committee, and seemed to share the excitement of the hundreds of others gathered at Bicentennial Hall.

“Someone once described this as ‘like a party about thinking,’” Gates said. “It’s really an amazing opportunity to learn about the diversity of topics and areas our students are researching and thinking about. It’s really impressive to see the kind of work that they’re doing.”

“It’s not evaluative — you’re not being graded,” Gates said. “So it’s really a chance to share, learn from and just to celebrate.”

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