Mercer University’s College of Liberal Arts has implemented a unique experience for undergraduates to display their research for colleagues and professors to recognize. The students who presented at the new Breakthroughs in Engagement, Arts, and Research (BEAR) Day, which took place two weeks ago, really showed how impressive Mercer students are at research.
All day long students could visit panels addressing a wide variety of topics, ranging from research on languages to children’s transitions from orphanages and even local Macon outreach projects. BEAR Day even allowed different modes of expression by students presenting orally, with or without media, or a poster display in the University Center.
Based on the four panel presentations I attended, Mercer CLA students demonstrated how well Mercer University prepares undergraduates for research and analysis. I was especially impressed with my fellow colleagues’ ability to convey their research in a timely manner that was understandable to an audience that may not have any familiarity with the research topic.
To further continue my accolades for the event, CLA and Dean Lake Lambert made a great decision to cancel class to allow students to attend some of the panels throughout the entire day. The decision to cancel class allowed for a great turnout as every panel I visited had no less than fifteen students in the audience listening and engaging in the questioning period. Even the keynote speaker held a large, well represented audience.
The only critique I have of BEAR Day experience came with the feedback given to the presentations — or should I say lack of feedback. The only feedback given was who the winners were and who the winners were not. This, unfortunately, gave the impression to many students that their presentations were not sufficient for criticism.
Only those who were awarded received feedback on their work. Many students were left wondering why their research and presentations did not win or what they needed to work on. If Mercer University wants BEAR Day to become a successful event in the future, the faculty must reconcile this problem. Students need feedback to better their research, further their work and understand their mistakes and accomplishments.
Maybe a BEAR Week would provide the remedy. Instead of presenting every project and poster in five hours, allow several rounds of presentations and critical rounds. More time will enhance the experience. This way not every school has to close down for an entire day and not all presentations have to be presented in a concentrated time.
Instead, a block system would provide a number of panels to present. Then, after all participants have presented on the final day of the week, the selected top presenters can present again in front of a much wider academic audience. This will provide more feedback, more analysis and a more thorough experience for all Mercer students. This year’s BEAR Day, though, was a great step in the right direction.
Not everyone, it seems, thought BEAR Day was important enough to allow students to participate. Several students and faculty stated that Mercer University’s Business School, among others, declined to cancel class. This left students taking classes at the Business School, who may have wanted to attend, with the threat of penalization for missing class or participating and supporting their fellow students at BEAR Day. This projected the message that BEAR Day, and student research, is not important to the Business School. This decision to not cancel class points to a serious problem: either we, as a university, support one another or we do not.
No matter what the logic or reasoning, the Business School’s actions show that it does not wish to support other entities on campus. This shows a serious divide that should not exist on our campus. All of Mercer’s colleges benefit from other colleges excelling at what they do. Many students who major in political science take entry-level courses in economics, engineering students take classes in science and foreign languages, and so on and so forth.
Why do students take a wide variety of classes? Because we believe that a liberal education with a wide range of learning experiences enhances our collegiate experience. To interpret my understanding, Mercer University does not consist of several colleges but several colleges belong to Mercer University. This lack of apparent willingness to collaborate shows either a lack of leadership at a high level or unwillingness to work with others.
Those who made the decision to not join in the CLA’s decision to afford all students the opportunity to participate on BEAR Day clearly did not think about this perception. That is unfortunate and only shows yet another reason why Mercer must create things like the new Lyceum to encourage people to work together.
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