Those planning on attending Keene State College’s Academic Excellence Conference (AEC) won’t be driving to the school; they’ll be turning on their electronic devices.

The COVID-19 pandemic has forced Keene State to host many of its events in an online setting and this year’s Academic Excellence Conference is no different. According to co-chair of the AEC committee Irene McGarrity, the committee will be holding the conference on April 18 via Zoom, where people can attend virtually from home.

McGarrity said that the AEC, at its core, is about celebrating students and their work.

“The Academic Excellence Conference event brings together student scholars and their families, faculty and staff mentors, as well as members of the KSC community in celebration of academic research and other forms of scholarship,” McGarrity said.

Program manager Kim Schmidl-Gagne said that the easiest way to describe past AECs would be to “imagine a one-day conference with a variety of sessions participants could select from.” Schmidl-Gagne added that at the end of the day there would be a poster session with up to 50 posters in the Mabel Brown Room.

With the event switching to a virtual setting this year, the AEC Committee has had to make some adjustments to the event’s format. McGarrity said that the AEC will have a live welcome ceremony, lunch presentation and closing reflection. She added that student presenters will provide pre-recorded presentations that the audience can view online. McGarrity also said that the AEC committee decided to make all of the conference presentations pre-recorded to prevent any live interference on Zoom.   

“Audience members will have the freedom and flexibility to attend what interests them from the comfort of their own homes,” McGarrity said.

Schmidl-Gagne said that with the AEC going virtual, she will miss the live audience and the conversations that participants have as they cross each other in the hallways. Schmidl-Gagne added, however, that going virtual bears several advantages for student presenters and audience members alike. She said that the committee will be able to capture all the presentations and send the videos back to the students.

“I think it will be helpful for students to review their own work,” Schmidl-Gagne said.  “We will also be able to share the AEC with a much broader audience since there is no travel involved.”

McGarrity added that the transition to a virtual setting was challenging, but what was most important to her and the AEC committee was to provide students with an opportunity to show off their work no matter what.

“We wanted presenters to have some options that they would feel comfortable with, and we didn’t want to add to [how overwhelmed] everyone is already feeling,” McGarrity said. 

Vice President for Academic Affairs Ockle Johnson said that it’s great to see the college campus continue to celebrate students’ achievements even amid the challenges of COVID-19.

“I think when we look at this, it’s another indication on how the college is finding ways to celebrate students’ scholarship,” Johnson said.

Hunter Oberst can be contacted at

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