Symposium conference offers opportunities for participants

By Lorna Hartman, Staff Writer

While the name does not exactly roll off the tongue, the Student Research and Creative Works Symposium is filled with research and art on topics that most students might never have thought about.

The Student Research and Creative Works Symposium is a campus-wide annual two-day conference at which students can showcase and present research and art with the support of faculty mentors.

“Prepare to be intrigued,” said assistant symposium coordinator Lindsey Porter.

“Show up with an open mind,” said coordinator and graduate student Nikki Graham-Brown.

Last year, 485 students and 128 faculty mentors presented at the conference, according to the symposium website.

EWU’s 16th annual symposium is scheduled for May 14 and 15. Dr. Scott Finney of the Africana Education department is this year’s keynote speaker.

According to the annual symposium programs posted on the symposium website, there have been some unusual presentations each year. Chris McLenegan presented a short film called “Zombie Milk” in 2009, for example, and Adam Attwood presented “Walla Walla County Collections Cases and What They Indicated about the Credit System” that same year.

Shawn Pattison’s presentation in 2008 was titled “Professors Terms of Address” while Megan Peluso presented on the topic of “Coca Relations between the United States and Bolivia.”

In 2004, student Jose Montoya made a presentation many might find interesting today called “Wealth and Its Effects on Democracy.”

Each year, Eastern hosts the free Intercollegiate Human Paper-Powered Vehicle Competition for colleges in Washington, Oregon and Idaho, according to the EWU website. Teams must build a human-powered vehicle made of at least 90 percent paper by weight.

According to the Symposium website, the results of this competition are presented with video footage each year at the symposium.

“I would say that it’s a good opportunity for [students] to see research in action,” said Graham-Brown. “It’s a chance for them to see how their peers are doing in their research studies or creative work projects.”

According to Graham-Brown, presenting at the symposium is a good way for students to add experience to their résumés, and it can act as a steppingstone to presentations at larger conferences with higher stakes outside of Eastern.

“This is an opportunity for those who are not presenting to see what it’s like to present from the outside,” said Graham-Brown. “They get an idea of how a conference situation runs and what it involves. They come and support their peers, and they can learn about different disciplines. But it also gives them an idea of what they could do next year.”

Dr. Amani El-Alayli has mentored students on symposium projects since about 2004. “I always offer the opportunity to present research at the symposium or other conferences,” she said.

This year, El-Alayli is mentoring student Nicole Sestrap. Sestrap first presented as a sophomore with El-Alayli mentoring. “She’s been very ambitious,” said El-Alayli. “She’s wanted to present a lot. This might be her fifth presentation.”

“This year I’m doing it by myself because I have more confidence now,” said Sestrap. “I’m doing a talk for psychology on differences between morning and night people and how sometimes morning people have it a little easier because the world’s set up that way.”

“From my experience, students have always loved it. Even the most nervous students have loved doing their presentations. I’ve never seen any negative reaction to students who have presented. They’re proud of themselves,” said El-Alayli.

Sestrap recommends that nervous students select the poster presentation option rather than the oral presentation because poster presenters merely need to stand by the poster, answer questions and talk with visitors about their topic.

As a mentor, El-Alayli helps students analyze data and figure out the results. She gives student presenters feedback on their abstract before they submit it for the symposium and meets with them to give them an opportunity to practice their presentation. Finally, she always attends the symposium to see her students’ work.

“I love it. It’s one of my favorite days of the school year,” said El-Alayli. “Just seeing the students be professional for the first time … I really enjoy it.”

Sestrap said, “It’s mind-blowing to realize that all this research is going on. Having all this research under your belt, it’s a great thing to have on your résumé or your vita. So I think it’s a really worthwhile experience.”