41st annual Undergraduate Research Symposium at Eastern Michigan University was a ‘beautiful virtual experience’

overhead view of animated pavilion space
The 41st annual Undergraduate Symposium featured 177 presentations and projects, including this one in the Design Expo, by Afton Reich.

YPSILANTI – Despite the unprecedented challenges presented by the pandemic, the 41st annual Undergraduate Symposium at Eastern Michigan University was “a beautiful virtual experience,” organizers and participants say.

The event, held on Friday, March 26, included 186 students with 177 presentations, under guidance of 103 faculty mentors. 

“The students were phenomenal,” said Amy Bearinger symposium coordinator and a lecturer in the School of Communication, Media and Theatre Arts. “We allowed them to select a live presentation via Zoom or pre-recorded (some had tech restrictions and couldn't do live).

“What was important, though, is that every student had a project page on our virtual platform, which is still up for two more weeks. So even if you didn't catch someone live, you can still interact with the project and give them feedback.”

Being involved in the symposium virtually was really interesting, said Bianca Ramsey, whose project was entitled, “Black Business Owners’ Journey throughout the COVID-19 Pandemic in Washtenaw County.”

Ramsey said this was her first symposium, and that she learned a great deal about how to present a project to the public. “It was really time-consuming because everything is virtual,” she said. “I would recommend to any EMU student to be a part of it, and to gain more experience within the EMU community itself.”

John Paquette, whose project was entitled, “Don’t Be Afraid to Tell Your Stories: The Afterlives of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League," said the symposium was "a great experience and was inspiring and rewarding for people to see my work."

In fact, his research was recognized by the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League Players Association, and Paquette has been invited to one of the women's homes that Ihe featured in his paper.

Afton Reich, who was involved in the Design Expo for the first time, said that “as a novice designer, it was humbling to feel capable of hanging with the big kids and gratifying to contribute my thoughts and ideas to my community through this symposium.

“Additionally, it was exciting to see what passions and research others have poured their hearts into these past two semesters. This symposium gave me a lot of gratitude for the university, and I applaud the faculty and organizers who made this all possible”

A special opportunity under the Zoom format

Bearinger notes that putting such a distinguished, extensive event online offered a distinct challenge.

She started by identifying a large number of online platforms and worked through them until deciding upon Symposium by ForagerOne. From there, organizers had to create a variety of tools to get students prepared and used to the new format. This included preparation workshops, sample project pages, and tutorial videos. 

“While we know attendees might have been hesitant to join yet another Zoom, or figure out yet another online platform, we also know how special it was that they could join us this year from anywhere – literally,” Bearinger said. “I believe that message came through, and it's been wonderful to see Zoom rooms with large audiences and project pages full of comments.”

A special pride in presenting your research

Harriet Lindsay, a professor of chemistry at EMU and chair of the event, said that, even virtually, this is still the best day of the year at EMU for student researchers and their faculty mentors.

“Like graduation, the day is a milestone for student presenters as they publicly present the fruits of months of hard work,” Lindsay said. “It's such a treat to be able to see amazing work of our students from across the disciplines. Their work is remarkable, but what’s most exciting is to witness the pride our students have in presenting to us, to their families, their peers and their professors.”

Along with praising the many volunteers who helped stage the event, Lindsay offered strong appreciation for Bearinger, who took over in 2019 as the event’s coordinator after long and distinguished service in that role by Wendy Kivi.

“Amy built this fantastic virtual event from the ground up and has worked long weeks and weekends to ensure that every student presentation proceeded perfectly,” Lindsay said. “Truly today would not have been possible without her.”

Bearinger noted that, even virtually, the symposium retained its wow factor as the marquee academic event of the year at Eastern.

“I think the awe of the event was still present as people immersed into the research and creative projects, and had the chance to remember just how purposeful, powerful, and positive undergraduate research can be,” Bearinger said.

About Eastern Michigan University

Founded in 1849, Eastern is the second oldest public university in Michigan. It currently serves more than 16,000 students pursuing undergraduate, graduate, specialist, doctoral and certificate degrees in the arts, sciences and professions. In all, more than 300 majors, minors and concentrations are delivered through the University's Colleges of Arts and Sciences; Business; Education; Engineering and Technology; Health and Human Services; and, its graduate school. EMU is regularly recognized by national publications for its excellence, diversity, and commitment to applied education. For more information about Eastern Michigan University, visit the University's website.

March 31, 2021

Written by:
Geoff Larcom

Media Contact:
Geoff Larcom