USFSM student research competition takes ‘inclusive’ approach

Student Ashley Metelus makes a presentation during last year's student research symposium.

Student Ashley Metelus makes a presentation during last year’s Student Research Symposium.

SARASOTA, Fla. (Oct. 28, 2015) – Organizers behind this year’s “Student Showcase for Projects, Research and Innovation” at USF Sarasota-Manatee are introducing key changes to make for a more inclusive and rigorous academic competition.

Not only was this year’s event renamed from “Student Research Symposium,” the timetable for competition was pushed back to allow for more preparation by students. The showcase will be held during the spring semester on Feb. 19, instead of the fall.

Additionally, organizers plan to reconfigure the judging panel from a mix of students and faculty drawn mainly from the College of Arts & Sciences to a faculty-only panel representing the campus’ four colleges. Also, students will submit work under six broad categories instead of two to allow for more entries.

“Instead of one big group of judges we’ll have several smaller groups of judges to represent our various academic majors,” co-organizer Dr. Kimberly Badanich said. “That way, students from the same discipline can compete against each other. Plus it’s not fair to ask someone from biology to judge an English category.”

Dr. Elaine Augustine, who’s also organizing the event, said the aim of the changes is to encourage greater student and faculty participation. It’s hoped that expanding the competition to six categories – liberal arts, social sciences, science and math, education, business, and hospitality and tourism leadership – will entice more students to compete. Last year saw about 16 competitors.

“We’re trying to change the number of categories so that any student who had work that is acceptable for the showcase would feel comfortable submitting it,” she said.

The changes don’t end with the event itself. Student winners will be able to visit professional conferences tailored to their specialty. That replaces the previous system of giving winners the option to attend the National Conference for Undergraduate Research, which features an array of event categories and competitors under one roof.

“This way they can choose a conference closer to what they’re interested in,” Dr. Badanich said.

As before, the day-long competition will be held at USFSM’s Selby Auditorium.

Students will be asked to make either oral or poster board presentations based on 250-word abstracts due Jan. 22 at 11:59 p.m. Oral presenters may make use of an overhead projector and include PowerPoint or other graphics in their submittals.

Poster board presenters may use articles, graphics or other research affixed to a poster. In both cases, students must be on hand to present their projects and answer judges’ questions.

“These competitions are important because they promote critical thinking, trouble shooting and problem solving,” Dr. Badanich said. “They also promote cooperative skills. Students may work in teams. At a minimum, they must work under the guidance of a faculty mentor.”

By now, students and mentors should be pairing up to discuss projects, she said. After submitting their abstracts, students will be notified of acceptance, presentation type and presentation time on Feb. 5. Visit http://usfsm.edu/research/ to learn more.

Dr. Jane Rose, dean of the College of Arts & Sciences, said the event and prizes – trips to professional conferences – are intended both to reward achievement and promote further scholarly development.

“We are giving the students a larger arena in which to have their work evaluated,” Dr. Rose said. “Providing access for our students to share their work with scholars and professionals who will assess it on its own merit, prepares them for the real world. And presenting their work alongside others from around the country can be more instructive than the classroom. It’s more high-stakes and truer to life, the kind of scrutiny they will experience once they leave here for work or graduate school.

“I believe that having such a program does more than encourage our students to perform better. It encourages our faculty to design courses and conduct their teaching in a way that better prepares students to become independent-thinking scholars,” she said.