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Students Present Top Papers in Research Symposium

April 22nd, 2010

By Carissa Davis; pictures by Art Cox

CONTACT:  David Halbrook
Patrick Henry College
(540) 441-8722

Senior Rachel Blum presents her paper, winning third place in the 7th Annual PHC Research Symposium

Last Wednesday evening, students took a break from their busy, pre-finals schedules and trickled into classrooms to listen to their colleagues present original research projects in the 7th Annual Patrick Henry College Research Symposium. Almost every spring semester at PHC, students have the opportunity to showcase their very best academic work in front of peers and faculty. They distil months of work and sometimes more than 100 pages down into a ten-minute presentation, competing for a modest cash prize. This year, fifteen student participants presented their papers in front of a panel of faculty judges and answered questions and critiques regarding their work.

“It’s what we do over lunch in a more official, recognized, and organized fashion,” said student participant Colin Cutler. “I enjoyed doing it, and I think the panel and audience enjoyed hearing it,”

Each student was questioned and judged by a panel of three faculty members. The first prize went to senior History major Matthew Exline and his paper “Of Book and Window Drapes: Desegregation of the Purcellville Public Library (1956-1957).” Second place went to Cutler’s “Our Germanic Heritage in Literature,” and senior Rachel Blum earned third with “Before the Telescope: The Chain of Being as the Model for the Integration of Faith and Reason.” Each of the three papers earned a $100 prize.

Faculty panel of Dr. Neil Doran (background), Dr. Stephen Baskerville, and Dr. Mark Mitchell (foreground) judge presentations.

“The Research Symposium is meant to showcase student work and give students the opportunity to gain experience in presenting their work,” said Dr. Mark T. Mitchell, Associate Professor of Government. “This is something that many people have to do professionally, so it’s good experience.” Dr. Mitchell served on one of the three panels of judges.

Other paper topics ranged far and wide, from voting analyses to child development to the origins of oceanic plankton. Julie Smyth, a sophomore journalism major, presented her paper entitled “The Hydrodynamic Implications of Parallel Evolution and Planktonic Foraminifera.”

“I wanted to communicate the excitement of the project with the audience,” said Smyth. “It was fascinating to do experiments with Dr. Doran.”

Participants in the Symposium found faculty members to sponsor their research projects. Smyth began her research back in March and estimates that she spent at least thirty hours experimenting and putting together her presentation.

“The faculty sponsor serves as a gatekeeper and an advisor,” said Dr. Mitchell. “The gatekeeper assures some level of quality in the papers. The faculty member also makes himself available to advise the student on presenting.”

Dr. Mitchell sponsored two research projects: “The American Imagination” by senior James Barta, and Rachel Blum’s third-place paper.

According to all reports, the year’s Research Symposium was a success.

“The students were prepared and did fine work,” lauded Dr. Mitchell.

Cutler appreciated the value of the Symposium: “For someone wanting to go into academia, participating in the Research Symposium is somewhere between extremely helpful and absolutely necessary. It is preparation for the presentation and defence of one’s Master’s thesis and, eventually, for the entrance into the Great Conversation.”