The Annual Spring Student Showcase for Research and Creative Inquiry is unlike any other day “off” from regularly scheduled classes on Longwood’s academic calendar.
There’s no sleeping in. Or lunchtime foosball games in the Upchurch University Center. Instead, the campus is buzzing with activity as students, dressed in their best professional attire, carry posters and other paraphernalia around. There is palpable excitement in the air and presenters beam with pride as they show off the culmination of their hard work to fellow students and faculty members alike.
For Josh Walker ’20, a chemistry and biology major, this year’s event—the third annual—was a blur and the farthest thing possible from a day off from classes. The day started in Ruffner with a 10-minute presentation on single-molecule electronics— a preview of his research this summer with Professor Benjamin Topham. Poster presentations, including one on X-ray fluorescence, took him all across campus—with another stop to accept an award for his research at lunch.
The day was a blur of activity for Josh Walker ’20.
“It’s a really great learning experience to have to prepare and then present your research,” said Walker, who began preparing his five presentations a few weeks in advance to get them ready. “It’s good to be able to reflect on what you’ve learned and then spread that knowledge to other people.”
In three short years, the annual spring research and creative inquiry showcase has burgeoned into one of the most-anticipated events on Longwood’s academic calendar. It’s a day without regular classes so students can share their projects with a campuswide audience. The result is a sight to behold: 700 students and their posters, filling almost every nook of public space on campus from Blackwell Ballroom to the new Upchurch University Center, each project the product of an in-depth learning experience under the mentorship of a faculty member.
Such opportunities for undergraduate students are usually rare at other institutions, but they are increasingly central to the Longwood experience— and for good reason. The documented benefits of undergraduate research are far-reaching. Working with faculty on research facilitates active learning and spurs more creativity, better problem solving and stronger written and oral communication. Research is linked to higher grades and three of the most important learning goals for students: critical thinking, information literacy and communication. It is also a way of supporting faculty by providing meaningful mentoring work and helping them to develop their own projects and careers.
“Studies show that undergraduate research is one of the most meaningful and high-impact experiences a student can have, profoundly shaping their learning, their work habits and sometimes even their lives,” said Dr. Larissa Smith Fergeson, provost and vice president for academic affairs. “Students who participate in undergraduate research under the guidance of a faculty member have an almost fundamentally different experience from those who don’t.”
Erica Johnson ’22, a visual and performing arts major, participated in a theatre movement workshop.
FOCUS ON THE ARTS
This year’s showcase included more contributions from the humanities and creative arts than ever before. There were music presentations in Wygal Hall, a theatre workshop in the CSTAC lab theater (above), and studio art and graphic and animation design presentations in Bedford Hall. The LCVA was packed for the oral presentations for the visual arts senior student showcase. And on the balcony in Blackwell Ballroom, which was a hub of controlled chaos and activity throughout the day, artwork from a class that combined art and biology was on display.
At the annual spring symposium, students from every major give oral presentations, perform original compositions, showcase creative writings and display their artwork. Honors theses, independent research, internships, class projects and student-faculty research projects are all on display from Bedford Hall on the southern end of Brock Commons to the Longwood Center for the Visual Arts in downtown Farmville.
Throughout the day students could be seen posing for selfies with their work and smiling while holding up their badges on lanyards dotted with colored pins that represented their various achievements in research and scholarship.
“Students love the experience of getting to see their work and talent on display,” said Dr. Amorette Barber, associate professor of biology and a co-chair of the event. “They feel a real sense of pride when their friends from different majors come see their presentations. It’s a point of pride for faculty as well because they have been working closely with these students all year.”
'Studies show that undergraduate research is one of the most meaningful and high-impact experiences a student can have, profoundly shaping their learning, their work habits and sometimes even their lives.'DR. LARISSA SMITH FERGESON, PROVOST AND VICE PRESIDENT FOR ACADEMIC AFFAIRS
Political science majors Chris Siefke ’20 (left), Ibrahim Kante ’21 and Joseph Hyman ’19 won awards for their research papers published in Longwood’s Incite Journal of Undergraduate Scholarship.
The comprehensiveness of the event is by design, said Dr. Sarah Porter, associate professor of chemistry and the other co-chair of the symposium.
“Our idea was that this would be a conference-like event for all disciplines, all across the university, at any level,” said Porter. “It was our goal that students would register and then spend the day walking around getting to see other presentations.”
Undergraduate students at Longwood are able to begin research projects in their freshman or sophomore years, allowing them to build the type of working, professional relationships with full-time faculty members that aren’t typically common at other institutions.
Mary Zell Galen ’19, a history major with a concentration in public history and a minor in business administration, began asking Fergeson, who is a longtime Longwood history professor, about research possibilities when she was a freshman.
“I didn’t know history research was a thing until I got to college,” said Galen. “I thought it sounded really cool, so I wanted in. It introduced me to a lot of possibilities, and I think research day provides that opportunity for many other students. It introduces them to what humanities research looks like.”
Longwood underscores the importance of the effort by giving it its own day on the academic schedule.
“It is special that Longwood really shows their support for student research and creative inquiry by saying: It’s not that classes are cancelled today. It’s that this is what’s going on in classes today, and everyone should go,” Barber said.
“People were shocked when I presented at these other places and I told them I was a sophomore,” Ibrahim Kante ’21 said. “I feel very fortunate to get this professional experience and exposure to research so early in my college career.”