Scholars Collaborating

April 20, 2012 § Leave a comment

Undergraduate research and creative inquiry is celebrated at WSU

Before steering her career toward administration and educational policy, Winona State University President Judith A. Ramaley was a professor of anatomy and physiology with more than 65 articles and chapters on the control of puberty onset, stress and fertility, and the development of biological rhythms.

Since that time, she published another 40 articles on educational reform; science, technology, engineering and mathematics education; and leading organizational change. During her seven years as president, she regularly taught a course in biomedical ethics and established an endowment at WSU to support undergraduate research.

Therefore, it’s fitting that Winona State’s Celebration of Research and Creative Scholarship has been named to honor Ramaley and her commitment to undergraduate research as she steps down from the presidency at the end of May.

While the Judith Ramaley Celebration of Research and Creative Scholarship introduced a new name in 2012, it was the symposium’s sixth year on the Winona campus. Mike Delong, professor of biology and member of the group that organizes the event, said the current format developed from separate research days previously sponsored by the College of Science and Engineering and the College of Liberal Arts.

“There are many across campus who have long been involved in faculty-advised student research, with a shared interest that scholarly and creative inquiry has great educational benefits,” said Delong when describing how the symposium has evolved.

For the last two years, the Celebration of Research and Creative Scholarship has been held at Kryzsko Commons to accommodate the growing number of student presenters. “The number has been growing each year, so the move to Kryzsko was necessary because we were simply running out of space at the Science Laboratory Center Atrium ” said Tom Nalli, also a member of the organizing committee and professor of chemistry at WSU.

“We were also hoping that holding the event at Kryzsko would encourage greater participation among students and faculty outside the College of Science and Engineering. I think that was indeed something we saw last year.”

There were about 200 presentations this year, ranging from posters that summarize projects and invite deeper discussion between the student researcher and conference attendees, to oral presentations, to theatre and dance performances. The celebration also embraces exhibitions of visual arts at campus galleries, including the Senior Art Show at Watkins Hall.

Uniquely, the poster presentations that make up the largest part of the celebration are arranged alphabetically, instead of by academic discipline. “Our objective is to encourage interactions across disciplines between and among students and faculty members,” explained Nalli. “The arrangement encourages people to look outside their own disciplines for interesting posters, increasing the richness of interactions.”

Immersion in a research project, with the problem solving and critical thinking skills it requires, along with exposure to new approaches and different ways of thinking from faculty advisors and fellow students, can have a huge impact on students’ learning and later as they move on to graduate school and careers.

“The foundation of knowledge from studying and learning in the classroom is essential,” said Delong, who has been directing undergraduate research projects during his 20 years as a professor. “Hands-on and practical experiences from undergraduate research make what students are learning in the classroom relevant.”

Delong added that advising undergraduate research is also valuable for faculty members. “We get challenging questions and fresh perspectives from our students, and it keeps us engaged with the latest research and techniques in our professions.”

Suzanne Smith, a junior art major from Winona, presented a poster on her project, “Podcasts of WSU Artwork Acquired Through the Minnesota Percent for Art in Public Places Program,” along with nine fellow students at last year’s celebration. Her presentation was located between a geoscience poster on prairies in the Late Holocene period, and a biology poster on fathead minnows.

“As a major I can identify and appreciate a work of art,” said Smith, who worked with Greg Neidhart, assistant professor of arts administration, on the project.

“To build the podcasts, we had to learn and work with the software to build audio and video presentations, and develop scripts for the audio narratives,” continued Smith. “I learned to work with tools in area that I had no experience with. It was a pretty big deal.”

Both Delong and Nalli believe that the name of the symposium – the Judith Ramaley Celebration of Research and Creative Scholarship – is important in attracting students from a wide variety of disciplines.

And in uniting them in a celebration of what Nalli describes as “the fruits of their scholarly inquiry and collaboration with their faculty mentors.”

Find out more about the Celebration of Research and Creative Scholarship:  www.winona.edu/undergradresearch

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