Students share the results of their I.S. projects during a poster session in Wishart Hall, one of many venues at the 2012 Senior Research Symposium on April 27.

Students share the results of their I.S. projects during a poster session in Wishart Hall, one of many venues at the 2012 Senior Research Symposium on April 27.


Senior Research Symposium Reinforces the Value of Lifelong Learning

Seniors sharpen presentation skills and build confidence during showcase of Senior I.S. projects

May 1, 2012 by John Finn

WOOSTER, Ohio — Don Van Cleef sees learning as a perpetual process. A member of the Class of 1951 — the first to experience Wooster’s Independent Study (I.S.) program as a requirement for all seniors — Van Cleef and his wife, Mina, a 1953 Wooster graduate, came to campus on Friday for the fifth annual Senior Research Symposium with one simple objective in mind — to learn.

“We think it’s the most interesting day of the year at the College,” said Van Cleef, a former psychology major. “If you like to learn…what an opportunity.”

Indeed, captivating exchanges of knowledge took place in crowded hallways and jam-packed seminar rooms stretching from one end of campus to the other as seniors shared the results of their mentored undergraduate research projects through posters, oral presentations, art exhibitions, and musical performances. “I continue to be impressed by the ability of Wooster students to explain their research,” said Van Cleef. “They really know their subject matter and communicate it well.”

Case in point: Stephen Ferguson, a biology major who spoke with the aplomb of a seasoned faculty member during his presentation, “Angry Birds: Song Aggression, and Hormones in a Male Songbird,” a collaborative project with Sharon Lynn, associate professor of biology. Likewise, Melissa Glick, a biology major from Wooster, and Sarah-Beth Loder, a chemical physics major from Mentor, Ohio, demonstrated great command of the subject matter during their presentations about complex scientific collaborations with Wooster faculty members Stephanie Strand and Sarah Schmidtke, respectively.

Confidence, a long-acknowledged by-product of the I.S. experience, seemed to exude from all of the students, including Lizzie Beal, a communication sciences and disorders major from Bowling Green, Ky., who shared her research in Wishart Hall. Standing beside her poster, a poised and self-assured Beal talked about the need for faculty to have a greater understanding of Asperger’s Syndrome, which affects increasing numbers of students who attend college each year. “I definitely developed a lot of self-confidence,” said Beal, who will pursue a master’s degree in speech pathology at the University of Louisville in the fall. “I also strengthened my analytical skills, which really helped with my research.”

Across the street in Taylor Hall, Ian Sharp of Wooster combined his interest in mathematics and history to produce a fascinating study of codes and ciphers in American intelligence. “I enjoy both (math and history),” said Sharp, who gave one of many interdisciplinary presentations. “I learned a lot about how to break down a large project into small steps, and I think that will be an invaluable skill moving forward.”

Several blocks to the north in Ebert Art Center there was a showcase of the visual and performing arts. In addition to projects in Burton D. Morgan Gallery and Sussel Gallery, there was an inspiring performance of Passacaglia in G Minor for Violin and Viola by music major Noah Dresser (viola), accompanied by sophomore Nicholas Biniker (violin).

For faculty members, who play such a vital role in the I.S. process, Friday’s presentations and posters were cause for celebration. Laura Sirot, assistant professor of biology, said, “It’s a joy to see the students take ownership of their project and share it with the public,” while Donald Goldberg, professor of communication, said, “The richness of the student research that takes place on this campus is outstanding. It’s just like a professional conference, especially the interaction at the poster sessions.”

Several emeritus faculty also made the rounds on Friday, including Richard Bromund and Virginia Pett, longtime professors of chemistry at Wooster who were effusive in their praise for the symposium. “It’s a fantastic event,” said Bromund. “Some departments have been sharing their research internally for years, but (President) Grant (Cornwell) deserves the credit for making this a campus-wide event.” Pett agreed and added her thoughts about the quality of the event. “It gets better every year,” she said. “I especially like the space in the CoRE (Collaborative Research Environment). It’s wonderful.”

A majority of the observers on Friday were juniors, like Emily Koelmel, a studio art and psychology double major from Sarasota, Fla., who was looking toward the future. “I’m here to see the work of my friends, but I’m also trying to get a feel for what I will be doing next year,” she said. “It is really interesting to see the range of what the students did this year.”

Many alumni returned for the celebration as well, including members of the Board of Trustees and the Alumni Board. Jim Clarke, a 1959 Wooster graduate, was particularly impressed, “It’s remarkable what these students have accomplished, especially translating written text to visual graphics and images. It’s far different from the days when we used carbon paper to type our I.S. in triplicate.”

To promote that progressive approach to presenting one’s work, Wooster sponsored its third annual Digital I.S. competition, which attracted eight entries. The winner was Lauren Close, a history and art history major from Cleveland for her project, “The Eloquence of Stone: The Propagandistic Function of Monumental and Funerary Art in 19th Century Paris.”

In all, more than 150 students presented posters and nearly 90 delivered oral presentations. In one of the day’s final sessions, Jason Weingardt, a communication studies major from Bethesda, Md., boldly proposed a new marketing approach for The College of Wooster, complete with a redesigned logo and a new tagline (“Collaboration. Brick-by-Brick,” instead of “Independent Minds, Working Together”). “The fundamental question is, ‘What is Wooster’s identity,’” said Weingardt, who eloquently explained his research methods, which included interviews with college administrators and focus groups with students. “What I discovered is that there really isn’t one answer.”

The same could be said about I.S. Often there is more than one answer, and occasionally that answer is different from what was expected. Sometimes it’s even the wrong answer, and the student has to change direction or start over again. But the essence of I.S. is the journey, and Friday’s symposium celebrated the successful conclusion of many unforgettable experiences.