by Sebastian Fischer
Last Friday Bryan history Professor Salvatore Musumeci spoke in front of an audience of more than 80 people in the Bryan College library, admitting that part of him wanted to break down in tears. Clark Rose, professor of psychology and one of many Bryan faculty members in the audience, publicly offered to provide counseling. What was the occasion?
Don’t worry, Musumeci is doing fine. As the co-chairman of the Bryan Center for Undergraduate Research (BCUR), he gave the closing remarks to Bryan College’s first annual Undergraduate Research Conference, titled “Fresh Perspectives in Research.” The reason for his sentimentality was the great success of the conference.
“The quality of the presentations was fantastic, a couple of them were on a graduate level. They were well researched and well presented,” said Musumeci. “We expected students to perform at their highest level, and they either met or exceeded our expectations.”
Throughout the whole day, 18 Bryan students from various academic disciplines presented their papers, featuring research in Biblical studies, Biology, English literature, Spanish literature, History, and Sex & Sexuality, with three presentations in each subject.
The individual topics were versatile and ranged from original lab research to historical research and analysis of literature. Senior Ryan Yontz presented his senior thesis on the zombie apocalypse and its counter-cultural social themes.’
“I was interested in researching about the zombie genre of literature … because within the genre itself are a lot of social themes that encourage humanity to work together … rather than live according to culture’s emphasis of individualism and self-entitlement,” Yontz said.
Initiated by chairmen Musumeci and biology Professor Brian Eisenback, the BCUR encouraged students to send in their abstracts for the presentations with a “call for papers” at the beginning of this semester. More than 30 answered the call and 18 were given the opportunity to present.
“After a couple of weeks at Bryan I knew the quality of our students and knew they could do it,“ said Musumeci, commenting on his motivation for establishing a research conference. “If we’re looking to prepare students for grad school or even for the work force, I believe that they need to be better than the average student.”
Junior Vincent Smith researched on the concept of shame in illicit sexual relationships within modern and postmodern novels, a topic that stirred his interest after an in-class discussion about the lack of shame coming from illicit relationships. While most students presented their senior thesis, Smith researched his topic specifically for the conference.
Smith and Yontz both mentioned the challenge of time-consuming research while still having to complete regular class assignments but were happy and satisfied with the outcome nevertheless.
“I thought the conference was a tremendous success. I loved watching the other presentations, and it definitely ran smoothly throughout the entire day,” Smith said.
Yontz added that the URC was “a terrific idea. It allowed us as undergrad students, who have done some serious research, an opportunity to show our work to our peers and to the faculty.”
While undergrad research conferences are not a new idea, and Bryan College was “a little bit behind the curve” for not doing them so far, according to Musumeci, the aspect that makes Bryan’s URC distinct is that it is interdisciplinary.
“You have dialogue between the disciplines, among students and faculty. That’s really exciting to see,” said Musumeci.
The Undergrad Research Conference will be an annual event. According to Musumeci, Bryan President Stephen Livesay is completely supportive of the project and also trustees were excited by it –good circumstances for a successful future.
“We have got a lot of momentum…and want to keep the bar high to avoid a drop in quality. We also want to integrate more departments and raise more interest from students,” said Musumeci.