Undergraduate Symposium to showcase exceptional students, honor mentors

April 15, 2013

by Kylie Peterson

Photo: students and mentor at 2011 Undergraduate Symposium

Melanie August, center, talks about her research project during a poster presentation session at the Undergraduate Symposium in 2011. This year's symposium will be April 18 at Union South.

Photo: Jeff Miller

The 15th Annual Undergraduate Symposium, an event that highlights the creativity, achievements and research that UW-Madison's undergraduate students have accomplished with the personal involvement of their faculty and staff mentors, will be held Thursday, April 18, at Union South.

The event is one of many included in Ideas to Excellence, a month-long spring campus celebration dedicated to showcasing students' scholarly and artistic accomplishments. (See the complete schedule below.)

This year boasts the largest number of student presenters and projects at the symposium, with more than 549 undergraduates displaying, presenting or performing 435 works.

“Seeing the students’ ideas form into a completed project and all the steps that happen in between is extremely rewarding.”

Kate Corby

"We have an exciting assortment of projects this year," says Undergraduate Symposium program coordinator Grace Welham. "Projects come from across campus, representing the biological, physical and social sciences, humanities, art and design, performance, and service learning."

All of those presenting have an Undergraduate Symposium mentor — a faculty member who assists in guiding the student's research and offering feedback. In celebration of the 15th anniversary, more than 1,300 mentors from past years will be honored at the Ideas to Excellence Reception. The reception will be held at 5 p.m. in Varsity Hall, and all are invited to attend. In particular, mentors are encouraged to come, as they are an integral part of making the symposium a success.

Jackie Thelen, a senior majoring in dance, and Arianna Dunmire, a junior majoring in dance and sociology, are collaborating on an Undergraduate Symposium project this year and express gratitude for the guidance their mentor, Kate Corby, provided them.

"She is — and always has been — a very supportive person," Dunmire says. "She was the one who urged us to collaborate in the first place, and she gave us really helpful feedback throughout the process."

At the symposium, Thelen and Dunmire plan to describe the process they went through when collaborating on a dance piece. Last semester the students choreographed separate pieces, yet found many similarities in their processes. During their presentation, called "On Artistic Collaboration: Untitled (live)," they will describe how their individual pieces fused together, highlighting the spirit of collaboration — a central theme of their combined piece.

Students aren't the only ones to benefit from having an Undergraduate Symposium mentor; the relationship is symbiotic. Corby, a Dance Department assistant professor, feels she gains from being a mentor as well.

“Not only have I gotten the opportunity to work with terrific undergraduates, I’ve also gained tremendous research assistance through mentoring.”

Nadav Shelef

"Seeing the students' ideas form into a completed project and all the steps that happen in between is extremely rewarding," says Corby, a third-time mentor.

Political science Assistant Professor Nadav Shelef first became a mentor in 2010 on the recommendation of one of his colleagues. He says his main duties are to show students the fundamentals of conducting accurate research and the steps necessary for creating a credible research project.

"Not only have I gotten the opportunity to work with terrific undergraduates, I've also gained tremendous research assistance through mentoring," Shelef says.

Registration on the day of the symposium begins at 9 a.m., and students' talks, presentations and performances will conclude at 8 p.m. Welcome remarks and awards will kick off the event at noon.

The Undergraduate Symposium is sponsored by the Brittingham Trust and the Office of the Provost, through the stewardship of the General Library System, Undergraduate Research Scholars Program, Undergraduate Academic Awards Office, Institute for Biology Education, Morgridge Center for Public Service, Writing Center, and the Wisconsin Union. This event is free and open to the public.

Additional events celebrating Ideas to Excellence include: