SJR Column: STARS Symposium, April 2017
Less than a year ago, the University of Illinois Board of Trustees approved a new strategic framework for the three universities in the UI system – with the goal to reaffirm the central role that higher education plays in promoting the public good in Illinois and beyond. One of four strategic pillars of our framework is: “Research and Scholarship with Global Impact”.
Research and scholarship, including creative work in the humanities and the arts, not only generates new knowledge of great value to our state and to society but also provides students with valuable opportunities to enrich their educational experiences.
Providing opportunities for students to collaborate with faculty one-to-one is a particularly strong feature of the UIS student experience and the results of those opportunities will be “front and center” this month at the STARS Symposium. STARS stands for Student Arts and Research Symposium and this annual event offers a rich array of presentations and performances by UIS students, each of whom has worked closely throughout the year with a faculty mentor to complete an individual research or creative project.
With a special symposium theme of “Sustainability,” this year’s event, co-chaired by Mike Miller, Associate Professor of Visual Arts, and Carolee Rigsbee, Assistant Professor of Management, promises to be especially intriguing.
The program includes student presentations of more than 80 projects representing the Natural Sciences, the Social Sciences, the Arts, Business, the Humanities, and Technology.
The program also includes many musical performances as well as keynote presentations by poet Ross Gay, winner of the 2016 National Book Critics Circle Award for Poetry, and economist William Cosgrove, an expert in water economics and winner of the Cannes International Prize for Water Economics.
A special addition to the Symposium this year is a field trip (by charter bus) to the Emiquon Nature Preserve floodplain restoration project on the Illinois River near Havana, where participants will be hosted by Field Station Director Dr. Tom Rothfus for a tour of the preserve and opportunities to learn about research that faculty and their students are conducting at the UIS Therkildsen Field Station.
“STARS represents so much of what we try to do and be as UIS faculty,” says Dr. Rigsbee. “It is a community of faculty, students and staff supporting student scholarship.
Having the opportunity to help students strengthen their skills and abilities so they can be more successful in their careers while at the same time advancing work in your own area of study is a win-win proposition!”
“The benefits of participating in the STARS symposium are manifold,” says Professor Miller. “Students learn presentation skills, identifying their core research interests and sharing those ideas with peers, faculty and community members.”
“Students are motivated to a higher quality of work,” Professor Miller continues, “when they know their ideas will be publically recognized and interpreted.”
(Professor Miller should know. He has individually mentored dozens of STARS presenters himself during the past several years.)
According to the U.S. Council on Undergraduate Research, research and creative projects like those showcased at the STARS Symposium help students develop critical thinking, creativity, problem-solving and intellectual independence, and promote an innovation-oriented culture on the university campus.
When it comes to the experience of discovery at UIS, it may be that students describe it best: Alex Skarr, a double major in Political Science and Sociology/Anthropology, is participating in STARS for the second time this year and also serves on the planning committee for the event.
“Participation in STARS has been tremendously helpful in my education,” he says.
“My project has helped me to gain research, writing, and public speaking skills that are highly sought out in job and graduate school applications and that I know will be of importance upon graduation.”
“My mentors have helped me develop self confidence and a sense of belonging in the academic community,” he continues. “I like to think of STARS as a stepping stone to some of the other great opportunities I have had at UIS.”
The STARS Symposium is scheduled for Thursday, April 20th, and Friday, April 21st. Community participation is welcome, though the Emiquon Field trip is limited to those registered in advance. For more information and a complete schedule of events, see the STARS website. I hope you’ll join us!
Susan J. Koch, Chancellor of University of Illinois Springfield