The College of Liberal Arts spotlights student research

The College of Liberal Arts hosted Spotlight, an inaugural student research forum, on Tuesday, March 21, 2018.  In the past, UTA students had the opportunity to present research posters and scholarly presentations during a university event, the Annual Celebration of Excellence by Students (ACES).  This year, colleges were encouraged to conduct their own research forums, focused on the unique research and creative activity that is occurring within more specialized academic units.

Les Riding-In, Assistant Dean of the College, Director of Graduate Studies and Chair of the Spotlight Steering Committee said, “We knew that we would include poster presentations, but we also wanted to ensure that all 12 of our departments understood they had an avenue to showcase the diversity of their research and creative pursuits.”

Graduate student Illandra Denysschen moderates while CoLA Faculty Zerita Hall and Dennis Maher serve as panel judges during 2018 Spotlight
Graduate student Illandra Denysschen moderates while CoLA Faculty Zerita Hall and Dennis Maher serve as panel judges during Spotlight.

Conduct of the forum was possible due to the collaborative efforts of the steering committee, 18 faculty members from several different departments who served as judges, and over a dozen graduate students and PhD candidates who volunteered to moderate the sessions. Over 60 undergraduate, graduate and PhD students presented work in varying formats including oral presentation of papers, posters, and renditions. “I think the incorporation of renditions, which includes the spoken word and performances, is what makes Spotlight such an innovative research forum,” said Riding-In.

In the rendition category during the 2018 Spotlight event, students presented works on a feminist collective, materiality in art, the erasure of identity as reflected in an exhibited art performance, and the psychology of magic.

Theatre Arts undergraduate student V Kyle Tyson picutred with Dessa Blue at CoLA's 2018 Spotlight
Theatre Arts undergraduate student V Kyle Tyson picutred with Dessa Blue at CoLA’s 2018 Spotlight

V Kyle Tyson, a fine arts major who is used to performing on stage as a group, presented Human, her collection of poetry and spoken word pieces, written over the last six years. Tyson said that Julienne Greer, a Spotlight Steering Committee member and her professor, encouraged her to enter Spotlight even though her work is deeply personal and she is not used to performing as an individual. Diagnosed with transverse myelitis, a chronic pain illness, Tyson uses a wheelchair and presented at Spotlight with her service dog Dessa Blue by her side.

Human reflects the experiences of people with different abilities, invisible illness and chronic pain illness.  Tyson said, “This is the first time I have shared any of my spoken word pieces with anyone.  I found the experience liberating and I am glad I did it.”  Tyson states that her positive experience at Spotlight inspires her to enter poetry or spoken word events that she has previously avoided.

Students also represented their research in more traditional formats such as poster and oral presentations.   No topic was off-limits, from politics, religion, culture, race, and identity to history, literature, mental health, dating, women, work, and wellness.

Daniel Pichardo, a McNair Scholar and history major, unveiled a refinement of research he presented at a conference in Chicago last year.  During the History and Interpreting the Past panel, Pichardo summarized his research titled The History of Lynchings of Mexicans in Texas, 1910-1920 to one of the largest panel audiences of the day.

Pichardo Presents1
Pichardo presents on the history of lynching Mexicans in Texas at Spotlight

Pichardo said, “It’s a very ugly history so you can say it takes courage to look back and ask questions.  However, I felt I owed it to myself as a Mexican-American to learn more about this understudied, yet vitally important part of history.”  Pichardo admits that his choice of research topic can be emotional, both for the audience and for him as the presenter.  He said, “I think Spotlight is a platofrom that should be taken advantage of.  Through presenting at various research forums I have learned to master my emotions and stick to the facts.  I get better each time I present.”  Pichardo expects to highlight his research during at least two other national forums this year.

DeAnne Roark at Easel
Political Science graduate student DeAnne Roark pictured with her 2018 Spotlight presentation.

DeAnne Roark, a Political Science graduate student, presented at ACES last year and appreciates the opportunity to discuss her work within the college. She described how Spotlight was a good opportunity to hone her public speaking skills through close interaction with students and faculty.  Roark said, “It has been great to toss around ideas and concepts directly with students and professors outside of my discipline who are not associated with my research. It’s an opportunity to get your work ready to be examined by experts in your field that you cannot replicate on your own.” Roark will present an extension of her Spotlight submission, focused on businesses who lobby in countries with minimal to no regulations, at a national political science conference later this spring.

Criminology and Criminal Justice graduate student Michael Mitchell’s Spotlight contribution, But We’re Race Neutral: Juvenile Case Processing and Disproportionate Minority, was well received during the Issues in Race and Ethnicity Panel.  He agrees that conducting the forum within the college is a positive change.  Mitchell said, “I know this is voluntary but I think more professors should push students to get involved in research through Spotlight.”  Mitchell, a Criminology and Criminal Justice (CRCJ) graduate student was encouraged by Jaya Davis, his Spotlight faculty sponsor.  Mitchell will present his findings on the effect of mass incarceration on African-American families, at Virginia State University’s Annual Conference on Social Injustice next month, and during the American Society of Criminology (ASC) annual meeting in November.

Carly Sommerlot Spotlight
Linguistics & TESOL graduate student Carly Sommerlot entertains questions after her presentation of “A preliminary report on five Dayak languages of West Borneo” at CoLA’s 2018 Spotlight on Student Research Forum.

Riding-In said, “I was encouraged by the truly inventive lines of research, project results, and complex applications of research demonstrated in the posters, oral presentations and performances.”  He said that many of the students are sure to be competitive for national awards based on what and how they presented at the CoLA event.  “I trust that this initial forum was beneficial to our students. As we move forward, I really anticipate that Spotlight will evolve as a signature experience for students and attendees to discover how research in the humanities, the arts and the social sciences will thrive in contemporary society.”

2018 Spotlight presenters are eligible to win one of three Dean’s Excellence Awards of $200 in each session category. Winners will be notified this week.  Awards will be presented at next month’s “acCOLAdes” Cermony, the annual college award program. For more information on CoLA’s Spotlight, visit the webpage.

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