Tales from Student Conferences

Trinity’s Honors Program shapes student leaders. How? For starters, by encouraging you to present at academic conferences. Nothing enriches your speech like having a fresh audience. Nothing opens and deepens your character like interaction with diverse others. And nothing strengthens your arguments like fielding questions and hearing criticisms.

Can you see yourself presenting your academic work at a conference?  Could you find the gumption?  The time?  The money?

Let’s tackle the last question first. The College offers three kinds of financial support for student scholarship.

* The Trinity Scholars Fund supports Honors students presenting at conferences (generally in connection with an Honors seminar or with Honors Work in the Major).

* Sometimes your own department will offer money to support student scholarship.

* And, of course, the VanderVelde Fund supports VanderVelde scholars’ conference presentations.

As for questions about time and gumption–well, take a gander at this week’s Honors Blog, featuring testimony from three recent Honors conference presenters:  Josh DeJong (with Pat Page at the National Conference on Undergraduate Research, April 3-5 at University of Kentucky), as well as Ethan Holmes and Esther Sullivan (Undergraduate Conference on English Language and Literature, March 15, at the University of St. Francis in Joliet).

Josh DeJong writes:

To be honest, I was a bit nervous when Pat Page and I found out that our abstract had been accepted for an oral presentation at NCUR. To be presenting the research that we had been working on for the past year and a half was an exciting experience. However, the caliber of the conference seemed a little daunting. Upon arrival of the conference, the reality of the experience settled in as the governor of Kentucky gave the opening speech to the conference. With the 300 page conference program sitting on my lap, I learned that our small Trinity group (Pat, Kiera Dunaway and myself) were 3 out of 4,200 participants in this conference. My first thought was “Shoot. That is a lot of smart people…” We were but mere dots on the canvas of this undergraduate scene.

Luckily, Pat and I presented directly after the first plenary speaker who taught us to avoid going into research with partners ((to hear more about that story, please come find me to tell you over coffee)). As we presented our research, we found that people were interested in what we had to say. Some people even came to hear our presentation because they were interested by the title of our project and not merely because they knew who was presenting! It was amazing! In that moment, I thought came to mind. Trinity Christian College has something profound to offer to this nation. What an experience to represent my community by presenting my hard work to a group of people who have never met me before!

It was an opportunity that I will always be grateful for and would strongly recommend to any student with a passion to learn (science, philosophy, literature, music, sociology, nursing, business, theology, etc.).

 

Ethan Holmes writes:

Presenting is always a thoroughly interesting experience–if you can connect with someone there in the topics that are being talked about. Conferences present a unique opportunity to engage with people who share similar interests while coming at them from varying degrees of differing perspectives, which is invaluable for realizing that

1) you don’t know nearly as much as you think you do
2) you don’t know how to defend your beliefs as well as you should
3) your ideas aren’t actually new, and maybe not all that interesting
4) despite all that Christ makes a difference in your life, and your ownership of faith means more than any of our inadequacies.

At this conference in particular there was an extremely smart man who I struck up a conversation with, whom ended up being the perpetual conversation partner of our group. He was very strongly not Christian and the conversation revealed a lot within myself, within him, within my peers and professors that I can’t help but be changed by, and which I hope everyone else involved can say as well.

In short, God worked through our time at that conference.

 

Esther Sullivan writes:

Because this was my first conference, I didn’t really know what to expect. I was pleasantly surprised by the intimate and intellectually stimulating environment that met me when I walked through the doors. These conferences are filled with like-minded people, who equally encourage and challenge each other. I have never experienced an environment like this, filled with so many people who are passionate about the same things I am passionate about. It was beneficial simply to attend this conference. The conversations I was able to engage in were so stimulating that, by the end of the day, my colleagues and I were mentally exhausted, but in the most satisfying sense of the word.

As far as presenting goes, I must express gratitude for the preparatory assistance my professors gave to myself and the other presenters from Trinity. The workshop they organized to help us prepare was invaluable. I gleaned three main things from that workshop which I would recommend to anyone planning to present at a literature conference:

1)       Give context for the passages you reference in your paper. Depending on the work, most of your audience will not have read the work you are referencing. You will better retain their attention if you “clue them in” to what’s going on in the novel.

2)       Pre-mark sections in your paper that you can paraphrase. In most cases, reading strictly from the paper will become dull, and the audience will lose interest. It’s okay to treat this presentation more like a conversation than a lecture.

3)       Practice, practice, practice. Remember in public speaking class when your professor told you to practice your speeches ahead of time? Yeah. Do that. Reading your paper aloud several times will make you familiar with it and keep you from getting lost in the middle of your presentation.

At the St. Francis conference, there was a decided difference between the presenters who applied tactics like these and those who did not. Clearly, if your paper has been accepted into a conference, it is already brilliant; but if you don’t present it well, your audience will never see that brilliance.

 

 

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