Junior Aja Laun presents her poster at the seventh annual Academic and Creative Excellence (ACE) Festival on Thursday.

ACE Festival celebrates scholarly research, creative arts

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Swipe through the photo gallery for pictures from the 2024 ACE Festival.
Sophomore Madelynn Hamm presents with her group on Thursday.

Earlier this month, as EMU students Madelynn Hamm, Vanessa Gardiner and Aja Laun pieced together the slides for their ACE Festival presentation, they received some exciting news. The Smithsonian Institute heard about their work collecting traces of salamander DNA and wanted their help.

Over the past two years, members of the project — guided by faculty mentor Professor Doug Graber Neufeld — collected water samples from the streams of West Virginia and vernal pools of the George Washington National Forest to gather environmental DNA on species of salamanders (the common two-lined salamander and the more elusive tiger and hellbender salamanders). Their project is especially beneficial as it uses a noninvasive approach to monitor species distribution.

On Thursday, at the seventh annual Academic and Creative Excellence (ACE) Festival, Hamm, Gardiner and Laun presented on their research methods and findings. Their 15-minute talk was one of 49 oral presentations delivered by more than 85 student presenters throughout the day all across campus — at Campus Center, in Suter Science Center and at Martin Chapel — in the humanities, biology and environmental sustainability, engineering, nursing, political science, education, and more. Topics ran the gamut from managing the invasive species in Park Woods with baby goats (mark your calendars for 9 a.m. to noon, Saturday, April 20, to help clear the brush and pet those baby goats) to the historical and modern context of arsenic dye, lead paint and fast fashion.

Click here to view the schedule.

Throughout the day, more than 120 students presented their research at 65 poster displays spread across EMU’s campus.

Students Mesa Dula, Jansen Miller and Ben Alderfer present their poster on ChatGPT use among EMU students.

One of those posters was about the use of popular artificial intelligence tool ChatGPT among students at EMU. In their research, students Mesa Dula, Jansen Miller and Ben Alderfer found that the majority of EMU students who use the AI chatbot use it about one to two days a week, mostly for generating ideas and brainstorming. About 30% of the 47 students they polled said they did not use ChatGPT at all. Alderfer said he uses ChatGPT often and was curious to see its use among his classmates.

“I think it’s a great tool and I think it’s probably going to become far more prevalent in the next couple years,” he said.

Engineering major Adam Stoltzfus presents on the augmented sandbox.

At another display, engineering majors Lleyton Stutzman, Micaiah Landis and Adam Stoltzfus operated a sandbox. Visitors could create mounds or divots in the sand, and a computer would adjust to the new topography by projecting hills and mountains and lakes and rivers. Landis said the sandbox shows them how water flows down mountains and through valleys, which has applications in studying erosion.

Students used the day off from classes to attend the oral presentations, view poster displays, congratulate published authors at a reception, take in the many music and arts events and get a sense of what everyone’s been working on over the past year.

For students who attend the ACE Festival, it gives them the experience of attending an academic conference, said festival coordinator Diane Farrar. For students who present at the festival, it’s a way to showcase their own research, creative projects, and papers, she added.

EMU President Susan Schultz Huxman, speaking before a keynote address on Wednesday, spoke about the goals of the ACE Festival. The first goal is to recognize excellence in research at EMU. A second goal is to raise the visibility of the diversity of scholarship at EMU.

“And, number three is to validate liberal arts education — to examine the rigor, the relevance, the impact and interdisciplinary richness of research that pulsates from our liberal arts fields in the humanities, fine arts, social sciences and STEM disciplines,” she said.

Speaking of that keynote address…

EMU student Sara Kennel asks author Douglas Abrams a question while ACE Festival chair Kirsten Beachy looks on.

