Undergraduate conference celebrates student scholarship, talent, ingenuity

Friday, Apr 9, 2010

Students

Though class isn’t in session during Whitman’s annual Undergraduate Conference, it’s still a full day dedicated to learning, teaching and scholarly activity.

It’s a day of student presentations of the original work they produce in Whitman College courses, summer internships, study abroad settings and senior theses. And it’s a day filled with oral and poster presentations, interspersed with musical interludes.

Conference sessionClick to view a photo gallery from the Undergraduate Conference.

“I can’t think of another undergraduate college that puts on an event of this caliber,” said Kenn Kochi '13.

“It’s a fantastic day for learning,” said geology major Matt Morris ’13.

“One day of every year at Whitman, the natural academic order on campus is reversed. Students become the lecturers, and faculty, staff, parents, grandparents, fellow students and area residents are the learners,” said Keith Raether, director of fellowships and grants and an organizer of the conference. “The Undergraduate Conference is a unique celebration of student achievement and a tremendous demonstration of the liberal arts learning experience.”

Topics for the 12th annual conference, held April 6, span the liberal arts disciplines. They ranged from Chagas Disease drug development by Kevin Chung ’10, to English major Christine Texeira’s ’10 presentation of her senior thesis on magical realism, to glaciomarine sediment flux in Svalbard by geology major Theo Barnhart ’10, who spent last summer taking samples on the Norwegian archipelago halfway between the North Pole and mainland Norway through a grant from the National Science Foundation.

For Kochi, the musical interlude featuring an arrangement by music composition major Marshal Baker ’10 was the perfect way to wind down after an “absolutely amazing” presentation by politics major Alex Potter ’10. Potter spoke about the normative value of tradition and how it should influence current decisions about the extent of liberties under the law.

Kochi said he felt so lucky to have such an opportunity to hear an intense presentation on political theory followed with a “great performance” by his peers.

Politics major Shannon Flood '11 enjoyed the “non-traditional presentations of academic ideas.” Flood said it was far "more stimulating than reading a paper" to listen to and watch student Timbah Bell ’10 perform excerpts from his environmental humanities thesis written on his travels that included horseback riding in the Canadian Yukon, kayaking on the British Columbia coast, and practicing kung-fu on a California mountaintop in search of the importance of self development over material development.

For student groups such as Whitman Direct Action (WDA), the day provided a great opportunity to publicize their work. Since 2005 WDA has hosted two international biodiesel conferences, co-founded biodiesel cooperatives and resource centers with organizations throughout Honduras and Nicaragua to help marginalized communities grow and produce fuel, hosted a water conference, conducted a comprehensive study in India, and published a "Water Book," which is now a resource for nongovernmental organizations across India. At the conference, WDA members presented findings on Hometown Associations in the Pacific Northwest, which are formed by migrants from indigenous and rural communities in Mexico as a way of financially supporting their communities back home.

“Its awesome to see what others are doing at Whitman,” said John Whiting ’13 after watching Texeira explore the varying uses of magical realism through her original written work. “It is a wonderful opportunity to learn a lot about people and the ideas they have been working on. It also gives friends a chance to come up and say, 'Oh, this is what you are doing these last few months!'”

“Every year the Undergraduate Conference is a perfect exhilaration, and this edition was no different,” said Keith Raether, director of fellowships and grants and WUC coordinator. “The scholarly camaraderie, sustained intellectual exchange, thrilling range of inquiry – all of these traditions produced a terrific result. The number of student presenters increased significantly, several sessions had standing-room-only audiences, and the presentations this year seemed to have a special polish, thanks to the addition of student coaches who helped prepare each panel. The WCTS, Events and Bon Appétit staffs deserve special thanks for their seamless coordination and attention to detail.” 

- Jonathan Goldenberg ’10