Each spring for the past 24 years, Heidelberg hosts the Minds@Work Student Research Conference. It’s a great way for students to dig deep into topics they’re passionate about and practice their research and presentation skills. And each spring, the conference continues to grow.
In April, 130 students gave presentations, representing a broad base of academic disciplines. A faculty committee oversees the conference, and students also have important organizational and leadership roles. Hannah Kohne, ’17, put her best organizational and communication skills to the test as the Minds@Work student coordinator.
“My skills have definitely grown through the whole experience, overseeing such a large event,” said Kohne, an athletic training major who also presented her research about traumatic brain injuries in military personnel. “It was a little stressful, but everything went really well. Honestly, I was really proud of it.”
Each student works with a faculty sponsor to prepare and present their research. Three of those pairings reflected on their collaborative experiences and how the connections made their work better.
Colin Higgins, '17, spent 11 months studying abroad in South Africa. His presentation, Battling a Culture of Impunity: Solutions for Gender-Based Violence in Post-Conflict African Societies, began as a short paper for Dr. Marc O’Reilly’s political science class. Now? His work has extended over 40 pages.
“Well, it started as a five-page assignment,” Higgins laughed. “I was just genuinely intrigued by the subject matter. I pitched presenting it at the Capstone Seminar and (O’Reilly) said yes.”
“I always look for enthusiasm in my students,” O’Reilly said. “If you’re enthusiastic about what you’re researching and writing and will be speaking about, you’re going to do better work.”
In addition to the Student Research Conference, Higgins presented his research at the International Studies Association Midwest Conference in St. Louis and at the Pi Sigma Alpha National Political Science Honor Society research conference in Washington, D.C.
Throughout the process and mentoring Higgins for four years, O’Reilly has seen first hand the growth that Higgins has shown.
“There has been something truly special about his intellectual development while he was in South Africa and now that he’s returned,” O’Reilly said. “I think I learn as much from him as he probably learns from me. It’s become peer-to-peer instead of professor-to-student.”
Higgins noted the encouragement that his professor has offered along the way.
“He’s always encouraging whether it’s, ‘Yeah, present it!’ or, ‘You should go to South Africa.’ On the other side of that, he’s willing to tell you to rewrite and fix things. Having both sides is great. I’m a better writer now because of that.”
O’Reilly nodded with approval. “And you certainly are.”
Higgins’ presentation earned him first place in the Ernest and Martha Hammel Research Award competition in the spring.
Dr. Emily Isaacson’s English students took a different path to the research conference. They were tasked with choosing a book, song, poem or literary work and re-examining it through a critical lens. “As English majors, we read things many times,” Isaacson explained. “We want students to reconsider what they already know.”
Junior Rachel Peters chose Villette by Charlotte Brontë, examining the loneliness and reluctance to emotion from the characters.
“I read it over my senior year of high school and thought it was really good,” Peters said. “It seemed like a natural choice to psychologically examine. It had been a while since I read it, so I had to re-read it and pay really close attention.”
What she did is exactly what Isaacson wanted. “She re-read something she already knew with much greater attention to detail. That’s very important to what we do in literary criticism.”
Peters’ paper was not meant to be a presentation. Adapting it to present at the Student Research Conference was a bit of a challenge.
“It was a little difficult to turn a paper, not meant to present, into a presentation. I really just scratched the surface of my research.”
Isaacson loved the ambition that Peters displayed throughout not only her research but in class since her freshman year. “A lot of my experience in working with Rachel is that I just have to give her a push and she goes. I can step in to make suggestions but she was just ready to work and build on it.”
Peters noted that she always feels “balanced” when working with Isaacson. “She gives great feedback without making you feel bogged down. I’m always excited in her classes because she is, too, and it shows in her teaching.”
She smiled and shrugged her shoulders. “It’s hard not to be excited when everyone else is excited.”
Sometimes faculty mentoring goes beyond working on a research project together.
Accounting major Johanna Becker, ’17, graduated this spring despite having only attended Heidelberg for three years. No, she didn’t transfer. She’s graduating in three years with a full-time job already lined up as a financial analyst at Cummins, Inc. in Columbus, Indiana. She credits Dr. Maef Woods for much of her success.
“Last fall, (Woods) told us of a conference for management accounting in Florida. I was like, ‘That sounds really cool but I’m not going to be able to afford to go.’ She told me about a scholarship I could apply for to go.”
Becker applied for and received one of Heidelberg’s Pepsi grants to attend the Management Accountants' Student Leadership Conference in Orlando, where she got her foot in the door at Cummins, Inc. with an internship offer. The internship led to the job offer after the summer.
“I’ve been trying to encourage students to go to the student leadership conference for years,” Woods said. “She was the first one to go and it was such a positive experience for her.”
Woods mentored Becker throughout her research on the Effects of Virtual Currencies on Accounting, which she presented at the conference. She noted the improvement that she has seen over the years with Becker, including her presentation.
“She has become a lot more confident and there’s been so much growth. That’s really important because her employer is going to be looking for someone who has confidence in their capabilities. It’s an amazing change in those three years,” Woods said.
“I don’t think I’d even recognize myself from year one,” Becker laughed.
She stressed the important role that Woods has played in her time at Heidelberg. “Without her influence, I don’t think I’d have the job I have lined up after school.”
“It’s fun when things like this happen. It’s rewarding,” Woods paused for a moment. “That’s why we do the job we do, to see things like this.”
Becker won the Ohio Region of the American Accounting Association's undergraduate student manuscript competition for her research project.
Two of the busiest faculty members during the conference were Dr. Trevor Bates and Ryan Musgrave, who mentored more than one third of the students who presented this year. While the students are required to participate in Minds@Work as part of their Research Methods course in Athletic Training and Health Science, the actual presentation is the pièce de résistance.
Early on, guiding students to choose topics that are relevant is key, said Bates, former associate dean of health sciences. “We focus on why the research is important, why it’s pertinent to what they want to do and why it’s important to have good practices and good ethical standards. And we give them lots of constructive feedback.”
Their mentoring occurs both in class and outside of it. As student projects progress, it’s up to Musgrave and Bates to challenge them to understand the value of their research to broader audiences. They ask lots of questions and help the students fine-tune their work. “There’s a strong collaboration with us and the students with each other,” Musgrave said. “A lot of peer editing and peer review, critiquing each other.”
The feedback has to be honest and professional. “If we’re hard on you, that means we care,” Bates said. “The way I see it, we’re preparing future colleagues. We want them to get the whole experience, so it’s our responsibility to make sure our collaboration is highly effective.”