2018 Symposium is vibrant & impressive

April 30, 2018
Mark Tarnacki
Staff Writer
swope stem 280

The photo directly above shows Shannon Wilson and Molly Van Deursen explaining their work on a STEM gender gap to MJD Professor Jerry Swope. Other photos below are referenced in the text. (photos Mark Tarnacki)

View a photo gallery from Academic Symposium>>

Saint Michael’s College students from every discipline stood and delivered impressive research as part of oral presentations during the Friday and Saturday portions of the annual Academic Symposium Week, and on Saturday during a major Poster and Digital Presentation extravaganza in the Dion Family Student Center.

The chief Symposium activities on Friday (April 27) saw students presenting in classrooms across campus for much of the day as they described major research projects in their respective disciplines. The idea is to showcase students’ research projects and gives them the opportunity to present their findings to peers and faculty, plus some visiting families.

A representative example was attended Friday by student worker Tyler Prime’ 19 from the Marketing/Communications office, who also is a business major and sat in on some presentations within the Economics Department, which held their Academic Symposium senior research presentations in Jeanmarie Hall, Room 375 from 12:30 p.m. to 5 p.m.. Nine senior economics majors had about a half hour to deliver a presentation about their findings on a research topic of their choosing. Here is Tyler’s summary of some of these presentations:

Keara Wagner ’18, gave a presentation titled The Significance of Corporate Social Responsibility Measures in Determining Financial Performance, in which she tried to determine a positive relationship between companies who engage in corporate social responsibility and increased financial performance. To do so, she performed statistical analysis by reviewing the financial statements of the top 11 companies known for corporate social responsibility and looked at variables such as what category of CSR were they engaged in (sustainability, diversity & inclusion, community engagement, etc.) as well as if the company had seen any increased financial performance. She tried to make a connection between companies that engage in CSR and increased financial performance, but her results were inconclusive. She claims she faced many constraints in her research that may have caused her results to be inconclusive, such as not having a lot of data because CSR is still a fairly new trend in the business world, and having to narrow down the number of variables and companies she analyzed. Ms. Wagner hopes to expand her research on this topic and plans to continue studying the correlation between companies that engage in corporate social responsibility and increases in financial performance in graduate school.

Michael May ’18, took the podium next with a presentation titled Rocky Mountain High: Colorado’s Changing Economic and Social Climate of the Marijuana Legalization. In his presentation, May studied the economic and social changes Colorado has seen since the legalization of marijuana for recreational use in 2014. He looked at variables such as the rate of traffic accident deaths, the rate of tax on marijuana, alcohol, and tobacco, and the average cost of rent in Denver and compared these variables from before and after the legalization of marijuana. His findings showed many changes in the social and economic structure of Colorado in the four short years since the legalization of marijuana. The rate of traffic related deaths in the state of Colorado declined after the legalization of marijuana, possibly because many people had substituted alcohol for marijuana and there were now less drunk driving accidents. He also showed a graph that illustrated the tax rates on alcohol, tobacco, and marijuana, showing that the tax rates for alcohol and tobacco have declined over the last decade, while the tax on marijuana has been on a steady incline and now accounts for more tax revenue for the state of Colorado than alcohol and tobacco. He also pointed out that the cost of rent in Denver has dramatically increased in the four years since legalization. He concludes the reason for this is that people from all over the country are beginning to move to Colorado to take advantage of legal marijuana, but high demand for housing has increased the cost of rent, now making it almost impossible to live in Denver on minimum wage.

Following are word snapshots from Saturday, including a stop into the History presentations in St. Edmund’s Hall 102 and the English poetry and prose readings next door in St. Ed’s 104:

A visitor drops in on the History Department presentations in 102 mid-morning Saturday just as Nicole Butler ’18 is playing a video of a comedian – however, it soon is clear this was not the day’s first presentation by Melissa Hickox ’18 titled “Make ‘Em Laugh: Hollywood’s American Story” — rather it is video of a contemporary American comedian making jokes that reflect typical ignorant attitudes about midwives – a part of Nicole’s project “Reclaiming the American Midwife.” She notes the different mindsets between doctors and midwives on who gets the credit – midwives speak of “catching” a baby (credit to mother), while physicians “deliver” (credit to the doctors). Her general conclusion is that the U.S. would benefit from being more culturally accepting of midwives and “reclaiming their place… against medical bias.”

Next up in history was Mikala Hoppe ’18, whose topic about female concentration camp guards titled “Beautiful Beasts: Women Perpetrators of the Holocaust” was at once unsettling and fascinating. She concluded that these not-few female Nazi guards are almost never discussed since they are female and go against common stereotypes about women – but, she concluded, a true accounting demands they be better known.

