Parviz Barraghi shares a research project on photovoltaic cells in the Suter Science Center concourse during Eastern Mennonite University's Academic and Creative Excellence Festival last week. The poster session was one of several activities around campus to showcase student and faculty scholarship and creativity. (Photos by Andrew Strack and Macson McGuigan)

Inaugural Academic and Creative Excellence Festival builds intellectual buzz

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Though surely all professors at Eastern Mennonite University were excited by the inaugural Academic and Creative Excellence Festival on campus last week, new faculty member Sonia Balasch Rodriguez was beaming.

Balasch, who teaches linguistics and Spanish, arrived at EMU in the fall of 2017 with the goal of encouraging scholarly research among her students. On Thursday, three of her students presented linguistics research, including Abigail Shelly’s study of the historical and contemporary use of the word like.

Cerrie Mendoza shares her group’s project on soil health with Professor Jim Yoder and onlooking students.

Indeed, Shelly’s effort to participate was noteworthy: a member of the cross-cultural group currently traveling in India, she made unsuccessful multiple attempts to email a video of her presentation. So it was that classmate Lydia Haggard provided interpretation — in front of a photo of Shelly and Shelly’s poster.

“I am so pleased,” Balasch said. “This is just so exciting to see my own students’ research and their enthusiasm about their work.”

EMU’s inaugural Academic and Creative Excellence (ACE) Festival culminated the academic year with a day-long all-university celebration of scholarly research and creative arts from undergraduate and graduate students, as well as faculty and staff. The schedule included oral presentations, poster sessions, gallery receptions, and theater, arts and music showcases. [Click here to view the schedule.]

“This festival highlights the productivity of our students, faculty and staff around scholarship across all disciplines,” said Provost Fred Kniss. “Good scholarship correlates to good teaching and good student learning. I have been thrilled with the energy and the turnout and the quality of work around campus today.”

Professor Tara Kishbaugh, chair of the Intellectual Life Committee when festival planning began several years ago, noted a major challenge in adjusting the academic calendar. But the committee, currently chaired by Professor Kirsten Beachy, persevered. The celebration was a novel event to join others planned for the university’s Centennial year, and the concept united many different smaller celebrations of scholarship on campus, Kishbaugh added.

Selected nursing graduate students present capstones on issues in public health in a session moderated by Professor Laura Yoder.

“Many of these events, such as the student art shows, senior shows, the STEM poster bowl and quiz session, have been going on for years,” she said. “This festival coalesces them all into a high-energy celebration of scholarly energy across the university. It’s important that today celebrates scholarship and creativity in all disciplines, reaching across all interests and out to all audiences.”

Attuned to the presence of many students not normally in the Suter Science Center, Kishbaugh especially noted the loud chatter as groups circulated through poster sessions in the center’s concourse or stopped to check out engineering projects. “It’s been really nice to see non-STEM students here wandering around and asking questions.”

That cohesive feel of intellectual engagement started with Wednesday evening’s keynote address by Fania Davis, Kishbaugh said.

Davis, a social justice advocate and Woodrow Wilson Visiting Fellow with the Council of Independent Colleges, connected her talk with EMU’s 2017-18 Common Read — Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between the World and Me — and some of the racial justice-focused programming hosted by the university throughout the year. A long-time partner of EMU’s Center for Justice and Peacebuilding (CJP) and founder of Restorative Justice for Oakland Youth, Davis is currently focusing her efforts on furthering truth and reconciliation processes for racial healing in the United States. As part of her Wilson Fellow activities, she also visited several classes throughout the week.

Here’s a brief overview of ACE Festival events:

Emily Augsburger, Jennifer Kuhns, Haley Thomas and Abe Thorne presented on self-care development for elementary-age children, an outreach project for a community nursing class.
  • One-act performance by the advanced performance class;
  • Student-facilitated playback theater session;
  • Performance of The Spitfire Grill, EMU’s spring musical;
  • Showings of digital media class projects;
  • Poster sessions, including the annual STEM poster contest and STEM Quiz Bowl (see winners here);
  • Photo print and portfolio class exhibit opening and student talks by 16 students;
  • Senior art shows and film showing;
  • Faculty authors reception;
  • Selected capstone presentations by graduate nursing, education and conflict transformation students;
  • Oral presentations on the themes of story and memory, contemporary culture and spirituality, race and gender in literature, wealth/poverty and development, and various topics in applied social science and environmental sustainability;
  • Various musical performances.

Staff writer Christopher Clymer Kurtz contributed to this article.