Annual event showcases undergraduate research, creativity
by Kylee Perez
When you walk up to Nicole Castiglione’s poster display, she greets you with a handshake and smile before telling you about a marketing and public relations agency in Columbia, S.C. But the Furman senior isn’t recruiting at a career fair. She’s simply sharing the Furman experience.
“Last year, our professors encouraged everyone to present during Furman Engaged!,” said Castiglione, who created a poster about her internship at Clare Morris Agency.
Furman Engaged! is a day-long event that celebrates the research, scholarship and creativity of Furman’s undergraduates in every academic department. Every year, the university postpones classes to give the campus community and its visitors the opportunity to attend oral presentations, posters, and creative performances.
The program was launched by the Office of Undergraduate Research and Internships in 2009 as a way to highlight student projects created inside and outside of the classroom. Since then, the event has grown in popularity. Furman had more than 600 students participate in this year’s event.
“It’s important to showcase one of the things we do best at Furman, which is engaging students in projects that allow them to apply what they learn in their classrooms to working applications,” said John Beckford, Vice President for Academic Affairs at Furman. “It’s one thing to be in a passive setting and receiving information about a topic, but it’s entirely different to be engaged in that process. We’re really proud to illustrate that.”
Throughout the day, students like Castiglione stood by posters ready to explain their work. Others delivered oral presentations, or showed off their creative work by performing in front of an audience. But all the presentations had one thing in common.
The students had to be prepared to explain their work—often to people who had little or no knowledge of the subject. For students like Seth Greenstein ‘14 (Clemson, S.C.), it was an opportunity to develop skills for graduate school or a future career.
“If you’re planning to do research as a career, you'll have to do presentations like this,” Greenstein said. “I did an oral presentation last year and it helped me understand the material because chemistry faculty were there asking questions. I needed to be able to explain why I did what I did.”
Though Furman Engaged! provides a forum where the university’s most experienced undergraduates can share their work, it still creates room for students to get involved early in their academic careers. Several of Furman’s freshmen had an opportunity to participate in the event thanks the school’s First Year Seminars, a unique set of courses that allows first-year students to examine a topic of special interest.
Lloyd Benson, a history professor at Furman, encouraged his First Year Seminar students to present their research on The Battle Autumn of 1862. One of his students, Joseph Paulson, took up the challenge by developing a poster that compared the perspectives of two different men fighting in the Battle of Antietam.
But when Paulson wasn’t describing his work to interested onlookers, he explored the work of his classmates. He had plenty of options. The Physical Activities Center, which is home to the university’s exercise equipment and recreational activities, housed more than 200 poster displays at Furman Engaged!
“It’s pretty cool to stroll around and check out other people’s posters,” said Paulson ‘16 (Cary, N.C.).
On the opposite side of campus, Furman’s art, music and theatre arts students showed off their own creativity.
Sidney Vlass, an art major, got a taste of the marketing world by creating packaging for a fictional organic food brand. She designed the boxes to appeal to children by including colorful text and images along with fun games and facts about local and organic foods. She got the idea after taking a May Experience course focused on sustainable food practices.
“I never thought to question where my food came from and what was in it,” said Vlass ‘13 (Roswell, Ga.).
During her presentation, Vlass’ professors challenged her to think beyond her design. She was asked about price points, product testing and other barriers she may face when selling the product.
“It's important for young artists to be able to communicate ideas about their work articulately and clearly,” said Bob Chance, an art professor at Furman. “This is an opportunity for them to think about and present their work.”
Of course, that opportunity would be lost without a supportive faculty. That’s one of the strengths of Furman Engaged!
“Success should be attributed to our students that seized the opportunity to make the most of this event,” Beckford said. “But it’s also a real tribute to the Furman faculty that they have provided leadership and guidance to create these opportunities for students who wish to go beyond basic classroom assignments. I’m thankful to a faculty that recognizes this.”