Author Douglas Abrams delivers keynote address

A lot of people might know about Archbishop Desmond Tutu, but few know him as well as Douglas Abrams. The New York Times-bestselling author, who co-wrote The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World with Tutu and worked with him for more than a decade, shared the wisdom he’s gleaned from the Nobel Peace Prize laureate — including how to avoid road rage — as well as lessons from many other luminaries. Abrams co-wrote The Book of Hope: A Survival Guide for Trying Times with primatologist Jane Goodall, which was this year’s selection for EMU’s Common Read. He spoke about the importance of hope in a world that’s suffering and the dangers of despair and cynicism.

“In one study, communal hope was the best predictor of community well-being,” Abrams said. “Hope and despair are as contagious as any virus. Despair turns us inward. Hope sends us into the arms of others.”

During a talkback session following the address, Mary Ann Zehr, who teaches first-year writing at EMU, shared that she had her students read The Book of Hope and that it had resonated with them. She asked Abrams if interviewing Goodall made him a more hopeful person.

“In writing the book, I was able to see this long march through history that we are on and to see the progress we’ve made, and that has been really inspiring,” Abrams replied.

Student artists unveil works at opening reception

Visitors to the Margaret Martin Gehman Gallery on Thursday view the mixed-media portraits from student artist Cassidy Walker.

An opening reception at Margaret Martin Gehman Gallery showcased the works of four talented EMU artists. Cassidy Walker expressed the duality of people and the differences between how they perceive themselves and how others perceive them in a series of mixed-media portraits. Valentina Barahona created a line of packaging design labels for a juice brand that would prove eye-catching to consumers. Mariah Miller used a technique called cyanotype to create a visual representation of how “humans invade and then abandon nature.” Afton Rhodes-Lehman reflected her experiences with obsessive-compulsive disorder in a collection of acrylic paintings that juxtapose restrictive and rigid lines with the “chaotic joy” of vibrant colors. The exhibition will run through May 1.

Musicians dazzle at student recital

Rafael de Tablan performs piano at the student recital on Thursday.

A student recital at Lehman Auditorium on Thursday featured vocalists Reah Clymer, Arnayja Parker, Riley Quezada, Elie Hoover, Jacob Nissley and Kay Pettus, pianist Rafael de Tablan, clarinetist Luke Haynes, organist Laurel Evans, tuba player Allie Smith and French horn player Tyler Williams. The student musicians were accompanied on piano by Harold Bailey, David Berry and Luke Haynes.

The slate of music performances continued Thursday night with a wind ensemble concert. A university choir concert will be held at 7 p.m. on Friday, April 19, in Lehman Auditorium, and a concerto/aria orchestra concert will be held at 7 p.m. on Saturday, April 20, in Lehman.

A bevy of award winners, among both students and faculty, were announced at ACE Festival events on Thursday.

Three faculty members receive Excellence in Teaching Awards

Winners of the 2024 Excellence in Teaching Awards.

Hosted by the Provost’s Office, the 15th annual EMU Authors’ Reception and Awards Presentation recognized and celebrated the winners of the university’s Excellence in Teaching Awards:

Adjunct faculty:
David Pruett
Instructors and assistant professors:
Allison Wilck
Associate professors and professors:
Ji Eun Kim

For more information about each award winner, visit the post below.

Student writing award winners, from left, Willem Hedrick, Caleb Metzler and Brooke Snyder.

The event also recognized three recipients of student writing awards:

First place: Tie between Caleb Metzler, Willy-Nilly Reforestation, Why Diversification is Key, and Brooke Snyder, Microplastics and the Potential Threats They Pose to Humans
Second place: Willem Hedrick, The Effects of Short-Form Video, TikTok, and the Effects of Short-Form Video Content on Adolescents

In addition to the awards, the reception showcased the published scholarly works of faculty, staff and students from the past two years. Featured faculty authors included: Kirsten Eve Beachy, Sarah Bixler, David Berry, Jacob Cook, Shannon Dycus, Marti Eads, Paula Facci, Nancy Heisey, Steven David Johnson, Jim Leaman, Heike Peckruhn, Kevin Seidel, Tim Seidel, Kimberly Schmidt, Daniel Showalter, Mary Sprunger, Andrew Suderman, Paul J. Yoder, Howard Zehr, and Mary Ann Zehr. Chamber musicians Miriam Rhodes and Dr. Benjamin Bergey performed violin music for the reception, which was held at the Sadie Hartzler Library.

