Natalie Doughty's talk in Olin 157 Enrica Maffucci '10 takes notes during Natalie Doughty's talk in Olin 157.

It was a day of profound moments, of finding out even more how deeply fascinating the world really is, when for a full day Whitman College students at the annual one-day Undergraduate Conference lectured in their areas of expertise, presented research results, performed and debated at various venues on campus.

2009 Undergraduate Conference
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Conference topics ran the gamut from the sciences – such as student Jessica Bruhn’s work on studying multiple sclerosis through a myelin basic protein-actin fusion protein – to topics in mathematics, humanities, arts and social sciences. And the event included musical performances.

The day went from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.; students, staff, faculty and visitors traveled from venue to venue trying to take in as much as possible. There were lectures on research conducted in the Ecuadorian Andes on the changing culture and practices there, the effects of brain-age on the cognition of older adults, interactive languages in music software, the political conservative path, political activism in poetic works of Latino prisoners, problems in music editing and publishing, evolutionary relationships among the Stiletto snakes, and on and on through the liberal arts realm.

Students also exhibited posters of their research projects and findings in Cordiner Hall’s expansive lobby, an opportunity for people to informally question and converse with students about their work.

Kate Ceromsky ’09, a philosophy major, said that the Whitman campus is such a friendly non-competitive atmosphere that when students attend the conference and experience the depth of expertise their friends in other majors have it’s incredibly impressive.

LunchLunch is served on the Reid lawn

And motivating.

Carson Burns ’11 said he had always liked philosophy but had never taken a class. Now, after hearing a friend give a talk on the “metaphor as a window into mind,” he, like other students have remarked, was not only taken with the friend’s level of knowledge on the topic, but now is also motivated to take a philosophy class.

Whitman College President George Bridges said visitors he spoke with “were as impressed as I with our students’ work, their engagement in their sessions and the Conference, and the commitment of the campus community to fostering student research and creative performance.”

“I was particularly impressed by the quality and depth of questions that students addressed in their projects, their consistently strong presentations and performances, and the levels of attendance by students, family members and, of course, faculty and staff,” he said.

Among the many people he thanked for the conference’s success were the Whitman faculty “for capably advising our students, for challenging them intellectually, and for enabling them to produce such compelling and interesting projects.”

“There’s so much creativity,” said George Kiskaddon of Berkeley, Calif., who was taking in sessions with his wife, Sally. Their daughter, Erin, will begin her first year at Whitman in the fall, possibly majoring in biology. Kiskaddon, a bookstore owner, said Erin chose Whitman because of its reputation and because of the experiences of several friends and a family member who are alumni.

Doug and Carol Kerr traveled from Larkspur, Calif., to listen to their son Alex Kerr ’10, a sociology major, give a presentation on Chicago’s blue collar work force’s woes.
“It’s intrinsically interesting to see your student in this setting,” she said.

Kerr thought they would learn more about his participation in the college urban studies program this way, instead of “just asking him.”

Julia Schroeder ’09, majoring in psychology, said seeing the conference when she was visiting Whitman as a prospective student helped her decide to come to Whitman.

“This is a great chance to get students to present research, and it has more meaning than just handing in a paper that you see and your professor sees and maybe a couple more on your committee,” said Schroeder, whose presentation was on her thesis, “Pigeon’s Reaction Time in Delayed Matching to Sample from Series.”

“After all that effort, it shows that your work has a point,” she said.

“Other small colleges talk about students doing research, but you don’t get to see what they are doing and how many students really do research,” Schroeder said.

- Virginia Grantier and Lenel Parish

Aisha FukushimaAisha Fukushima answers questions about her poster in the lobby of Cordiner.