Student Scholars Day celebrates 25 years of tradition

Rachel Matuszewski

Student Scholars Day is a longtime tradition of allowing students to showcase their research to a lay

Courtesy / GVSU

audience. As the presentations have expanded from standard three-by-four-foot poster presentations to include exhibits, demonstrations, performances and an array of majors, Student Scholars Day has also adapted to a virtual space on their 25th anniversary. 

“One of the things employers are consistently looking for is a college graduate who can ask a really good question,” said Susan Mendoza, Director of Undergraduate Research and Scholarship. “Then they can figure out how to answer that question or get more information that provides clarity on that question. That’s what research is. Employers or graduate schools aren’t necessarily looking for someone who can find an answer in a book. They’re looking for someone who can make observations, pull together complex data, and ask really good questions and pursue the answers.”

Students Scholars Day originally known as Student Research Day, began in the summer of 1995 when the dean of science and mathematics, P. Douglas Kindschi, and faculty members of the science and mathematics division met to create a way for students to share their research findings with a university-wide audience. Since then, the event has been renamed, presentation styles have expanded beyond poster and oral presentations, and now includes all areas of study beyond math and science. 

Due to COVID-19, last year’s Student Scholars Day event was canceled, giving students the opportunity to defer, cancel or transfer their presentation online. This year, the challenge was creating a virtual space for students and faculty that included interaction from the audience. They chose the platform Symposium, where a presentation can be shared for up to two weeks. Members of the audience can pose questions and the presenter can reply even after the presentation is over. 

It mimics that environment of discussion and dialogue in the scholarly conversation in a way that honors the space that we’re in right now,” Mendoza said. “For a lot of folks it’s the social aspect of the event, so we’re trying to recreate that a little bit.” 

Presentations will be delivered synchronously and asynchronously. Recorded presentations will be available April 12-26, with live presentations April 14-15. 

Some students will present in groups alongside peers who are speaking about the same topic. These discussions will be curated by faculty. 

With the change to a virtual setting, students have also had to conduct research from home. Mendoza applauds the students’ dedication, as she recalls one student performed data collection from his home computer while a faculty member set up his experiments in the lab. 

“Students have had to adapt how they do research to a remote environment, so doing it virtually on and off throughout the summer,” Mendoza said. “As we went into quarantine last year, folks couldn’t necessarily get into labs or get into the field and do what they normally would do, so they had to pivot. A lot of people did.”

While some students had to pivot with their project’s research process, others expected the event to shift online, which seemed to take away some of the pressure of public speaking. 

First-time presenter and senior Katie Gardella will be giving an oral presentation titled “Translation Poetry: The Art of Translating Literature in The Age of Google Translate.” Gardella’s research during her independent study with writing professor Amorak Huey revolves around translation poetry. To use her two years of Spanish language courses, Gardella will be recording two poems read in Spanish and English, then relay her struggles and process. 

“By translating poetry, I was deciphering line by line, word for word, and it was a much more intimate process than writing poetry in English,” Gardella said. “I have acquired a new skill, translating, but I have gained a new respect for the craft and the language.”

The basics of the Student Scholars Day event is for students to conduct research independently with a faculty mentor’s assistance or the research is part of their coursework. Some student and faculty pairs have only worked together for a semester, while others have researched alongside each other for years. 

“Professor Huey has been amazing to work with; he has been so patient and helpful throughout the process and is incredibly intelligent in all aspects of poetry,” Gardella said. “I wouldn’t want to do this independent study and project with anyone else.”

Grand Valley State University faculty — and particularly mentors for students participating in Students Scholars Day — have shown an immense level of dedication to their students’ education through their volunteer role.

Over the course of its history, 104 faculty members have served on the committee, some of them for multiple consecutive years. Since 2014, 878 individual faculty have mentored students, which makes up over half of all GVSU faculty. 

Ross Reynolds, a professor of physics at GVSU, has served on the committee for about 23 years. 

“The most rewarding part is getting to know students at a deeper level, learning about and helping them realize their hopes and dreams,” Reynolds said. “We get to know students a bit as an advisor, but you really get to know them when you work together on a project. Those are the students who keep in touch, sometimes invite you to their weddings, and often look you up after 20+ years to tell you how they’ve been and what they’ve been doing with their lives.”

Along with the presentations, the Student Scholars Day will have two alumni plenaries on the ways research, creative work, and how a GVSU experience can provide a foundation for life and a career without following a traditional path. Micheal Dykstra and Littisha Bates will speak on the advantages of taking a non-traditional path and facilitating change in a meaningful way. 

“As a very proud lifelong Laker, it is my plan to share my Laker story,” Bates said. “Specifically I will discuss how important the GVSU community and programs such as McNair and Student Scholars Day were to my current success. I will also focus on widening our view of what success looks like in our research and careers. I will also encourage students to find ways to utilize what we learn from research and or scholarly activities to advance the public good.”

Additionally, two faculty members of Michigan State University from the Scholars Network will discuss how to convey your research to policymakers or the public. 

Although the Student Scholars Day may not look the way it has in years past, it is still a way for students to present their complex ideas to a lay audience. It can provide students with the confidence and experience they need to share their research with the public.