Next door in the English Department’s readings by students of their poems and prose, Connor Flueckiger ’18 read short but pleasing and thoughtfully-constructed poems about his everyday life, including several that, as his introducer Liz Inness-Brown of the English faculty said, will be published soon in a poetry anthology titled “Vermont’s Best Emerging Poets.” One poem told of his experience boarding a plane, another about the joys of golfing, a third about Halloween, and the last about skiing at Stowe and hurting his knee, with a recurring line, “Why didn’t I listen and use my brain?”

Victoria Smith ’18 read a short-story based on a difficult life experience overseas, when an encounter that at first felt possibly romantic became an ugly assault – her story explored conflicting emotions from such an experience. The writing, polished through many drafts, was filled with vivid and raw images and powerful feelings, well-expressed. The full lecture hall, including several faculty and many fellow students, listened intently and silently to her story; the group had a few more chances for laughs of appreciation for the poems — for instance, after Flueckiger’s generally light-hearted offerings, Kipp Brooks ’18 read poems addressing social issues, such as stereotypes, and offered a more whimsical piece about marshmallows, and then a recollection of a beautiful day by the lake.

Saturday Poster/Digital Presentations

Dion Center was full by 11 a.m. with students and their poster presentations as faculty, staff, visiting students and other students crowded around to see the final results of major projects. For example:

Aaron Kalat showed a skateboard design he had made in his advanced digital design class as a Media Studies, Journalism and Digital Arts major; several students from that same class showed their designs on a variety of products – a bathing suit with a pattern based on photos a student had taken during her study-abroad in South Africa, or a deck of cards incorporating original designs including the joker – the student wearing a chicken suit.

In the main poster group, Chris Boutin, a military veteran working through the College’s Office of Sustainability in his research, told about his efforts last summer to establish a program structure that he hopes to implement this growing season, with the aim of increasing social inclusion for local vets in the campus garden, decreasing their depression and bringing people together. “My kids and wife all came to check this out but were getting a little antsy – it’s a little much for four-year-olds,” Boutin said.

Another student with an impressive military experience was Lance Jandreau, a senior psychology major and four-year ROTC student through the program at UVM. He plans to return to Saint Michael’s to purse a master’s in clinical psychology while doing Guard duty on weekends and in summers, and also will be a resident director for Student Life. “I’ll be commissioning into the Medical Service Corps as a health administrative officer” he said of his Guard plans. His goal is to do mental health counseling in the Army after earning a PhD. His project while working for Vermont Family Services was devising an approach to youth through video games that helped them open up and share important information for their cases – which was a most gratifying success, he and his supervisors agreed at the end.

Dean Jeff Trumbower asked Mairin King of Melrose, MA, a junior business major, about her project in Professor Apesin Alaba’s class analyzing a company – each student chose one of three firms, in her case Domino’s Pizza — to learn methods for analysis of revenues and productivity that will be practical for future possible jobs. She learned that “just because your customer satisfaction is good or bad” doesn’t’ necessarily correlate to revenues and productivity. Other business projects included Kelsey Fleming, a senior from Rochester, NH, who looked at user experiences in the College’s Durick Library and suggested how those could be made better — for instance, improved signage was one of her recommendations.

Pedro Pereira, a native of Brazil and psychology major, spoke passionately about his work in a practicum at the Art from the Heart organization in Burlington, which strives to bring art and creativity to a hospital setting. He saw there how well autistic kids responded to art therapy, and wondered why the same services were never used or continued on with adults on the autism spectrum. Mainly, he discovered, insurance was the culprit. “It’s not insured, so doctors don’t think about it,” he said, adding that he feels bad about that fact, given the fine responses to art he witnessed during his practicum among those on the autism spectrum, of all ages.

Theater students were well-represented at the Symposium. Rissa Lee Jansky, a senior theater major from Dedham, MA, said she was the featured actress this past year in five scenes from the play Almost Maine this year. “My biggest challenge was trying to create five separate characters and be five different people every night,” she said, next to a poster that illustrated some of those scenes and her work on the play. The key to all those characters was focusing on speech patterns, body language and mannerisms, she said. Another theater student, Johsua Lacourse, had an impressive collection of papier-mache masks he had created in the MakerSpace for a unique minimalist show. Masks “open people up, free them in a sense, allow them to become an entirely different person,” he said. His theater Professor Peter Harrigan described the impressive show performed April 14 in the McCarthy Theater as “a piece with movement and masks that didn’t involve any dialogue, though sounds were made occasionally – using live and recorded music, dance choreography and story-telling—it was very powerful.” Lacourse was the director, and said Eric Roy from the College MakerSpace proved to be an invaluable mentor and resource.

