April 23, 2010
Split-level view: College of Wooster photographer Matt Dilyard captures the essence of Friday's Senior Research Symposium with this unique view of two floors in Kauke Hall, which shows an oral presentation on the upper level and a poster session down below.
WOOSTER, Ohio - From the southern tip of campus to its northernmost border, students, faculty, staff, alumni, parents, and friends came together to celebrate The College of Wooster's nationally acclaimed Independent Study (I.S.) program at the third annual Senior Research Symposium on Friday.
Clusters of helium-filled black and gold balloons swayed in front of buildings, where classes had been canceled to make room for poster sessions, oral presentations, and panel discussions. Blue skies and a soothing spring breeze complemented an atmosphere filled with excitement and anticipation.
"This is a celebration of our core mission," said Wooster President Grant Cornwell as he strolled from one of the poster sessions to one of the oral presentations. "It's an opportunity to share a wealth of knowledge and to recognize the outstanding work and achievements of our student-faculty collaborations."
Each Wooster senior works one-on-one with a faculty mentor to conceive and complete a major research project. It's a journey of personal and intellectual discovery that student and adviser take together.
Nowhere was the excitement more visible than on the faces of James and Kathy Wojciechowski, who traveled from their home in Rochester, N.Y. to watch their daughter, Katrina, present the results her project in Taylor Hall.
A neuroscience major, Wojciechowski shared her experience through a different medium - digital video - which captured the angst and the exaltation as well as the science of her project, titled "Can Coca Cola Prevent Alzheimer's Disease? An Assessment of Caffeine on Behavioral Deficits, Amyloid-Beta, and Beta Secretase I Levels in an Alzheimer's Disease Mouse Model."
Interested onlookers paused to watch the well-produced, clearly articulated video, which included a scene with Wojciechowski, dressed in sweats and a tassel cap, ascending the steps of Kauke Hall with her I.S. and raising her arms as if she had just defeated the heavyweight champ while the theme song from "Rocky" played in the background.
Wojciechowski, who plans to take a year off and then attend medical school, said I.S. really
opened her eyes to the value of research. "The more questions you ask, the more questions you encounter," she said. "I could not have had this type of experience anywhere else."
Wojciechowski's story blended nicely with scores of her classmates, who overcame their uncertainties and triumphed in what may be the most challenging and comprehensive undergraduate research program in higher education.
Just up the street in Kauke Hall, for example, Catherine Lankford, a political science major from Chicago, described the process as engaging. "I loved it," said Lankford, whose I.S. was titled "Cultural Considerations and Counterinsurgency." "It forced me to push myself and to thoroughly explore my topic. Presenting made me nervous, but it also helped prepare me and ultimately boosted my confidence."
Confidence is a common by-product of the I.S. process, according to Hayden Schilling, professor of history, who has been reading and helping seniors refine their projects since 1964. "What strikes me most is how cogent the students become as a result of the I.S. experience," he said.
Meghan Durand, an English major and film studies minor from nearby Westlake, agrees that I.S. fosters confidence as well as ownership. She combined the two disciplines in a project titled, "Christmas Presents and Christmas Past: A Study of Memory in Holiday Fiction and Film," which helped her to discover that she could take on a project of considerable magnitude, complete it, and
call it her own.
Tom Stikeleather, an urban studies major from Cincinnati learned that textbook theories often give way to real-world realities in his study of urban development, titled "A Last Best Chance: Growth and Shrinkage in the American Rust Belt." His project focused on the cities of Akron and Youngstown in what became a case study that enabled him to formulate a basis of comparison to assess his understanding of urban issues. What he did not expect was a decision by officials in Youngstown to purposely discourage economic growth in certain neighborhoods so that they could pursue development in other areas of the city. "That was a foreign concept to me," he said. "I realize now that city officials had to make difficult choices that I just didn't expect them to make." Stikeleather will take his newfound knowledge to The Ohio State University, where he will begin a graduate program in urban planning this fall.
Across the Oak Grove in The College of Wooster Art Museum's Ebert Art Center, 13-one-person shows were transformed into a group exhibition that Kitty Zurko, director of the Art Museum, said "would stand up against any show of its kind."
Among the student exhibitors was Allegra Angelini, a double major in studio art and philosophy from Columbus, who used a process known as slip casting to create 54 porcelain pitchers - most deformed or defective in one way or another - in a display she called "sinking," which was part of a larger exhibition, titled "slippage." The objects were neatly placed on the floor in the center of Sussel Gallery where viewers were invited to contemplate
the purpose of the exhibition. "By making functional objects defective, we blur the line between craft and art," said Angelini. "I wanted the viewer to think about the difference between fine art and fine craft and to try to understand why the distinction exists."
In addition to the 13 art exhibitions, there were four dance, music, or theatre performances, more than a dozen digital presentations and 100 poster displays as well as 65 oral sessions. There was also a student-faculty panel, moderated by Amyaz Moledina, associate professor of economics, who proclaimed that I.S. is "the most exciting thing we do here," adding that it is a "dynamic process that lives and breathes beyond the document...not just a book on a shelf, but a milestone in a student's life."
The symposium forced everyone to consider the enormous investment of time, energy, and critical thought that went into each project, and to celebrate the outcome of the journey. “As a faculty member, I’ve seen I.S. in my department, but the Senior
Symposium gives all of us an opportunity to see the work of students
from other departments across campus,” said Henry Kreuzman, Dean for
Curriculum and Academic Engagement and Associate Professor of
Philosophy. “The range and quality of the work being done in these
projects is clear evidence of our students’ abilities to engage in
independent thinking and to integrate experiences from multiple
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