What Happened at the Annual Student Scholarship Conference?

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ACSC virtual entrance

Aguiele Ndoungla, Staff Writer

The 9th edition of the annual student scholarship conference happened this year between March 18 and March 20, 2021. It is an opportunity for students across Austin College to present research projects they have worked on or are still working on. This is an important event for scholars, not only because it is a great public speaking exercise, but also because it exposes them to a highly recommended part of graduate school which are conferences.

Because of the sanitary condition aggravated by the Covid-19, there was a few changes compared to previous years. First of all, everything happened virtually through a website named ForagerOne. Indeed, in previous editions, students displayed their poster throughout WCC, while other Austin College community members as well as their guests walked around to discover and learn more about students’ research. They would do so by asking questions or just listening to them. This has been replaced by the Q&A sessions which happened through zoom. Students had to record 2 to 20min long videos of them presenting their poster or in a panel and post it on the symposium platform (ForagerOne). Regardless of the format of the conference, the topics still covered different subjects ranging from Science to Literature, passing by Economics.

Among the challenges faced by students, the mixture of anxiety and excitement feelings was one. Megan Frank who worked on a poster presentation video mentioned, “I was EXTREMELY nervous about the conference! This was my first ACSC conference, although my second conference overall.” There was also the fear of unexpected and irreversible technological mishaps which can take place because of the online format. “Along with presenting, we also had to make sure the recording was working and keep an eye out for any technological issues.” Sonia Charales, who recorded a video for three different panels, added. One last major challenge was making the content of the research concise and clear for the audience. Indeed, students had to adapt the specificities of their project to a public who had little to no knowledge of their field, in a video of twenty (20) min at most.

Overall, there is a general sentiment of deep gratitude and joy, as students are given the opportunity to actively  present the content of their research to an engaging audience. In Vee Kalkunte’s words, “The ACSC is important for me because it signals the end of the research cycle – at least, for this project. You spend all this time and emotional energy on this intellectual labor, and you finally get to share it, to unabashedly hog the light a little bit, and get to listen to people’s thoughts and questions regarding the whole thing. It’s cathartic, and it feels like a celebration, made all the sweeter because you’re celebrating with other people, both viewers and other presenters.”

This year’s conference coordinator and associate coordinator were respectively Dr. Renee Countryman, and Dr. Ashley Tharayil, both Austin College professors. Dr. Countryman has occupied this function for four years now, with her fourth year being her last and an exception because of the pandemic. Indeed, due to last year’s conference cancellation and to the conditions, the committee responsible for organizing the conference moved to having her take this special term. An interesting fact about Dr. Countryman is the fact that she has always been passionate about getting student involved in research. “It is just something that I love” she emphasized. There for next year, she is happily taking over the direction of CREATE after Dr. Lance Barton who did an amazing work during his term. Other important figures behind the organization are Amy Parsons, who has been the administrative assistant of the conference’s sponsor CREATE or Center for Research, Experiential, Artistic & Transformative Education for 5 years; and Aneurin Minson the intern for the conference.

A commonly appreciated part of organizing the event was working on the posters, as they serve as evidence of the presence of a conference on campus. In addition, “Every poster is different and the personality of the students are shown in their work”, explained Ms. Parsons to talk about why she likes looking at posters. Schedules’ planning and the uncertainty about audience participation were among the challenges faced during the organization of the conference. “With students presenting multiple times it can be difficult to find a compatible schedule for everyone” Amy Parsons mentioned. When asked about their format preference, Dr. Countryman and Ms. Parsons hope for the conference to happen in person in the future if the conditions allow, as the physical interaction between students, faculty, staff, and guests builds a strong excitement not always perceivable in a virtual format.

Overall, the conference was a success as attendance was significant with more than two hundred participants present and analytics showed that each of them spent more than ninety hours going through the content.

Students’ presentation are still available via the following link: https://www.austincollege.edu/academics/centers-and-college-wide-programs/create/student-scholarship-conference-2/

If interested in applying for the conference, you can learn more about submitting the abstracts for next year here: https://www.austincollege.edu/academics/centers-and-college-wide-programs/create/student-scholarship-conference-2/call-for-student-abstracts/

ACSC virtual entrance