May 28, 2009 in Washington Voices

Students present fruits of labor

Growing EWU symposium provides audience for research, creative works
Ryan Lancaster Correspondent
Ryan Lancaster Special to photo

Four EWU engineering students created this bike from 98 percent paper products for the Human Powered Paper Vehicle competition in April. Team Rolling Papers explained the process at last week’s symposium.Special to
(Full-size photo)

In a two-day whirlwind of higher learning, Eastern Washington University held its 12th annual Research and Creative Works Symposium last week, showcasing the efforts of hundreds of students.

With the help of faculty mentors, students presented their work in front of community members via writing, artistic display or oral presentation. Projects were judged by about 50 faculty members, student services personnel and administrators who weighed qualities such as presentation style and how well presenters responded to questions.

Multiple first- and second-place awards were given for research posters, research oral presentations and creative presentations.

First established through the McNair scholarship program, which works to get first-generation students into doctoral research, the symposium has since evolved to include all areas of campus.

Symposium coordinator Jamie Litzkow said other schools, such as the University of Washington and Washington State University, hold similar events, but Eastern’s is the longest running in the state.

From just 71 entries in 2002 to 285 this year, Litzkow said there has been a steady rise in student involvement as well as community interest. “It’s a huge event,” she said. “Over 3,500 audience members attended over two days last year.”

On May 19, a creative works session featured art exhibits, theater presentations and music and film productions. Undergraduate Brandon Bogaert displayed his stage-design work for the play “The Dark at the Top of the Stairs.”

“It took all year to do this,” said Bogaert, referring to poster board covered in blueprints, graphic designs and lighting specifications. “I read through the script, found what its needs were and laid out a ground plan.”

Marvin Smith, chairman of EWU’s Department of Media, Theatre and Film, said the symposium offers a valuable showcase for students’ work.

“Not a lot of people usually get over to this side of campus,” he said.

“Usually the only ones who see what we’ve done are other people in the art building,” agreed Alyse Homan Walker, a junior art student. Homan Walker presented her painting “The Devil’s Reject,” a representation of serial killer Fred West with a bubblegum-pink background and colorful bubbles.

“My primary interest is to create works that offer opportunities for the viewer to see serial killers as human beings, not just the ‘devil’s rejects’ of society,” she wrote in an abstract about the piece.

May 20’s sessions focused on academic research, with graduate students and undergraduates holding forth on topics as varied as the collapse of the Athenian Empire and the effects of phone texting on verbal skills.

Several rooms in EWU’s Senior Hall accommodated 20-minute oral presentations throughout the day. Posters showing research findings were on display in two additional rooms.

Senior Chelsea Clinton exhibited her poster “The Sports Attraction,” which examined whether colleges with successful sports programs attract more applicants than those without. “It was a challenge to collect the data … It took about 10 hours to actually make the poster, which was tedious, but it’s cool to see the results.”

Justine Kondo, an undergraduate who presented a discussion of Turkish media, said she couldn’t have done it without her faculty mentor, who persuaded her to take part.

“I said, ‘I don’t want to, it’s scary,’ but he was supportive,” she said.

Kondo said her time in front of the audience was “the most nerve-racking moment of my life, but satisfying now that it’s over.”

After presenting for the third year in a row, senior Matthew Holmes said the symposium offered him a chance to increase his confidence, among other things.

“It’s a way to connect with people outside of academia,” he said. “It’s important for students to take it further than the classroom and to get recognition for their work.”

John Mason, EWU provost and vice president of academic affairs, said the event shows students they don’t need to wait for a degree to start taking part in research.

“What makes you a good researcher isn’t the letters behind your name, but an inquisitive mind,” he said.

Coordinator Litzkow sees the symposium as a way for students to showcase their work, but also as a way to showcase the school itself.

“We have a lot of great faculty at the top of their game in their fields who are mentoring these kids and getting them prepared for the real world stuff,” she said. “If more people knew that, then more people would probably come here.”

Reach correspondent Ryan Lancaster by e-mail at

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