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The Eighteenth Annual Scholarship and Creative Works Conference Goes Virtual

By: Justin Kresse

The Eighteenth Annual Scholarship and Creative Works conference at Adelphi was held virtually for the first time on April 27 from 9:45 am to 3:30 pm. Last year’s conference had to be cancelled due to the pandemic shutdown. Alexander Heyl, one of the conference co-chairs and an associate professor of biology, said there wasn’t enough time to shift to virtual then. “This year, to provide a safe environment for faculty and students where they could highlight their research and their creative works, we chose to use an online format.”

Nathan George, the other co-chair and an assistant professor in the Derner School of Psychology, noted, “The opportunity as a psych professor to go see what a student in biology is doing or what a student in dance is doing and to really get the full breadth of what’s going on at the university is really exciting.”

He added, “We also really want to provide a space where students can get excited about getting involved in those things.”

Some attendees and presenters found the format of the tabletalk platform confusing to navigate, but the Scholarship and Creative Works Conference was still able to showcase great student work. Screenshot from Erin Mcelhone's presentation provided by Professor Nathen George.

The result was an increase in attendance from 450 at the 2019 conference to about 700 this year – though the number of presenters stayed about the same, showing the pandemic didn’t put a stop to collaboration and research. In fact, this year’s conference brought many positive changes, such as the ability to welcome back alumni who couldn’t participate in last year’s conference and allowing Emily Graslie – the keynote speaker who lives in Chicago – as well as presenters and participants living farther away from campus, to join in the conference. The online format also allowed for an increased variety of people to share their progress and finished work, and receive valuable and encouraging feedback.

The goal of the conference, which used to be known as Research Day, is to celebrate the efforts of students and their professors and expand the classroom learning experience through research. Students are able to build their presentation and communication skills, learn to discuss their work and engage with other scholars, and develop an appreciation for scholarship and what it contributes to society.

This year's conference started off with a few introductions, but the first main event was a talk with Graslie, a science communicator and museum professional. She first talked about her experience majoring in studio art, then her work for the Field Museum of Natural History, and how that allowed her to start the YouTube channel, “The Brain Scoop” and later help with the PBS TV series “Prehistoric Road Trip.” Throughout the talk and the subsequent discussion, Graslie stressed, “Our goal [for her projects] was to demonstrate that scientists come from all walks of life […] and they don’t always wear lab coats.”

It was an important message, especially because of the increased variety of presentations and performances at this year’s conference, ranging widely from dance, poetry, communications, environmental studies and other sciences.

Image of Erin McElhone's performance at the conference, "Not Sexy." Image courtesy of Erin McElhone.

After Graslie’s discussion, there was a quick overview of the “building” layout, a virtual conference center through a program called ePosterBoards. It consisted of virtual tables where participants could present or just talk, with sections for oral presentations, posters and a “lobby.” At around 11:30 am, participants were brought back to the “lobby” for the event to begin.

There was a great variety of presentations throughout the day. For instance, Matthew Mackey read xis poem about the experience of being a nonbinary individual and discussed changing the cultural narrative. Haley Franke created a pre-recorded video that participants could watch individually through the virtual platform – another positive result of the online system. And Dori-Jo Gutierrez, an alumnus, presented her senior thesis, which was a series of songs about female mythical individuals such as Medusa, bringing their stories into new perspectives.

Apart from the big change from in-person to online, another major change at this year’s conference was a switch from the previous judging model to a more relaxed and supportive mentoring model, which many seemed to agree was very positive. With the change to mentors, George said, “We wanted to treat this as coming together to celebrate all students’ work equally, and also to promote all students’ work equally to allow for them to gain valuable insight and practice and really have a good connection with another faculty member who can provide insight into their work.”

George was optimistic, stating how the mentoring aspect of the conference “is something that we intend to keep moving forward.”

Looking at the future, there was hope that the conference could be back in person. Susan Dinan, dean of the Honors College and a mentor at this year’s conference, said, “Having people in person talking about a poster or giving a short paper [allows for] a connection there that is lost when you are on Zoom.”

However, that is not to say that there aren’t aspects of this virtual event that could be brought forward to future conferences.

“People who might not have been able to come to campus could participate – I think it is another bonus,” Dinan said. “I thought the keynote speaker was spectacular, and I wonder if in the future it wouldn’t be possible to have a keynote speaker who perhaps addressed an audience virtually, so you could really get somebody epically awesome, but maybe not have to get them to Long Island to do what they’re going to do.”

Of course, just like any of the other events that had to be moved online this year because of the pandemic, the Scholarship and Creative Works Conference did have a few minor difficulties. Unfortunately, some of the first presentations in the morning had problems – mostly based on participants’ difficulty with the virtual layout. Terrance Ross, a professor in the Communications Department, said, “It was an interface that was confusing to me, but wasn’t confusing. If you live with [it] for an hour or a half an hour, or if you’re just good with newer technology, it would have been very clear.”

This idea was echoed by others: the ePoasterBoards software might have seemed “a little quirky” at first, as Dinan put it, but “once you got the hang of it, it was pretty easy to see where you were supposed to go.”

One part of the planning for the conference that maybe could have been implemented better was a practice run for the presenters. Co-chairs Heyl and George said there was an available practice for presenters to sign up for, but it was not mandatory.

Presenter Mackey wasn't aware of the practices and said it would have been helpful. Maybe, if future conferences are virtual or involve a virtual component, practice could be more widely advertised or even required for presenters. Dinan also said that one student’s computer was not able to run the web software, a problem that can at least be identified during a practice run before the day of the conference.

Overall, however, this year’s conference was certainly a new and different experience. Luckily, thanks to great work by the planning committee, mentors, presenters and everyone else involved, it went smoothly and even allowed more students to present their work in different ways.

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