Three VaCA students receive Styer scholarship award

Recipients of the Matthew Alan Styer Award hold their certificates next to members of the Styer family and CJP Advancement Director Lindsay Martin (far left).

At the art exhibition, Professor Steven David Johnson announced the recipients of the Matthew Alan Styer Award:

  • Cassidy Walker
  • Nussa Garti
  • Oslyn Mejia Gomez

The award is given to three rising seniors majoring in the visual arts who have demonstrated exceptional skill and dedication in design and/or photography, Johnson said.

Matthew Alan Styer ’05, a graduate of EMU’s Visual and Communication Arts (VaCA) program, worked for EMU’s marketing and communications department as a videographer, designer and photographer until 2008. The scholarship endowment honors the memory of Styer, who died from leukemia at age 30 in 2011.

STEM Celebration poster award winners announced

Some of the STEM Celebration poster award winners from this year.

The recipients of this year’s STEM Celebration poster awards are:

Environmental Applications of GIS posters
First place: Joel Kornhaus, Assessing vegetation growth as a result of sand dams
Second place: Tie between Evelyn Shenk and Esme Martin
Honorable mentions: Levi Myers and Laura Craft

Chemistry class
First place: Jenna Oostland, William Bartel and Madelynn Hamm, Water System Health of Local Streams
Second place: Amber Bonds and Maya Tutton
Honorable mentions: Evelyn Shenk, Andrew Arledge and Elaine Miranda Perez

Biology class
First place: Marciella Shallomita, Bioinformatic analysis of cardiac tissue functionality: Implications for the process of bioengineering hearts
Second place: Ethan Neufeld
Honorable mentions: Betty Debebe, Elaine Miranda Perez and Aja Laun

Independent research and projects
First place: Marciella Shallomita, Abigail Forrest, Elaine Miranda Perez and Sadie Oesch, Loss-of-Function In The Drosophila Serotonin Transporter (dSert) Gene Changes Sleep and Activity and Decreases Life Span
Second place: Adesola Johnson, Meredith Lehman and Allysen Welty-Peachy
Honorable mentions: Levi Stutzman, Ivan Betancourt, Myles Dixson, Ben Friesen Guhr, Jonathan Kronimus and Sean Swartley; and Samantha Hensley, Hayley Collins and Sarah Moore

The posters from STEM disciplines (biology, chemistry, biomedicine, engineering, computer science, and psychology) were judged by EMU STEM faculty, with winners selected in the four categories. 

And, for one more award…

Office of DEI announces a new staff award for community organizing

The Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI), in conjunction with the Committee on Diversity and Inclusion (CODI) and Professor Dr. Gaurav Pathania, announced a new award for EMU staff employees who promote community organizing and enhance a sense of belonging and inclusivity among diverse groups. 

The Ambedkar-Baker DEI Award for Community Organizing seeks to honor the contributions and legacy of eminent African-American civil rights activist and organizer Ella Baker and social reformer Dr. B.R. Ambedkar, architect of India’s Constitution. This award celebrates staff members at EMU who work together to address institutional inequalities and make positive changes. Eligible candidates are those who contribute to building a diverse, inclusive, and welcoming community at EMU, fostering a sense of belonging for everyone. Staff members can either be nominated by others or nominate themselves for this award.

Further details about the criteria for this award and the nomination process will be released this fall.

Sponsors for the ACE Festival included Blauch Brothers Inc. mechanical contractors, Park View Federal Credit Union, and Omar’s Hair Salon & Barbershop.

Photos by Macson McGuigan/EMU and Jon Styer/At Ease Design & Consulting

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