SSD to highlight student achievement

Lizzy Balboa

At the persuasion of his professor, Jason Michalek showcased his linguistics research at last year’s Student Scholars Day—and he came away wondering why he’d never participated before.

Michalek, who graduated from Grand Valley State University in 2012, valued the experience so much that he stuck around another year to present his English research at Wednesday’s SSD.

And he’s not the only one who returned for more.

Susan Mendoza, director of Undergraduate Research and Scholarship, said more than one third of participants in past SSDs are veteran presenters.

“Most of the presenters are graduate students and upper class students in their junior or senior year, however we do have first-year and second-year students presenting, as well,” Mendoza said. She added that this year’s 600-plus presenters represent at least 60 majors, from biochemists showcasing lab work to musicians performing jazz compositions.

“There are lots of cutting edge topical projects coming up,” said Melissa Morison, chair of the SSD committee. Morison said SSD helped encourage student presenters to have ‘high impact’ experiences in their field—opportunities often afforded students at ‘research-ones.’

Although GVSU is not widely known for its research, Mendoza said providing the experience is invaluable.

“Folks often think that research and scholarship is only for research universities without realizing that scholarship is part of the academic enterprise,” she said. “SSD exemplifies that dynamic, cutting edge work happens at GVSU because (it) is part of who we are as Lakers. GVSU students and alums aren’t simply consumers of knowledge. We create it.”

Mendoza added that research supplements the theory that students learn in the classroom.

“Undergraduate research and scholarship provides students with an opportunity to take their learning from the classroom and apply it in real world contexts,” Mendoza said. “Students have the opportunity to hone critical thinking, writing, and presentation skills. Students also have a practical experience that clearly demonstrates their ability to take risks, think through complex problems, and present possible solutions. Those are skills that future employers and graduate schools need and want.”

Michalek, an aspiring college professor, said the skills he developed at the convention will certainly carry over into his career, but they will also help him in more basic interactions. “Just the general idea of building critical thinking and being able to process those things will help me as a family member in the future, or even as a community member,” he said. “So I think I can apply it all over.”

Michalek said one of his biggest lessons from last year’s presentation was to better market his ideas. “It was interesting because I had to compete with other people to pull people toward what I was interested in and kind of develop that mutual interest, so I would say that’s a skill that really improved last year,” he said.

This year, he hopes to sharpen his critical thinking skills.

“I’m really looking forward to fielding some questions that are difficult for me to answer, that I actually have to think about and come up with a good answer and maybe even under nerves,” he said.

Michalek added that he values the chance to interact with people outside his field who ask questions from different perspectives.

“Especially this year, having done it once before, presenting is opening up what I’ve been studying maybe on a more personal level to an audience that can interact with it and interact with what I’ve been thinking and give me feedback more than just kind of the standard grade,” Michalek said. “And since we don’t have a lot of those opportunities to present things here at our university, it’s really valuable for me. I really have been looking forward to this almost all year just to be able to engage with people in discussions where people choose to come and they’re not paying or being paid to be there, but they’re just coming there out of fun and out of wanting to learn more.”

Michalek advises first-time participants to embrace the opportunity to develop as presenters and academics—even if it means stumbling a bit.

“I would say not to be afraid to stumble over yourself and mess up because this really is an experience,” he said. “It’s not a grade, it’s not something that is finite that is going to have an absolutely detrimental effect if you screw up, but by working through issues and finding those questions that are difficult to answer, I think that will help people in their studies and in their future.”

The poster and oral presentations will take place in the Kirkhof Center and Henry Hall Atrium from 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., with the keynote lecture by Jonathan Gottschall, a professor in Washington and Jefferson College’s English Department, to follow at 6 p.m. in the Kirkhof Center room 2204.

To learn more about Michalek’s English project in dangerous writing, look for his presentation at Wednesday’s event. For more information about the other 400-plus projects on display this year, check out the 2013 abstract book online on GVSU’s Student Scholars Day page.
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