Academic Symposium returns as students travel, learn, grow

Are you a student looking for a place to present or showcase your research, study-away trip or internship experience? Are you a faculty member looking to feel hopeful about the next generation of scholars or maybe just eager to find your name in an acknowledgements section? Perhaps you are looking to get inspired or receive some extra credit for a class by virtue of attending. 

Regardless of the circumstances that brought you there, the Academic Symposium, formerly termed “Port Day,” is a classic Virginia Wesleyan event, occurring near the end of every semester. A conference style event, the symposium takes place over the duration of a single day, whereupon attendees choose which sessions to be at on the basis of their own preferences.

Senior Criofan Shaw was one of the featured speakers, alongside seniors Hannah Carmona, Abby Peterson and Alison Coutu, at the premier session that kicked off the 2022 Academic Symposium on Tuesday, Nov. 29. Shaw talked about the course reflection presentation he did on a class he took while studying at Radboud University in Nijmegen, Netherlands. 

He said the importance of being able to present it “was to show the impact that courses can have on students.” Shaw mentioned how a lot of times, students take classes, learn the information and forget it when it is over. Being able to reflect upon it and realize what he really learned was beneficial.

“It was nice to have that kind of opportunity to share something unique,” Shaw said. 

The Academic Symposium was not limited strictly to presentations. The Robert Nusbaum Center on campus sponsored a Deliberative Dialogue session on the topic of “A House Divided: What Would We Have to Give Up to Get the Political System We Want?” 

Led by student moderators, the session was a collective discussion open to any students and faculty. Options were offered and questions were posed that helped participants to think deeply and critically about what it would take for the nation to work together and find solutions. 

Dr. Craig Wansink, professor of Religious Studies and director of the Robert Nusbaum Center, talked about how the concept of having a discussion like this originated during the COVID-19 pandemic. Adding it as a part of the Academic Symposium was a logical decision for him because the word “symposium” comes from Greek, meaning to drink together and discuss. He said having the Deliberative Dialogue session alongside showcase presentations “just fits in perfectly with the tenor of the symposium.”

Wansink mentioned that a lot of times, people divide up and see issues as two-sided: right and wrong. Having an environment like this where people are forced to listen to each other was valuable to him. 

“It forces you to understand others,” Wansink said. “It encourages people to listen well.” 

Music recitals were an additional part of the symposium, showing how the arts play a part in the accumulation of academic showcases. While it is not a requirement for music majors to perform at the Academic Symposium, a lot of them do because it gives them experience with playing for a formal audience. Junior June Richardson, a violinist who performed Debussy’s Violin Sonata, talked about their experience with this opportunity. 

“When I’m playing in front of people, it’s a completely different experience for me,” Richardson said. “If I want to be better at performing, I just need to do it as much as I can.” 

Rounding out the Academic Symposium was the traditional Academic Fair and Poster Session. The CMAC was filled with 45 students from various majors and programs who presented their research, internship experiences and class projects from the past summer and semester. 

Having submitted designs that highlighted their key points and discoveries, each student had a visual poster to aid in their presentation.

Senior Celine Maharaj talked about what her experience was like having two projects that she presented at the poster session. One was on an internship she did over the summer and the other was a research project pertaining to sustainable solutions for reducing the maternal mortality rate in America. Both related to the healthcare industry. 

“It was pretty stressful having to compile information and do research for two posters,” Maharaj said. “I am deeply interested and passionate about both of them, so it was not as much of a task as it may sound.” 

Being able to talk about her experiences was valuable because it created awareness for her research topics and allowed her to serve as an informant for anyone who was also interested in pursuing something along the same lines in research or as a career. 

All in all, the Academic Symposium of Fall 2022 was a productive event. As Maharaj said, “It is very great for networking, which is a critical aspect to being established in your career field.” 

Students were given the opportunities to talk with each other, faculty members and any other outside community members who attended. It was a place where inspiration and ideas flowed and where the scholarship of Virginia Wesleyan was prominently displayed.

Phoebe Cox