The Colgate Scene
July 2006

Engaging minds, celebrating discovery

Students discuss their research during a special end-of-the-year poster session in Starr Rink, part of the first-ever weeklong Celebration of Undergraduate Research and Creative Works held in late April. [Photo by Timothy D. Sofranko]


The art of expression
Two seniors who had final projects displayed at Little Hall during the annual art and art history exhibition also gave formal oral presentations for the Celebration of Undergraduate Research and Creative Works.

Near the end of the second annual Arts and Humanities Student Conference, organizer Brian Hinrichs '07 stepped away from the discussion to reflect on the goings-on at Lawrence Hall.

"[It was] just students engaging in intellectual discussion on a Saturday afternoon for the fun of it, and I couldn't help but think: `Wow, this is kind of cool.'"

On the same April day, just down the hill in Brehmer Theater, other students were learning the importance of collaboration through a series of plays they directed, designed, and performed.

Three days earlier, Sarah Mattes '06 discovered something new about herself. The art and art history major gave a formal oral presentation about her mixed-media artwork that was on display at Little Hall.

It was the first time she had been asked to talk about her art that way.

"Prior to that moment, I had not realized how much confidence I actually have in terms of my own work," she said.

The day after Mattes's presentation, over at Starr Rink, 34 students made poster presentations to the campus community, discussing everything from large carbon isotope fractionations in apatite, to superconducting circuits, to regulatory mutations in cystic fibrosis patients.

The thread tying these events together? The university's first-ever Celebration of Undergraduate Research and Creative Works, held April 16-23.

By combining new opportunities for students to make formal presentations about their projects with more established events such as the annual senior artwork exhibition, organizers were able to put on full display the breadth of the university's offerings.

The end result was a week of creative discovery and intellectual engagement.

"It's important that we not only provide a campus venue where we recognize students doing exceptional work, but that we also offer a way for them to share that work. Research must undergo a review process in order to create a base of knowledge that others can expand," said Mary Jane Walsh, coordinator of undergraduate research.

Plus, students said, it gave them a chance to show off.

"An event like this is an opportunity to show your friends and colleagues just how exciting the work you have done for so long really is," said Levi Benson '06, who presented a poster on his molecular biology research at Starr Rink.

The students presenting at the rink represented a wide range of academic departments -- a key goal of the organizers -- including art and art history, educational studies, geology, history, biology, chemistry, and political science.

Several students had recently presented their work within their departments and at national conferences.

Laurence Donahue '06 studied amino acids and carbohydrates found on the surface of cell membranes. Working with chemistry professor Ernie Nolen, he examined ways to create stable "mimics" along the membrane, outside the cells.

The research could help in the creation of drugs that would prevent viral infection and inflammation.

In March, Donahue gave a similar poster presentation at a meeting of the American Chemical Society in Atlanta. In talking with undergraduates from other universities, he learned that they often work in groups of 15 or more.

In contrast, at Colgate, he and just two other classmates were able to work with Nolen on more of a one-on-one basis. In fact, he co-authored a paper with Nolen that appeared last year in the journal Organic Letters.

"It's definitely been a good experience," said Donahue.

Eight student presenters shared their academic papers and other projects at the student-run arts and humanities conference titled Creating Identity: Representations of the Self, held in Lawrence Hall.

Hinrichs said it was extremely helpful for the students, including two from Dartmouth and one from the State University of New York at Geneseo, to see what others were doing.

"Especially for seniors who presented their theses, having feedback from their peers in the final stages of that process left them not only feeling reassured in the value of their work, but also with new ideas to explore," he said.

There were times, such as when the group was discussing a presentation about the dialectic approach used by Freud in his later writings, when the group pushed past its time limits.

That was fine with Hinrichs.

"It didn't matter how familiar you were with the material at hand -- everyone was able to find an application in their own field of study. This often led us on great tangents, but I think that is the purpose of the discussion period -- to explore new avenues with the concepts put forth by the presenter."

O'Keeffe is director of web content at Colgate.
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