Learning by Doing

Posted on September 1st, 2009 by

With assistance from the Student Conference Travel Program, Jason Schultz was able to attend the 19th Winter Fluorine Convention in Florida.

With assistance from the Student Conference Travel Program, Jason Schultz was able to attend the 19th Winter Fluorine Convention in Florida.

By Hanna Schutte ’11

What do a health and exercise science major’s research on protein supplementation and muscle strength; an English major’s presentation “Breakfast of Champions: A Marxist Lens”; and a psychology major’s research on fear processing during binocular suppression have in common?

They each were recently chosen for presentation at academic conferences through the Gustavus Student Conference Travel Program. The program, which began about 10 years ago, is very active today.

The program was designed to supplement the limited academic departmental funds for research presentations and also to more evenly distribute funds among different academic disciplines. “We decided to supplement the money, and centralize the process to cover more expenses,” said Mariangela Maguire, Academic Dean.

Students had been and continue to be able to attend the broad-ranging, respected, annual National Conference for Undergraduate Research (NCUR), but now more options exist. Students are able to present at more specific, topic- or discipline-based conferences.

In the past year, student awardees have traveled throughout the country to present their independent or collaborative research. Jason Schultz, a junior ACS chemistry major, attended the 19th Winter Fluorine Convention in St. Petersburg, Fla., in January 2009. His presentation was titled “Preparation of Fluorous Ponytail Primary Phosphines Via Phthaloylphosphide Ion”. Despite the fact that he was the only undergraduate student in attendance, he won an award for his poster.

“About 90% of the conference you could get something from, and about 10% was valuable to my own research,” he said. “The trip was expensive, and if it hadn’t been for the Student Conference Travel Program, as well as donations, I wouldn’t have been able to go. At first I thought it would be out of my league, since there were industrials, graduate students, teachers, and even private investors there. However, I learned a lot at this conference, plus it was great networking. Providers are much more willing to donate compounds if they have met the student and can see where their efforts are going. In the six days of the conference, I learned more than I would have during a J-term. It was a ‘real world’ experience.

Visiting the other side of the country was Rhea Muchalla, senior philosophy and women, gender, and sexuality major and political science minor. She attended the Radical Philosophy Association’s National Conference, which took place November 2008 in San Francisco. She presented a paper that explored the way female dowry presents barriers to meeting human rights standards set by the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights and UN Millennium goals. This research interest grew out of Muchalla’s recent travels in Bangladesh.

Muchalla also had some fantastic experiences while attending her conference. “At the conference I received valuable feedback on my paper, saw many other papers on a variety of socially just topics, and received the opportunity to comment on these papers. In addition, I met many professors in a field I hope to get into, as well as some graduate students. I also met some people I admire very much such as Angela Davis, Charles Mills, and Carol Pateman. I recently decided to attend graduated school at the University of Oregon, where people said they were very impressed with my participation in this conference.

This program shows people outside of Gustavus the excellent and important work in which Gusties are engaging in. “Without the Travel Program, there is no way I would have been able to attend the conference, get my name and my work out there, and meet so many important minds,” said Muchalla.

The last goal on the Gustavus mission statement reads that Gustavus is driven to helping students in “developing mastery of a field of concentration in the context of an interdisciplinary and broad general education.” This program provides students with opportunities that take what they learn in a classroom to a whole new level.

“When students conduct independent research, and then present it to experts in their field, it is the highest level of academic excellence they can achieve,” said Maguire.

This program is designed to give students the opportunity to demonstrate their knowledge of their field for many years to come.


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