In the science portion of the rooms, Osrica McLean ’18 explained her project on using point-and-shoot photography to compare regional differences in coyote skull size. The New York City native plans to be a dentist, and double majored in biology and economics. Chemistry student Samuel Vaal ’19 told of his environmental analysis under guidance of Professor Shane Lamos, of persistent metal pollutants from acid mine drainage at a site he studied. They discovered some water that was dyed orange due to contamination, and soil or water that proved to have a more acidic pH than the acid used in the College’s chemistry labs. This knowledge he hopes can be used to raise awareness and maybe do something about that pollution. Biochemistry major Emily Schuchman, a senior from Harpersville, NY, said her project was based on a “proof of concept” article in her field’s literature involving magnetic fields and biocatalysis, and boils down to using certain materials to deliver cancer medicine to the body so that it targets just cancer cells to increase a patient’s quality of life, rather than subjecting them to the less-directed effects of unpleasant chemotherapy.

A visiting prospective student, Cameron Plourde of Bloomington, IL, seemed impressed by what he was seeing as the College’s Director of Admission Mike Stefanowicz and VP for Enrollment and Marketing Sarah Kelly showed him around during his first time on campus. “I wanted to get a look in person and am very interested in Saint Michael’s,” Plourde said, citing “the outside scene and strong academics,” particularly in his area of interest, biology. “The people her are great and so welcoming – it’s like home,” he said.

Here are some snapshots from Wednesday’s (April 25) Senior Projects Exhibit by students from the Media Studies, Journalism & Digital Arts (MJD) program in Dion Family Student Center’s Roy Room. Since the former Journalism Department began this type of presentation event for Saint Michael’s many years ago, long before Academic Symposium expanded to include all disciplines, the Wednesday display is the traditional late-afternoon kickoff to each year’s now larger Symposium, which this year runs through Saturday, April 28.

