Students from a variety of academic disciplines were given an opportunity to showcase their excellence on Saturday, April 9, at the Academic Excellence Conference (AEC).
Student scholars, families, faculty, staff and community members came together during this event to celebrate research in different academic disciplines. Projects and presentations ranged from psychology to chemistry to education, as well as much more.
Associate Professor of Chemistry and Chair of the AEC Dr. Jim Kraly said the conference is meant to highlight all of the undergraduate research, creative projects and inquiry that is happening at Keene State College. He said that this year, one of the goals was to have one common venue to showcase oral, poster, workshop and panel presentations, as well as performances from the arts. “It’s important to me because it highlights all the activities that are ongoing at the college all the time. So on this one day we can bring students, faculty, staff and community members to campus and show them examples of all the exciting things that happen in the different corners of campus,” Kraly said.
Kraly explained that students who participate in the conference commit themselves to a year-long process. “They are typically developing their abstracts in the fall and may have even conducted research or projects over the summer in advance of that fall when they submit, so abstracts are typically due in December of the fall preceding the conference. Those abstracts undergo a review process from faculty and staff electronically so students will get feedback and comments about their abstract and title from the committee, other volunteers and faculty to make sure they’ve followed a set of rules for grammar, punctuation and word counts,” Kraly said.
Kraly added that the majority of students are accepted into the conference with minor or sometimes major revisions. In order to help students with the process, Kraly and the rest of the AEC committee holds workshops throughout the year related to abstract writing and presentation preparation.
In developing presentations, each student and student group has a faculty mentor(s) to support them along the way. Associate Professor of Education Dr. Tanya Sturtz served as a mentor for multiple groups of students who presented at the AEC and said her role is to support her students by assisting them in writing their papers, researching and formulating ideas and putting the presentation together.
“We teach them the importance of reading what they have and taking good research notes and, by doing that, it makes the writing process much easier. We also teach them the importance of finding relevant research and research that is peer edited…not things that are just opinions so that they have things to back up their statement…I think that’s how we support them, to really push them and challenge them to do the research and know what they’re talking about,” Sturtz said.
Although the conference requires commitment and dedication, students said they willingly participate. KSC biology major and chemistry minor Russel Kramer said he wanted to do research under Kraly through one of his classes in order to present at the AEC.
“It’s a great experience to speak in front of all the students, faculty and parents, from science people to people who aren’t science. “You have to learn how to communicate and help people understand what we do. It’s really cool that this conference is here because it gets faculty, students and peers interested in all these other majors that the school has,” Kramer said.
Kramer explained that much of his research was done during class time, but he also put in work outside of class to write the report, come up with questions and seek help from his professor.
An attendee of the conference, Director of Academic and Career Advising Pat Halloran said this is one of her favorite events throughout the year, and that she loves when students display their research. She said she has been attending the AEC for the past 16 years.
“I think it [the AEC] gives presenters a venue to really shine. They have been working hard on this research. They have established and developed a relationship with the faculty that needs to be highlighted I think, so that’s really important. For the attendees, it’s always important to support your community, and I think this is a way to support the community, to learn new things and to have a different relationship with students, as well as faculty,” Halloran said.
Halloran also said the conference teaches her about different majors, although she said she does tend to find herself gravitating toward topics she’s personally interested in. Because she likes to learn, she said she tries to challenge herself to go to presentations on topics that she’s not too knowledgeable about, like those in the sciences.
The AEC is put on in a collective effort from the entire AEC committee, which is run through the Provost’s office. This year, Kraly said they used a mobile app, Guidebook, to allow students to access conference information in a more modern context.
In future years, Kraly said he would like to continue to grow the conference to have more attendees and presenters. He said one of the big goals for next year is to get more students to attend who may not have submitted an abstract, but who can come see what students in their college community are doing.
Sturtz said she wishes more students would get involved as well because those who don’t attend the conference won’t understand they are capable of doing the same kind of academic work.
Kraly said, “It is fantastic to have one event on campus where people can come see the research and creativity that is produced by a liberal arts education.”
He continued, “It’s just an exciting day. It’s fun to celebrate at the end of the year, and it’s why I teach at a college like this: to see all the different exciting areas in the liberal arts, not just the sciences.”
Jessica Ricard can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org