May 1, 2011
Julie Melrose, a theatre and dance major from Glenford, Ohio, developed a website to help preserve vintage garments for her I.S.
WOOSTER, Ohio — Just hours after Prince William and Catherine Middleton exchanged vows at Westminster Abby on Friday morning, students at The College of Wooster kicked off a royal celebration of their own at the fourth annual Senior Research Symposium.
More than half of Wooster’s 400-plus seniors took up assigned positions in lobbies, classrooms, lecture halls, galleries, and various other venues to share the results of their Independent Study projects (Wooster’s nationally acclaimed mentored undergraduate research experience) through poster sessions, digital displays, oral presentations, group discussions, art exhibitions, and theatrical performances.
“I find this to be the most inspirational day of the year at The College of Wooster,” said Wooster President Grant Cornwell while strolling through a corridor of poster displays with his wife, Peg, on the second floor of Kauke Hall. “I am very proud of the way we deliver on our core mission and the way in which students and faculty dig deeply into this process. It’s thrilling.”
Students stood by posters or made presentations at seven locations across campus, including the lobby of Freedlander Theatre, where Carolyn Cahill, a senior neuroscience major from St. Paul, Minn., explained her efforts to explore the roots of autism by studying a strain of mice that displays some of the same characteristics of the dreaded developmental disorder. “My project focused on trying to understand what’s happening at the cellular level,” she said. “The whole experience was a great introduction to independent lab work. My hope is that another student will continue the research next year.”
Also in the lobby was a poster by Julie Melrose, a theatre and dance major from Glenford, Ohio, who developed a website to help preserve vintage garments from four decades (1930-1960). The items — more than 120 altogether — were donated to The College of Wooster by Lorraine Seckel. Melrose wanted to make the images available to designers, dressmakers, and historians who could then replicate the styles from that time period. So far, Melrose has 38 images on the website, and she hopes that more will be added through a grant she has written to keep the project going.
Another presenter, Nick Neary, a philosophy major from Wadsworth, Ohio, took on the topic of artificial intelligence and concluded that no matter how sophisticated the machine, it can’t match the consciousness of a human mind. Neary challenged the theories of several highly respected scholars in the field, which delighted his advisor, Ron Hustwit, longtime professor of philosophy. “There are some I.S. projects that stand out, and Nick’s is one of them,” said Hustwit, who has mentored more than 200 seniors in the I.S. process during his 44 years at Wooster. “The best ones are those in which a student finds his or her own way. I don’t want students to think the way I do. I want to them to work through the process and come to their own conclusions.”
Neary’s I.S. journey was similar to many current and former Wooster’s students in that he spent a considerable period of time reading materials related to his topic. He even took time to read the I.S. of philosophy major turned film director Duncan Jones, whose latest movie, “Source Code,” opened in theaters last month. What differed were some of the ways he went about gathering information. After repeated attempts to reach Jones through e-mail to discuss the topic, Neary turned to Twitter and received a “tweet” the very next day.
Across the street in Taylor Hall, people squeezed into adjacent lecture rooms to hear presentations ranging from modeling complex systems in chemistry, mathematics, and computer science to changing perceptions of women in society. In the hallway outside, Susan Lehman, associate professor of physics, took time to reflect on the value of the symposium. “This is a wonderful way for seniors to share what they have done with a larger audience and to be recognized for their hard work,” she said. “It also provides our younger students with an opportunity to see the possibilities of I.S. and to experience the energy and excitement that are part of the process.”
In that same hallway, a group of students had gathered around Louisa Catalano, a double major in mathematics and physics from University Heights, Ohio, trying to grasp her rather complicated study of knot theory. Most of those who gathered were friends of Catalano — there to provide support for her project, including Tarik Attassi, a recent graduate who came back to see his cousin, Omar Attassi, and several former classmates present their findings. “I.S. is an absolutely amazing process,” said Tarik, a former biology major who landed a job as a research technician with the Cleveland Clinic after graduation last spring. “It really stands out on a resume or grad school application.”
Next door, in Kauke Hall, visitors moved briskly from poster to poster, knowing there wasn’t time to take it all in but still trying to extract as much information as they could. Among the onlookers was a trio of sophomores — Abby Rider, Benjamin Strange, and Kate Laubacher — attempting to get a handle on the journey upon which they would soon embark. “Junior I.S. is coming up, and I want to start thinking about what I might be doing,” said Rider, a history major from Westport, Conn. Another interested observer was Meagen Pollock, assistant professor of geology who was intent on sampling as many projects outside of her discipline as possible. “It’s fascinating to see the breadth of research,” she said. “I’m trying to absorb as much as I can.”
A number of parents also made their way to campus, including Tom and Tammy Smanik, who stopped to look at the political science poster prepared by their daughter, Abby, the third member of the family to attend Wooster (sons Tim and Kevin graduated in 2006 and 2008, respectively). “Wooster has been a very good fit for our family,” said Tammy. “The I.S. process gives students the confidence — and the battle scars — to believe that they can take on a project like this and complete it successfully.”
Later in the morning, visitors crammed into Lean Lecture Room of Wishart Hall to hear three stories about the essence of I.S. — faculty-student collaboration. Heather FitzGibbon, dean for faculty development and professor of sociology and anthropology, introduced the session by explaining that part of the purpose is to capture the excitement of what goes on during the project. Mark Wilson, professor of geology and archaeology, and Megan Innis, a geology major from Whitmore Lake, Mich., talked about their shared interest in the evolution of marine hard-substrate communities. James West, assistant professor of biochemistry and molecular biology, and Chelsea Stamm, a biochemistry and molecular biology major from Louisville, Ohio, explained how their research began during her sophomore year, and how together they studied the complex process of identifying genes that provide cellular protection against a cross-linking agent. Richard Lehtinen, associate professor of biology and environmental studies, and Andrew Georgiadis, a biology major from Wexford, Pa., shared their study of phylogenetic relationships between insular frog populations in Trinidad, Tobago, and Venezuala.
Other sessions covered such topics as “Environmental Science,” “What is Justice?” “Fantasy and Fairy Tales,” “Amphibians in the Park,” “Ecology,” “Gender Roles Past and Present,” “Mouse Models of Alzheimer’s Disease,” “Animal Behavior,” “Images in Politics and Religion,” “Healthcare,” “The Changing Face of Education,” and “Defining a Nation.” There were theatrical performances in Freedlander Theatre and Shoolroy Theatre; musical compositions; and art history and studio art displays in The College of Wooster Art Museum.
At the end of the day, there was a closing ceremony featuring remarks by Wooster graduate Abhishek Saharia, product manager at Sigma-Aldrich, a leading life science and technology company. Awards were presented to the winners of the digital scavenger hunt and the best digital I.S., which went to Catherine Trainor, a history major and physics minor from Piedmont, Calif., for her documentary film, “Fort Ross: Eastward Exploration in the Russian Empire.”
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