  • As almost 30 all-dressed-up presenting students gathered shortly after the 4 p.m. start time standing alongside their posters or computers on tables around the large bright room, Kimberly Sultze of the MJD faculty was talking beside a center-table of Sodexo-provided edible treats, explaining what all this activity represented. “This is the culmination of a year-long project for these students — fall semester they propose socially significant issues they want to investigate, then do preliminary research from three different disciplines to develop strong background on it, then they conduct pilot interviews, ethnographic observations and then execute their projects over the break and semester in either a book, multimedia web documentary or documentary film,” Sultze said.
  • Suddenly, a few minutes in to Wednesday’s event, a fire alarm went off – which was a first in his many years of these events, said Jon Hyde of the supervising MJD faculty – so all the students and guests emptied down two flights of stairs and outside of the front Dion entrance until Saint Michael’s Fire and Rescue responders could roar up on an engine, investigate and determine it was all clear to head back – just a bathroom smoke alarm. Director of Public Safety Doug Babcock had come over to view presentations anyhow, and so helped secure the situation and then chatted up presenters once they were back.fire girls
  • While standing outside waiting, two students explained their projects: Demora Dessert said her double-major in theater led her to investigate racial representation and diversity in film, TV and theater. Sadly, she said, “everyone has an issue with diversity” in all those arts forms so she sought answers as to why. Too often, she found, it’s a case of white people writing stories from a white perspective in all the industries, and an answer would be to bring more diversity not just to stage and screens, but behind the scenes, as the book she produced concludes. Angela McParland described her book, “Cross-cultural Look at Renting Platonic Relationships,” about a phenomenon she encountered while studying in Japan her junior year. Turns out that even in the U.S., people do similar things, but more as travel companions than as a way to feel accepted as in Japan, due to cultural factors. Her takeaway was “don’t be so quick to judge something, because people have needs and just want to be accepted,” she said. That’s Demora beside Angela who’s standing far right in the photo above left, watching the firefighters.
  • Back upstairs after the alarm, Shannon Wilson and Molly VanDuersen told how they investigated a gender gap in STEM Fields (science, technology, engineering, mathematics). That’s them in the top right photo under the headline.  Taking a computer class at St. Mike’s her first year with almost no women in the class made her curious since St. Mike’s has more women students, Shannon said. The pair soon learned that many women are working to bridge the gap in concrete ways, so now they are more confident that women are removing barriers and populating STEM fields at an encouraging rate recently.
  • Emma Thomas and Samantha Prue in their work wanted to tell the story of emergency and air medical transport in the U.S. and differences by regions – Sam’s boyfriend is a Saint Michael’s student fire & rescue leader, and Emma had a family friend who used Life Flight services in Maine where her Bethesda, MD family summers, sparking their mutual interest.rescue girls While they couldn’t fly themselves on helicopters for the project, “We got as close as we could,” Emma said — she by watching a landing in Maine, and both being impressed by the enthusiastic passion of crews they interviewed – pilots and nurses – who do this work. A big take-away for them was the importance of educating rural New England residents that such services are available to get them to major hospitals if an emergency demands it, in about 20 minutes typically even from remote areas, which might be life-saving. Their product was a web documentary in six chapters with embedded video.
  • The trio of Fiona Giguere (Northfield, VT), Natasha Kulick (Freehold, NJ) and Amelia Weeks (Seattle, WA) looked at the cleaning industry and products that carry long-term and immediate risks either from toxic fumes without sufficient ventilation, or from promoting microbial resistance and superbugs (top large photo above headline with VPAA Karen Talentino); they ended up with a 45-minute documentary film. They got the idea when thinking of sick college students and challenges posed by communicable diseases, including this year at St. Mike’s. They concluded that everyone needs to be more aware of products and their potential risks. All three women would like to do work in video or audio production upon graduation. One man they interviewed, Martin Wolfe, director of sustainability and authenticity for Seventh Generation, biked over from Burlington to check out the presentations and said he was “amazed by the creativity and topics covered by all the students – really an amazing set of projects.”
  • Jack Martin ’18 of Suffield, CT, partnered with Corinne Harvey of Riverside, RI, to write a book about facial recognition technology, inspired by the introduction for that technology into the new iPhone X. They concluded that companies and consumers need more open dialogue and transparency on issues surrounding this new technology, whether in personal electronics, law enforcement or retail – issues such as data mining, or accuracy, they said.
  • Shaelyn Cavanaugh ’18 of Ellicott City, MD and Madeline Linden of Beverly, MA, fearlessly tackled a taboo subject for many Americans – toilets – in their project “Flushed Out: The State of Sanitation.” Issues ranged from global to social impacts related to sanitation, such as bathrooms for those with physical disabilities or the homeless or “trans/nonbinary” users; Shaelynn noted that “2.6 billion people don’t have access to clean sanitation globally”; but they found the U.N. is doing a lot to tackle the global issue, and in some nations like India, “it’s openly talked about and not taboo” which helps to advance needed policy initiatives. Shaelyn is an MJD and elementary education double-major, and can see applying skills she has learned technologically in the project to her teaching, while being more aware of student experiences with the bathroom.
  • Julia Colasanti (Northville, MI) and Adrian Diaz (Seville, Spain) — they’re seen in the photo at left on either side of faculty/administration visitors showing their work — food desertsprepared a web documentary on “food deserts” – namely, locations that don’t’ have access to healthy, nutritious food for all due to access, transportation or availability issues. Two examples they gave were Winooski, VT, and the Saint Michael’s campus itself, for anyone without a car – which in Winooski might be a sizeable refugee population. The term “food desert” has been around maybe 10 years, Julia said, as she explained that from St. Mike’s or Winooski, a walk to Cumberland Farms might not provide the lowest prices or selection; or Shaw’s might be a long walk or risky in traffic. They talked to a lady in Montana who lived in the middle of farms, but had to drive an hour for food; but some urban places only have fast or junk/over-processed food nearby for those without cars. They concluded that municipal policies and planning might better address such situations to help communities and individuals be healthier.
  • Mike Donoghue, long of the MJD faculty, a regular attendee at these journalism events for decades, bought a book produced by student Steven Murray that was right in the wheelhouse of the longtime journalist and First Amendment advocate Donoghue, titled “Politics, Information and Democracy: Advocacy for Media Literacy in the Digital Age.”
  • MJD Professor Jon Hyde observed how “media-wise, it’s changed this year and we have a lot more students doing web documentaries with a big web component plus film component. I think there’s a realization that you kind of need both in the world of ‘Media 360’ – the ability to catch people where they’re at, media-wise.”Jon Hyde talks Hyde (shown here at right talking with Mike Stefanowicz and Matt Seklecki of Admissions) notices that this year’s students are reflecting their personal media habits in the products they produce more and more, which is neat to see – “it also means they have to be able to control and manage and have skill sets to go across all these different forms, which is pretty intense,” Hyde said. “They walk out of here with film-making/cinematography skills mixed with web skills mixed with interactive skills mixed with interviewing people in a documentary format.”

Said Saint Michael’s Vice President for Academic Affairs Karen Talentino, “I’m always impressed coming to the MJD presentations – it’s a great way to kick off the entire Academic Symposium because there’s such a diversity of topics and approaches the students have taken to those topics, such creativity. Once again, the students do not disappoint me!”Fire truck Dion

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