Students look at a presentation at the Student Expo

Highlighting Student Successes and Opportunities

The inaugural Student Expo highlights student research, creative activies, study away programs, and more.

By: Terry Boyd

Every semester end at Penn State Altoona means the Student Showcase, where students present the results of their research projects, mainly in the fields of business and engineering. And every spring brings the Undergraduate Research and Creative Activities Fair (URCAF), which includes a poster session on research projects, presentations of papers across the disciplines, and even artistic performances. But, Beth Seymour, associate teaching professor in anthropology, communications, history, and women’s, gender, and sexuality studies, and coordinator of the Education Abroad program, felt something was missing.

“Those events are mostly for final projects, the final product of something,” Seymour says. She saw a need. “We thought it’d be nice to showcase some of the work in research and creative activities that was formative. It could be work that’s completed but it’d be nice to start creating an atmosphere to present the other stuff.”

A number of campus activities and projects also don’t fit the mold for the Showcase or the URCAF, such as the Study Away program, Alternative Spring Break, and Enactus. And so the Student Expo was created to give a lot of programs not usually highlighted a chance to shine. It’s held in September, Seymour says, “partly to provide a forum for Study Away and any internships or research projects that occur over the summer.” Since the target audience is students, it was held in Slep during common hour.

Poster for Cuba travel

Poster for Cuba travel

Image: Penn State

The inaugural event was full of activity—poster displays and demonstrations, conversations and presentations.  Students interested in academic internships or community-based studies could learn about projects such as the Blair County Walkability Study with the Blair County Planning Office or the Lower Trails Mobile App project with Rails to Trails of Central PA.

The deadline for signing up for the Alternative Spring Break, in which students to experience service learning by traveling to Monte Cristi, Dominican Republic, is approaching—October 31—and the Expo gave students the opportunity to learn more about the program. On their trip they will work on agricultural projects, make lesson plans and teach English to local children, and at the same time expand their own knowledge and view of the world.

In a more traditional presentation format, students Brianna McClellan and Madison Rhoads explained their research under Assistant Professor of Psychology Lindsey Lilienthal on the benefits of environmental support for working memory, meaning the ability to retain information for a short period of time. As part of a research project with Assistant Professor of Biology Jim Julian, Trey Koehle has been collecting environmental DNA from amphibian breeding ponds to look for evidence of amphibian pathogens.

Two of Associate Professor of Criminal Justice Mike Arter’s students presented about their experiences: John Hicks discussed his internship with the Blair County District Attorney’s Office and his observations of how the criminal justice system works both in the courtroom and behind the scenes. Jordyn Greene, who interned with the Altoona Police Department, discussed how she observed concepts from the classroom come alive from a practitioner’s perspective.

Students looking at 360 virtual reality videos

Students looking at 360 virtual reality videos

Image: Penn State

At one of the most popular tables the Rail Transportation Engineering program presented 360-degree virtual reality videos “developed from our recent trip to Germany, Switzerland, and Austria in May 2018,” says Bryan Schlake, lecturer in rail transportation engineering. “This trip was sponsored by the Penn State Altoona office of Research and a private donor, Leica Geosystems.” At the Expo “we provided virtual reality headsets for students to view the videos and take ‘virtual tours’ of railway locations in Europe.”

In the Fireside Room students and faculty shared their travel experiences. Dede McCreary, assistant teaching professor, and Cindy Bowman, instructor in nursing, showed pictures and discussed the nursing students’ trip to Cuba, where they visited local health facilities and learned about Cuban culture. (Another group of students will be in Cuba this semester.) Students Ryan Pipetti, Nicholas McIntyre, Jonathan Todd, and Adam Brogdon, along with Jungwoo Ryoo, division head for Business, Engineering, and Information Sciences and Technology [BEIST] and professor of information sciences and technology, talked about their trip to South Korea over the summer for the ICSSA 2018 conference.

The Student Expo was all about showing students the potential for “impactful learning experiences” at Penn State Altoona. They could explore opportunities for undergraduate student research; speak with some students who were already working on research projects; explore options for internships or travel to other countries; and meet representatives from a variety of clubs across campus. As the Expo showed, options for engagement at Penn State Altoona are limitless.