Practice makes perfect, and on December 4, 2013 thirty students from Penn State’s College of Earth and Mineral Sciences (EMS) practiced their poster presentation skills in the college’s second annual Undergraduate Poster Exhibition.
Original posters on topics ranging from tracking wildfires in the western US to exploring the material science behind bridge failures were displayed throughout the ground floor of the Deike Building. Students gave short presentations about their original posters to faculty and staff judges, who scored the posters in three categories: display, content, and oral presentation.
“You can’t beat this opportunity for undergraduates,” said Dr. Joe Bishop, a researcher in the Department of Geography and a poster judge. Many students seized the opportunity to use the Exhibition to practice for upcoming conferences in their fields.
Senior Rachel Passmore (geography) will be presenting this spring at the Association of American Geographers annual meeting. Her poster idea began during a year-long research project on food accessibility in Japan. Passmore worked closely with a faculty mentor to develop her ideas and convey them in a visually appealing way.
“I wanted a chance to talk about my experience,” said Passmore, “and I also thought this was a really good way to practice my presentation skills.”
Passmore learned that unique, eye-catching design is the key to capturing an audience’s attention. She also said this experience helped her learn to be more concise in her communications.
Cash prizes were an additional incentive to participate: $500 for first place, $300 for second place, and $200 for second place. Seniors Kyle Haab (energy engineering) and Jonathan Graterol (energy engineering) won first place with a poster about reducing energy use while improving safety in the Fraser Street garage. Second place went to senior Kehao Zhang (materials science and engineering) who presented a poster explaining an innovative way to use tungsten in specialized films. Sophomore Emily Fucinato (materials science and engineering) placed third, with a materials science poster about reducing the cost of solar cells.
For most students, it isn’t all about the prize money. Instead it’s about the experience of interacting with peers and faculty, and having a chance to share exciting research that is the product of hard work. It’s also about graduate school. Second place winner Zhang entered to gain confidence for research presentations during graduate school interviews.
“When I was talking with the judges, they gave me the confidence to keep talking, and they gave me very good feedback,” said Zhang. “It was a great opportunity for the students to talk with faculty.”
While the upper-classmen presented work from senior theses and internships, freshman presenters got creative with topics. John Swab, a freshman in Geography, won the Freshman Award for a poster about streetcar and suburb development in Baltimore.
To round out the event, EMS students had an opportunity to vote and select the Student Choice award, which went to junior Bonhui Lu (energy business and finance) for her poster titled “China Shale Gas Industry and Economic Development.” Attendees cast their votes with donations for their favorite poster, and all funds were donated to student-related charities such as Relay For Life.
“I have good friends,” said Lu with a smile. “I knew it was for a good cause, and I told them to come down and vote for me—and they did!”
~Kimberly Del Bright & Ellen Chamberlin