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UMaine 2020 Student Symposium showcases undergraduate and graduate research virtually

The University of Maine 2020 Student Symposium occurred over Zoom on Oct. 2 and featured 270 student scholars presenting work on 130 research projects across multiple disciplines. UMaine is the flagship research university in the state of Maine, and boasts many opportunities for both graduate and undergraduate researchers to be showcased in the student symposium event.

The event started with an opening ceremony featuring statements from multiple university leaders, including President Joan Ferrini-Mundyi and Chancellor Dannel Malloy. Also present to provide opening statements were Ali Abedi, the assistant vice president for research and director of the Center for Undergraduate Research, Kody Varahraymyan, the dean of the Graduate School and vice president for research, and John Volin, the executive vice president for Academic Affairs and Provost. Each reiterated the importance of both graduate and undergraduate research.

“Undergraduates’ experience will be greatly enriched [by research],” Ferrini-Mundy said in the opening ceremony. “We want that experience to be open to everybody.”

Humanities research is central to our lived experience,” McGillicuddy Humanities Center Director Michael Socolow said on the importance of research within the humanities. “It’s inquiry about the human condition, but it’s also artistic expression, and it’s the activities and endeavors we all pursue in different ways — writing poetry, evaluating drawings or paintings, watching movies or reading books and thinking about them critically and how they relate to our existence.”

The McGillicuddy Humanities Center creates many opportunities for students to engage in research within the disciplines of humanities and social sciences and strives to center the idea that research in these areas holds great importance within the greater world of academics.

Following the opening ceremony, the symposium branched into separate Zoom sessions for certain disciplines. In the main room there were technical sessions on topics including effective grant writing, networking and job searching, and UMaine sustainability. The other six rooms were divided into groups of separate disciplines. From 9:15 to 10:15 a.m. students presented on Allied Health/Interdisciplinary Research/Arts/ Education/Business, Biomedical Sciences, and Engineering and Information Sciences. From 10:15 to11:15 a.m. guests could view presentations over the Humanities/Social Sciences, Natural Sciences, and Physical and Mathematical Sciences. 

Within these sessions, presenters were given one minute to summarize the ideas and findings behind their research, and two minutes to answer any questions from the audience. The full presentations over their research are available on the student symposium website.

One of the topics discussed during the Q and A sessions was the impact of COVID-19 on various areas of research. With certain labs and projects being shut down due to the pandemic the completion of some of the research became more difficult. There is speculation about the future of research in some of these disciplines.

One of the award winners in the category for the Arts Research, Rachel Church, noted that while during the pandemic the public has relied on and consumed more art, there was very little compensation for their work. Others noted that their communication with their research groups had broken down and made their process more difficult.

Another session was held in a joint room of Allied Health, Interdisciplinary Research, Arts, Education, and Business. One presenter noted that it was an odd conglomeration of research disciplines which they hadn’t thought made sense until they began to notice the interconnectedness between each of their areas of study.

Following these sessions at 1 p.m. there was a presentation from keynote speaker retired United States Army Staff Sergeant Travis Mills. Sgt. Mills is a motivational speaker and veteran who became a quadriplegic after detonating an improvised explosive device while serving in Afghanistan. He spoke of his experience in overcoming that loss, and the motivation he found in his family. 

Following Mills’ speech was the awards ceremony, introduced by Student Government President Harrison Ransley and presented by Kim Whitehead, the UMaine vice president and chief of staff and Scott Delcourt the associate vice president for graduate students and senior associate dean. Awards were presented to the top scoring graduate and undergraduate researchers in each of the ten categories.

In the Allied Health category the recipients were Rachel Coleman and Sophia Palangas. In the Arts category, graduate researcher Rachel Church and undergraduate researcher Olivia Bradstreet received awards. For research in Biomedical Sciences, undergraduate student Remi Geohegan and graduate students Ashley Soucy and Avery Bond were awarded. In Business Samuel Varga was the top scoring presenter, and in Education Emmaline Richardson was awarded. In engineering the recipients were Daniel Regan and undergraduate researcher Basel White. In interdisciplinary studies Meredith Lewis was awarded for her graduate research, and David Plouff as an undergraduate recipient. In the Natural Sciences recipients were Nicole Ramberg-Bhil and Claudia Desjardins. In Physical Sciences and Mathematics the recipients were Elnaz Jamalzade and Abram Karam. In the Social Sciences and Humanities the recipients were Angelica Boeve and Teagan LaPiere.

The graduate recipient of the Susan J. Hunter Presidential Research Award was Daniel Regan for his research titled “Optimizing Liquid Gated Membranes for Bioaerosol Capture and Release.” The undergraduate recipient of the Susan J. Hunter Award was Teagan LaPiere for his research in the Social Sciences titled “Understanding Veteran Suicides: Differences in Combat Deployed and Non-Combat Deployed Risk of Suicide”.

The Student Symposium remains an important opportunity for UMaine students to present their hard work and creativity across many disciplines. The next UMaine Student Symposium will occur on April 16, 2021.

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