By Ronia-Isabel Cabansag, News Writer and Nautica Marshall, BMA Editor
The 39th Annual Undergraduate Symposium is a full day comprised of EMU student presentations, both scholarly and creative. The majority of the projects presented were research-based while embodying a unique educational experience.
On Friday, March 29, 2019, the second and third floors of the EMU Student Center were buzzing with students, families and friends alike to support one another. The projects ranged from oral to poster, to even 2D and 3D art/designs.
“It can be very easy to talk bigger things [like] making money, raising money, distinguished guests,” said event coordinator Amy Bearinger. “But at the end of the day, every single year, this is about students smiling with their name tags, their certificates, [and] their supporters.”
The Symposium covers a wide variety of topics but a new set of common themes emerge each year. This year, many students presented research concerning environmental issues, LGBT representation and advocacy and art and design.
Espen Blondeel, a freshman studying Computer Science met several students who presented projects based on his major. After meeting and connecting with them, Blondeel was able to find a path that sparked his interest on what to research and study.
“Talking with some of the people who have done research in my area really helped me understand what I want to do with my degree in the future and how to go about internships or research opportunities,” Blondeel said. “It was really cool talking with some of the people who are actually doing the research I want to do in the future.”
The Symposium features many students who have a passion for their field of study, seek to satisfy their curiosity and bring their ideas to life.
From interior design to environmental biology, just about every major was represented. Presentation titles ranged from Bria White’s “Race, Skin Color, and Friendship,” to Will Bogen’s “The 17-Year Old Game Super Smash Bros Lives On in Washtenaw County.”
Among those who researched LGBT representation was Marri Visscher. In her oral presentation, she spoke on the way in which gender manifests itself in our day-to-day language. Her project titled “Language and it’s Agentive Potential in Gender Discourse: Contemporary Pronominal Intervention,” sparked discussion among the family, friends, peers and faculty.
“Linguistic science . . .and pronouns especially have the power to construct identity,” Visscher said. “If someone constantly refers to me as ‘she,’ that cements my identity as ‘woman,’ and that can be affirming or that can be damaging.”
Prestyn Ciardhubh, a classmate of Visscher’s, felt that the presentation could be extremely valuable as a part of diversity training in classrooms and workspaces.
“It can make it less possible for [some] to continue to be queer-antagonistic in the workplace,” Ciardhubh said. “Because then, those who are empathetic and those who are interested in respecting others could say, ‘Hey, but don’t you remember the training that we had?’”
Secondary Education majors Senior Katie Webb and Junior Christian Fayak created the Ypsilanti Photo Voice project geared towards changing the negative narrative of local Ypsilanti.
In one of their place-based education classes, they posed the question: “What does Ypsilanti mean to you?” From this question, Webb and Fayak noticed that Ypsilanti has a lot of negative connotation. “It was our task to figure out what are the cool features Ypsilanti has to offer,” Fayak said.
“It really allowed us to tell a different story,” Webb said. “So this gave us the opportunity to really get involved in not only the community but with the students. We had the privilege to help teach during the classroom portion and get to know more of what it is and not what we think it is.”
On the third floor, three rooms featured an art gallery-style exhibit allowed students to present design-based and artistic work at the Crossing Lines Design Expo.
“Having the Design Expo is such a perk because I don’t really do much of the other stuff,” said senior Sarah “Spot” Poteracki. “Most of mine is artistic presentation.”
The documentary segment Poteracki filmed explored accessibility in theatre and higher education. She focused on EMU’s own disabilities-friendly production of “James and the Giant Peach.” Poteracki has been accepted into graduate school and intends to continue researching accessibility in media and the arts.
Right next to Poteracki was Macallan Winning’s virtual reality project. Many attendees were drawn to his VR presentation, a proof-of-concept for a program in which one could view a variety of car models. The program as it currently functions allows users to teleport around a showroom, manipulate a selection of small model cars and change the appearance of their virtual hands.
Vice President of Communications for EMU Walter Kraft was especially impressed by the project -- often encouraging others to experience it.
“It was like this is a whole different world and it was really cool,” said Kraft. “Giving myself alien hands was kind of awesome.”
Winning and his team started the project when they were offered the possibility of making the finished product a part of the Detroit Auto Show. They were unable to perfect the program in time but, time permitting, hope to continue developing it.
“It's really cool seeing all the positive feedback and seeing how excited people are about it and getting to witness people's first reaction to VR,” he said. “VR is still an incredibly new entertainment media so it's really cool having people come up here not knowing how it works and then stepping in and being completely floored and amazed by it.”
The Student Center Ballroom filled at noon with hundreds of student researchers and their mentors, friends and family. According to Bearinger, the formal luncheon held in the middle of the day is the largest luncheon that the university hosts.
Victoria Fields, a current senior and four-time Symposium presenter, served as the student emcee.
“A mentor’s advice, guidance, life strategies, can have a tremendous impact on your life,” said Fields.
Former student body president Robert Murkowski was welcomed as the afternoon’s keynote speaker. His humorous anecdotes about his time at EMU and current experience as a lawyer put nervous students at ease. Both Fields and Murkowski reflected on the profound impact that EMU’s faculty mentors have had on them.
Murkowski noted in the opening of his address that this year’s Symposium commemorated “thirty-nine years of showing EMU’s commitment to developing the bonds between faculty and students.”
Throughout the day, faculty could be found beaming, shaking hands in congratulations and raving about students’ work. Speakers, coordinators and facilitators alike reiterated that celebrating students’ passion and success was at the heart of the 39th Undergraduate Symposium.
“Even though it might have been an extracurricular academic opportunity, it has fueled their fire, whether that be career-wise, socially or academically,” Bearinger said. “And that’s why I love it so much...seeing students get the opportunity to truly be on center stage.”
The 40th Undergraduate Symposium will be held next year on Friday, March 27, 2020.