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Research and Creativity: Simpson Symposium Attracts Record Number of Students


A day after he had received the 2018 Faculty Award for Distinguished Research, Derek Lyons, an assistant professor of chemistry, arrived on the Simpson campus early to help organize the annual Research & Creativity Symposium.

A total of 152 students, a record, participated in the April 19 event, showing what they had learned through posters, presentations, performances and artwork.

The range of research projects seemed as vast as the human imagination.

You could watch Audrey LoVan’s oral presentation on Animation and Rendering 3D Hair in Computer Graphics. Or read Addison Grant’s poster regarding Dramaturgy for “Tartuffe.” Or hear Sydney Baty delve deeper into video games with her presentation, Programming Player One: Reader Response Theory, Interactivity and Role-Playing Games. 

“It’s a celebration of what makes Simpson College unique,” Lyons said.

Lyons, a 2007 Simpson graduate, believes he participated in the first research symposium when he was a senior. Only it wasn’t called that, and he was one of only four students who presented a poster.

“Can you believe it’s grown to this?” he asked.

Mimi Kammer, assistant professor of Theatre and co-chair of the symposium, can explain why. In recent years, students majoring in the humanities, including art and the theatre, have embraced the symposium.

“One thing we’ve worked on a lot is to make it an inter-disciplinary event and a multi-disciplinary event, so we’re really proud we have a lot of students here from the humanities and the arts,” she said.

Said Lyons: “Science is getting out-numbered here. I’m excited by that.”

LoVan was one of the first presenters. The senior from Sioux City, who is majoring in math and computer science, demonstrated how the average computer user could learn to animate something, like hair.

This was LoVan’s first time as a Symposium presenter.

“I like to think I’m a good presenter, so I’m not super nervous about it,” she said before her talk.

Students are evaluated on their work, but the Symposium is not a competitive event.

“I think that’s why it’s become so popular,” Kammer said. “You’re just competing with yourself.”

Three students representing the Carver Bridge to STEM Success program produced a poster showing how driverless cars will affect insurance rates.

“It’s a lot of research, and a lot of graphs and tables and models,” said Tristan Duncan, a sophomore from Sapulpa, Okla., who is majoring in math and art. “A lot of professors, even in the art department, said to think about participating in the Symposium because it’s a good resume-builder and because it’s fun.”

And you can learn something. Annyka Morris, a junior from Pella, did. She is majoring in health sciences leadership with a minor in human resources and management, and her research addressed the issue, “Unconscious Bias in the Hiring Process.”

“I thought it was interesting, looking up facts and statistics,” she said. “One study found that individuals are more likely to hire someone based on what they have in common rather than how they might perform on the job.”

The day’s keynote speaker was Kyle Rector, assistant professor of computer science at the University of Iowa. She has developed technology to improve the lives of people who are blind or experience low-vision.

Science majors still are well-represented at the Symposium. In fact, Lyons is the faculty sponsor for three projects, all funded by scholarships, proving that an act of generosity might lead to an important discovery or encourage students to embark on careers involving research.

Those scholarships include:

*The Joe and Barb Moody Research Fund (established in May 2002) – supports student research in Biology or Biochemistry.  This award was established to honor the career of Moody.

*The Alan and Karen Orr Research Award (established in May 2009) – provides an annual research award to a student doing hypothesis-driven research in the sciences.  Alan is a retired UNI Biology faculty member, who graduated from Simpson in 1961.  He and Karen live in Cedar Falls.

*The Dean and Sandra Blinn Research Fund (established in June 2014) – supports a student doing research in Biology.  Dean ’64 and Sandra ’65 are both alumni of the college, who live in the Seattle, Wash., area.  They established this award because they believe in the great advantage hands-on research provides for our students.

Lyons said it’s a great joy for him to see all the students from various academic disciplines proudly showing their work.

“This is a celebration of inter-disciplines and the liberal arts,” he said, “of someone in theatre presenting next to someone from chemistry. There’s a camaraderie here. You get to see your friends and fellow students in their element, talking about their passions and what they’ve discovered.”