Zeki Salehi explains research about on-campus living to Professor Jim Leaman (left) during the April 18 Academic and Creative Excellence Festival at Eastern Mennonite University. His partners on the project were Leigh Lumsden and Micah Boyer. (Photo by Jon Styer)

Second annual ACE Festival showcases student research, learning and creativity

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A few friendly faces in the audience helped senior social work majors Eliana Tejedor and Jakya Jones through their presentations during a session on Virginia legislation at Eastern Mennonite University’s Academic and Creative Excellence Festival last week.

Tejedor’s husband and mother-in-law took off time from work to hear her speak about the Equal Rights Amendment, a bill she followed as part of a project for Professor Carol Hurst’s social policy class.

From left: Maria Yoder, Isaac Stahly-Dahl ’18, Caroline Lehman, Jacinda Stahly-Dahl ’18, and Erin Brubaker perform in the campus center during the morning break. (Photo by Jon Styer)

Jones, too, had familiar listeners. “I’m a Community Assistant, so some of my hall came out to watch,” she said. “But it’s not hard to talk about something you’re passionate about.” The senior, who will graduate May 5, hopes to work with juvenile offenders and shared about the experience of lobbying lawmakers against solitary confinement.


In its second year, the spring semester festival has blossomed into a university-wide showcase of STEM and humanities research and arts performances and exhibitions.

Clemson wildlife conservation professor Drew Lanham provided the keynote address on Wednesday evening, highlighting the event’s interdisciplinary focus through his own thematic attention as a writer and poet to issues of conservation and social justice. (Listen here.)

The following events ranged from the quirky and fun STEM Games Quiz Bowl to a senior art show and a concert. Approximately 80 students were selected by a committee to give oral presentations in themed sessions moderated by faculty members. More than 100 students participated in poster sessions describing research and projects across all disciplines. Exhibits and performances involved 90 students. [See poster session winners.]

The day also featured a pre-premiere of a documentary about slain UN armed group expert M.J. Sharp ‘05, produced over nearly two years by seven students who began the project in a documentary video production class taught by Professor Jerry Holsopple and continued their commitment  after the course ended. His father John Sharp attended the screening.

Research foci show student engagement

Many students chose to focus their research on aspects of their curriculum or campus infrastructure, noted Provost Fred Kniss.

“This high level of interest and attention says to me that EMU is a community where students know they are valued and their work can make an impact,” he said. “Our faculty, too, are helping to create spaces where intellectual curiosity is rewarded and where their own practices can be influenced in ways that mean our students’ impact is present here long after they graduate.”

A sampling of such related projects included senior Dylan Grove’s design of a subsonic wind tunnel for the engineering department; senior Mario Hernandez’s research into retention in EMU STEM programs; and several senior environmental sustainability capstone projects focusing on Park Woods.

Junior Anastasia Dronov conducted research with Professor Tara Kishbaugh into how chemistry students used (or didn’t use) the arrows of the Electron Pushing Formalism. Dronov, a chemistry tutor, joined the project not only to puzzle out a pedagogical problem and hopefully develop a new instructional strategy, but because she also knows teaching will be a big part of her future career.

“Doctors have to explain a lot, and if they do it well, the patient is much better off,” she said.

Dylan Grove, a senior engineering major, talks about the design of a wind tunnel for teaching use in the EMU engineering lab. (Photo by Jon Styer)

Skill building for the future

Nursing professor Laura Yoder said that the oral presentations and poster sessions provided opportunities for students to practice skills they would need in their professions or in graduate school, but also to share with the community.

She moderated a session with five students telling of clinical experiences linked to the nursing department’s Sacred Covenant Model, “touching on themes of justice, presence, empowerment, service and agape love.” This was followed by a more traditional research-oriented presentation on pain management.

Extra chairs were brought to accommodate the crowd, which included students at all stages of their nursing education, from those in the application process to join the program to pre-clinical nursing students, seniors ready to graduate, and family members and friends.

“Events like this offer students a chance to pull the conceptual pieces of their learning together and share them with the community,” she said. “And we connect in unique ways. One family member said how meaningful it was to hear the balance of art and science reflected in the two very different presentations.”

That is one goal of the ACE Festival, said Kniss. “We hoped this event would showcase the riches of a liberal arts education, and our students have rewarded us all indeed. If you missed it this time, mark your calendar for next year!”

The next ACE Festival is April 16, 2020.