Students Participate in Third Annual Academic Festival

News Story: May 6, 2015

University Commons at Sacred Heart University served as a hub for spirited intellectual exchange on Friday, April 24, when 93 students presented their research projects for Sacred Heart University’s Third Annual Academic Festival.

The Venice lagoon, legal gambling and the exercise preferences of school-age children were just a few of the diverse research subjects featured on 55 posters displayed during the afternoon to showcase the students’ hard work. The student researchers (juniors, seniors and graduate students) eagerly engaged with viewers about their methodology and conclusions. Research spanned a dozen disciplines in three of the University's colleges: Arts & Sciences, Health Professions and the John F. Welch College of Business.

Also part of the event were 34 talks in separate classrooms that allowed students to give more detailed presentations and several honors students to fulfill requirements for their studies. The all-day festival concluded with awards for 16 posters judged to be “excellent” or “outstanding” in one of several categories, based on academic discipline and the number of student authors.

The festival has come a long way from its beginning in 2000, when it was limited to students in the College of Arts & Sciences, and the talks were only for honors students, said Professor Marlina Slamet, chair of the poster session. The expanded program, now open to students in all five colleges, has been in place since 2013.

The festival’s emphasis on independent research makes it popular with both students and faculty. Slamet said that working on the projects is excellent preparation for graduate school and enhances students’ resumes.

“It requires hard work, spending a lot of time, dealing with difficulty and working with mentors, most of whom are Ph.D.s,” said Slamet. “This gives them [students] practice in how to present their work to a general audience, how to articulate their research and how to answer questions from visitors.”

Biology/mathematics major Matthew Cole ’15 combined his interests in the environment and statistics with a research project examining how depression waves, often caused by large commercial ships, affect the distribution of certain pollutants in waterways. Italy’s Venice lagoon was the focus.

“I've always been interested in the environmental consequences of human activity,” said Cole, who worked with mentor John Rapaglia, professor of biology. Two graduate students assisted with the lab tests on water samples from the Housatonic River on which predictions were based. Cole conducted the statistical analysis. He also had the opportunity to travel to Venice and assist Rapaglia on an environmental study.

Cole said the research project reinforced his decision to continue his studies next year at Johns Hopkins University, where he will pursue a master’s degree in biostatistics. Capping the festival for him was a poster award for “excellent achievement” in the Natural Sciences category, single author.

Biology Professor Kirk Bartholomew has mentored students at the festival for many years and was happy to be back again this year to work with five students on three projects.

“This is probably the best thing we can do for our students—involving them in what we call real science or experiential learning,” he said. “It’s really rewarding because I get to work with the students one on one."

Several students he mentored have gone on to interesting careers. Two former students are currently working in the quality control lab at Two Roads Brewery in Stratford, one has come back to teach at Sacred Heart and another is a successful veterinarian.

“Most of our research students have very successful lives. It’s one of the things they can do to separate themselves in the job market,” said Bartholomew.

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