Student Engagement Forum celebrates RU scholarship initiatives

Radford University's tradition of exploration and discovery continued April 21-23 as campus scholars and their mentors gathered for the 24th annual Student Engagement Forum (SEF).

More than 200 presentations from RU graduate and undergraduate students were featured in the campuswide celebration of original research and faculty/student collaboration. The forum opened festively with the Choro Collectio, a student choreography showcase that featured 11 performances, choreographed by five student choreographers, to an overflowing Albig Studio Theater.

The three-day campuswide showcase of inquiry included studies and projects about such areas as health and human performance, biology, chemistry, nutrition and dietetics. Oral and poster presentation sessions were devoted to psychology, interdisciplinary studies, Appalachian Studies and art history, among other campus disciplines. Twenty one Highlander Scholars and 10 Honors Academy students also presented capstone projects, while 13 Scholar-Citizens showcased their ePortfolios. Special sessions were devoted to diverse presentations on exhibitions as creative research and primate behavior.

At Wednesday's Innovations in Forensic Science oral presentation session, Dominique Ford, a junior anthropology major from Norfolk, presented her first foray into scientific research, a project which compared her nascent ability to identify the ancestry of skulls with the experience of her faculty mentor Donna Boyd in an oral presentation called "Effect of experience on accuracy of metric and nonmetric ancestry estimation methods."

"It matters when you have to stand in front of people and have to be right and ready to be tested," she said. "My first research experience today really helped me appreciate the rigor of the scientific method and what scientists do to prove the validity of their work and themselves."

The process of completing the project was arduous, Ford said.

"I did a lot of checking of my work and my sources," she said. "I learned that one wrong step and the rest of my work could be wrong."

She described one instance where she found she had taken 26 measurements on five skull models incorrectly and had to redo a week’s work. "I had to laugh to keep myself from crying," said Ford.

Caroline Leggett, a senior interdisciplinary studies major from Salem and self-described "bibliophile," said the research and presentation experience had expanded her own sense of her limitations.

"The 20 minutes just spent presenting is the beginning of my lifelong campaign to raise awareness of food security," said Leggett. "I can synthesize information and share it with others so they can become participants, not just consumers."

Haley Whitcraft, a first-year Master of Social Work student from Kansas City, Missouri, presented about the early stages of her project to understand the factors that contribute to retention of social workers in direct practice. In the process, she read stacks of past research, annotated it, created and planned distribution of a survey to the industry and handled the logistics of moving the project forward.

"When you look at problems, they are a smoke screen that you have to ask questions to get past," she said. "Asking why, why, why is crucial to social work."

Event organizer and Interim Director of the Office of Undergraduate Research and Scholarship Joe Wirgau said the SEF was a rewarding occasion.

"It is great to see the ah-ha moments as these students realize they can do this. They realize that they have become researchers, scientists and professionals and are ready for the next step, wherever it might be," he said. "They have pulled together what they have done and are telling their stories. It is a celebration of what we do."

Apr 23, 2015