Rewarding Research

By Grace Collins '22, April 30, 2022

Whalen Symposium’s in-person return serves as a celebration of student intellect.

On April 11 and 12, hundreds of students filled conference spaces across Ithaca College’s Campus Center for the 25th annual James J. Whalen Academic Symposium. The annual symposium allows students from each of the college’s five schools to showcase and be recognized for their original research.

A total of 242 students, sponsored by 82 faculty members, presented during the symposium. Topics ranged from “Fad Fashion: Overconsumption of the Fashion Industry Through Interdisciplinary Thought” to “Deaf Music Engagement.”

Administered by the Office of the Provost, this year’s iteration of the Whalen Symposium — the first in-person symposium since 2019 — was marked with special triumph. The face-to-face gathering fostered a revitalized spirit of collaboration, as students, faculty, and guests were able to create organic conversations and connections.

“I found it so meaningful to have the opportunity to talk with many students and faculty one-on-one, and to honor their accomplishments as a community, enjoying beautiful spring weather, refreshments and just being together at such a happy occasion.”

Provost Melanie Stein

“The 2022 symposium felt especially celebratory as we gathered in person for the first time in several years,” said Provost Melanie Stein. “I found it so meaningful to have the opportunity to talk with many students and faculty one-on-one, and to honor their accomplishments as a community, enjoying beautiful spring weather, refreshments and just being together at such a happy occasion.”

Megan Plummer ’22 presented at the symposium for the second time. Her research presentation, “The Effects of Precipitation and Seasonal Changes on Microplastics in Six Mile Creek,” was the culmination of semesters of work done in the IC Toxicology Lab. Overseen by Susan Allen, professor of environmental studies and sciences, the lab allows undergraduate students to explore their interests surrounding ecotoxicology — in Plummer’s case, microplastics.

“Being able to present at Whalen is a really cool experience,” she said. “It gives you an opportunity to discuss research that you've been working on for a long time, and you really feel like your research accomplished something when you share your findings with an audience. This project taught me a lot about how capable I am of facing my fears and doing quality work.”

“It was a very special thing for me to participate in the Whalen Symposium. Having an event to promote the cross-curricular sharing of ideas is critical to developing a more complete and progressive worldview.”

Michael Stern, ’18, M.M. ’22

For Michael Stern, ’18, M.M. ’22, the symposium was an opportunity to reflect on the work he’d done to prepare for his graduate conducting recital. In planning the performance, Stern happened upon Song of Hope, a choral and orchestral piece composed in 1930 by Florence Price, a Black female composer. The piece was never performed live in its intended format until Stern took on the incredible feat of “re-introducing it to the world” at his recital.

“As a white male graduate student, I felt incredibly ill-equipped and afraid to be the leading voice in bringing this piece to light,” he said. “The text largely centers around Florence Price's experiences living as a Black woman in the deep South – something about which I could never fully comprehend. It was this recognition and understanding, combined with the incredible guidance of my mentors, that allowed me to hold space for Price to be the leading voice, rather than my own.”

During his presentation at the symposium, “An Exploration of Allyship Through Music,” Stern spoke to the extensive research that went into the musical decisions he made when conducting the piece, as no recording exists to serve as a guide for what Price intended Song of Hope to sound like.

“It was a very special thing for me to participate in the Whalen Symposium. Having an event to promote the cross-curricular sharing of ideas is critical to developing a more complete and progressive worldview,” he said. “I was also reminded that there are students across IC who are so deeply invested in their research. It sounds like a silly thing to say, but when we’re focused so intensely on what we're doing, we often forget that there are other people in the world giving the same energy to something that interests them.”

“The incredible diversity and quality of the projects this year vividly demonstrated the importance of hands-on active learning to the Ithaca College student experience.”

Melanie Stein

While Plummer and Stern completed their projects alone, other students worked in teams to deliver their collaborative research. One such project, “Outdoor Play for Children with Ambulatory Disabilities: A Scoping Review,” was done as part of a graduate thesis project for students in the occupational therapy program.

The team worked to investigate accessibility to outdoor play for children with ambulatory disabilities and/or mobility device users and plans to continue their research in the next school year through observations and interviews at wheelchair-accessible play spaces in the Ithaca area.

“Being a part of Whalen was a fantastic experience. It was awesome to showcase our project to faculty and students, both in and out of the OT program. It gave us a really good idea of expectations for similar research projects, and it was also really incredible to see what other students throughout IC are working on,” said team member Emily Lighthall ’23.

After all posters and presentation were evaluated by a panel of 50 judges, 14 students received awards for their research.

“The Whalen Symposium, which celebrates student engagement in research and creative activity, along with the dedication of the faculty and staff who support these endeavors, is always a highlight of the spring semester,” said Stein. “The incredible diversity and quality of the projects this year vividly demonstrated the importance of hands-on active learning to the Ithaca College student experience.”