Elkin R. Isaac Symposium Returns in Person, Stronger Than Ever
With everything from art to science, this year’s celebration of student research promises to be educational for everyone.
April 11, 2022
By Ariel Berry
The Elkin R. Isaac Student Research Symposium is back in person this year, after being affected by the COVID-19 pandemic the last two years: canceled in 2020 and conducted virtually in 2021. “I think it’s exciting,” says Jill Marie Mason, ’01, director of the library and coordinator of this year’s Symposium. “It’s important to reestablish this tradition, because we’ve now had two classes of students who haven’t been familiarized with this annual celebration.”
The Symposium is an all-day affair, and the 2022 edition will take place Thursday, April 21. The College has presented the event for more than 30 years, and students can participate in two types of presentations: platform presentations, where they discuss their research in front of a large audience and answer questions; and poster presentations, where students create a research poster and informally discuss it with visitors. Some students do multiple presentations, and present for multiple years.
The Symposium promises to be an intellectual extravaganza. “It’s a nice time to meet people from across campus, and mingle with people who you might not see every day,” Mason says. “There’s an excitement in the air that’s always enjoyable, and palpable.”
She points out that students often invite family members and friends to attend their presentations, and community members are welcome to come as well, in addition to other students, faculty and staff. “It’s nice to see the students all dressed up and with their families,” Mason says. “And watching each other and seeing them support each other, it’s fulfilling. I think it’s very rewarding to attend the event.”
Students present across a wide variety of subjects. “It runs the gamut,” Mason says, adding that when many people hear the word “research,” they often think of the sciences. While many presenters are involved in science, the Symposium offers an opportunity for experiencing the arts and humanities, too.
Alexandria Eberly, ’22, an art and art history double major and history minor, is presenting on book arts. Her presentation will be the culmination of last summer’s Foundation for Undergraduate Research, Scholarship and Creative Activity (FURSCA) project, combined with her senior thesis. FURSCA students are required to present at the Symposium, but for Eberly it’s about more than just a requirement.
“I’ll be going into graduate school after Albion, and I felt like the Symposium is a really wonderful opportunity to highlight what I have been doing for the last four years at Albion, and present my culmination of work and research,” Eberly says. “It felt like a good conclusion to everything I’ve been working on.”
Eberly’s work challenges the limits of the form of a book. She wants to “create books that might not immediately be thought of as a book by the viewer if you were to walk into a gallery space and see it presented,” she says. An example is her work “Puddle Book,” a mylar sheet with poetry blind embossed onto it so that the text is almost invisible. When placed on a gallery floor, the “book” imitates a puddle.
Eberly says participating in the Symposium makes delivering research presentations feel more accessible to students. “I think this makes it sort of easy and appealing for students to share their research and get that experience, and learn that it’s not something scary and intimidating, that only professionals do,” she says.
Peter Filbrandt, ’23, a biochemistry and Spanish double major with a concentration in public health, agrees that participating in the Symposium is a valuable experience. “Just being involved in the scientific community” is of particular importance, Filbrandt says. “In my future I’ll definitely be involved in the sciences, and just thinking broadly and answering questions and brainstorming on the spot will help me develop skills that can be applicable and beneficial for my future career.”
Participating as an audience member is useful as well, Filbrandt says, not only to support the students who are presenting, but it can be important to personal development as well. “From attending other talks I’ll get to hear from other students, and learn from their presentations,” he says. “And at the end of the day, learning is the most important part, too, of being involved in any career or profession.”
Filbrandt’s presentation is about hard science with real-world effects. “There are food crops such as tomatoes and wild rice that can be targeted for infection by bacteria, and so it has the potential to be a big problem, especially because so many people around the world rely on rice in their diet to live healthily, so although it might not be the biggest problem right now, these pathogens can potentially disrupt the lives of a lot of people,” Filbrandt says.
His goal in his research is to “develop antibiotics to make the pathogen non-pathogenic so it can’t infect [the plants]. Our project is not going to kill the bacteria, but it will keep it from infecting those plants, in theory.”
Also a FURSCA student, Filbrandt says he is grateful for the FURSCA program and the Chemistry and Biochemistry Department. “All of my research has been funded and supported by these people, so I really wouldn’t be here without them, without the opportunities they gave me,” he says.
Eberly agrees. “FURSCA is the coolest thing you can do at Albion. It’s the most worthwhile thing you can do during your time at Albion, so I think everyone should do it at least once,” she says. For FURSCA students, participating in the Symposium is the culmination of months of hard work.
Mason says that while many of the student presenters are associated with FURSCA or the Prentiss M. Brown Honors Program, “Anyone can do it who’s done research. More students should take advantage of the opportunity because I think it’s a great way to build experience with public speaking,” she says. “We need to keep this alive, because the students work really hard, and we need to celebrate their efforts, and celebrate their scholarship.”