By Erik Kjer, News Editor Originally published in Issue 11, Volume 33 of The University Register on April 9, 2021
Over the course of its history the annual Undergraduate Research Symposium has been a cherished institution celebrating student research across Morris’ wide range of fields. Last year’s Symposium was cancelled in the final stages of planning amidst the early stages of the coronavirus pandemic. One year later both student research and the pandemic are continuing, but the Symposium has adapted to the needs of today’s campus.
This year’s symposium was organized in-part by communications, media, and rhetoric professor Barbara Burke who spoke with the University Register regarding the organization of the event.
“The key thing [about the symposium] is this is not just someone doing their final project in a class, but someone who has designed and explored a project on their own,” Burke said.
Unlike previous years, social distancing measures limit the size of in-person audiences and many attendees won’t be able to travel to see a student present. Although there will still be opportunities to see an in-person presentation, students will also pre-record or stream presentations for remote viewers.
While the ongoing coronavirus pandemic was the impetus for many of the changes made to this year’s symposium, organizers believe many of the technologies and techniques that are being pioneered by this year’s event will be incorporated into future symposiums. This year’s symposium will be coordinated through the use of internet event management software which will provide key information about events and how they’ll occur.
“We are offering participation in terms of presenters and participation in terms of the audience in different ways. You could be in person, I could be in person, you could be remote, I could be remote," Burke said. "We have some students who will be standing in rooms in the Humanities building, we have some students who will create posters and will [present] wherever they choose. Mixed modalities are proving to be an opportunity as well as a challenge. It gives us this flexibility where instead of having posters on the wall that say who is in what room and hand handbooks you’d print and carry around, everything can be on our phones. We can have an app on our phone where we could listen to a session or build a personalized schedule. It’s the 21st century way that I think even in-person conferences will be using the future.”
Another change from previous years is the day on which the symposium is held. Previously the symposium took place on a weekend, but with attendees no longer needing to travel in order to attend it was moved to a spring break weekday in order to avoid conflicting with other weekend events such as athletics.
“We think by having the symposium on a weekday there could be more access, furthermore faculty and staff have been eager to see it and this will give them that opportunity,” Burke said.
Mixed modalities will certainly mark a departure in how performances are given.
“We’ve had a year of unusual uses of technology and probably every student on campus has had to speak through a Zoom interface at least once," Burke said, "so we know how to use Zoom, we know how to set up the microphone, and to speak through a Zoom interface at least once, so we know how to use Zoom, we know how to set up the microphone, and we know how to use the light in our apartment or our home to make ourselves visible.”
Although students and attendees will be more at home in a digital environment, there are still some disadvantages.
“Connecting to other people is still challenging, it is a little hard because you don’t know when to pause, and you don’t know when to look around and see if people are confused," Burke said. "For most people the advantage of technology is they can get there they can be there even if they don’t feel health-wise safe to be in a classroom so we’re enhancing accessibility in exchange for a little bit of human contact.”
This year’s students will present over forty projects across eighteen different areas of study. This year’s featured presentation is titled “Alone Together: Dancing through Quarantine;” which features and discusses original choreography designed by Morris students. The performance depicts narratives from the coronavirus pandemic and the experience of isolation. The presentation will be held in Edson Auditorium and will be presented by Gracie Arends, Danielle Domka, Kristen Shaw, Ashley Kennedy, and Asia Kollie.