Symposium exhibits the heart of education

April 28, 2015

People were surprised by their deeply emotional response to the scholarship and humanity on display at Saint Michael’s College the last weekend in April during an annual campus-wide, multidisciplinary Academic Symposium involving hundreds of student presenters.

One was Karen Talentino, vice president for academic affairs. “I’m just overwhelmed, really – each year this event puts me on the verge of tears as I see what is possible when you give students opportunities and you provide an environment where they can learn and grow and explore their ideas and their passions,” she said. “For an educator, there’s just nothing better than this.”

Some students came to grips with academic challenges. Others celebrated life’s beauty, or confronted its harshness. In the “Writers Reading Their Work” event Saturday morning in St. Edmunds Hall Room 104, Russell Hammond ’15, a winter graduate from New Jersey, delivered the eulogy he had written for his father, who died earlier this year. As he read, many audience faces showed intimate empathy. “Larry Hammond,” his son said, “may have been a man of numbers, but he had a profound respect for a man of letters.”  The tribute made it easy to imagine the right spirit that Larry Hammond would have brought to the Symposium, which invited due appreciation for a gamut of fervors, shared or admired.

Especially affecting for Talentino were personal accounts from study-abroad students who gathered Friday afternoon, April 24, in Jeanmarie Hall to share their experiences in other cultures and tell how those affected their lives and understanding of the world; also, Talentino praised a poster and senior thesis that she discussed at length Saturday with Environmental Studies major Amanda Kellner, who investigated the feasibility of Vermont becoming a completely self-sustainable state for food production. “Her level of understanding, motivation and just commitment to see if this is possible, it was deeply moving for me,” said Talentino, a biologist.

All told, from the first “Experiential Learning Showcase” Thursday afternoon through Friday and Saturday morning’s oral presentations, and wrapping up with Saturday’s mid-day poster session before “P-Day” festivities, the Symposium represented 14 departments and featured  hundreds of students, including 105 posters or projects on display in Dion Family Student Center’s Roy Room and in the hall outside, representing 160 students.

At the top of the spiral Dion Center Monumental Staircase on Saturday, Angela Irvine, director of foundation relations and funded projects (who finds funds for much of the research at the Symposium and is a key event organizer) checked in poster-presenters as the viewing session began just before 11 a.m., noting that this year, 80 more students than last year were presenting posters.

More sophomores and juniors are presenting work too, both posters and oral presentations, which is a welcome trend, added Assessment Coordinator Renee Schmauder. “I think across the institution we’re trying to make students more aware as they come in that you don’t have to wait till you’re a junior or senior to engage in meaningful academic research,” she said.

“We know having meaningful relationships with faculty members like this increases engagement among our alumni and means students are more likely to have more meaningful lives, across all kinds of dimensions: better health, more engaged with their community, more involved and happy at work, better employees – we know all this from the research,” she said. “ That’s why we’re intentional in increasing participation.”

Dean of the College Jeffrey Ayres was attending his first Academic Symposium since starting as dean after many years as a political science professor. “I’m seeing a lot of my own students here, which is neat because I’ve had them in classes and it’s nice to see them capping their educational career so impressively,” Ayres said. “Clearly, the educational environment here at Saint Michael’s is increasingly conducive to students doing really good research. A lot of what they’re doing was done during the summer with undergraduate research grants and other types of funding, and this is increasingly one of the key aspects of a residential liberal arts experience as you see on many of these posters – to work closely with a faculty member. You don’t get this often times at a larger research university, so this Symposium really illustrates the end-game of a residential liberal arts school.”

Visit the links below to read some representative “snapshots” that illustrate the impressive breadth and depth of the student work and faculty investment during this seventh annual 2015 edition of the Academic Symposium:

Celebrating Student Experience with a Showcase:

Hands-on learning is back in business:

Hubble anniversary prompts professor-presenter, too

Students stand and deliver oral presentations

Student posters offer a feast of scholarship

View a gallery of Symposium photos

Education students design their own schools

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