Steinmetz Symposium: Celebrating 25 years of student research

Publication Date

As the Hispanic population in the U.S. continues to grow, it will be a key demographic in the 2016 presidential race. The courting of Hispanic voters is particularly intense in Florida and Colorado, two critical swing states that may determine the race’s outcome.

Yi Cao

Yi Cao '15 talks about her research at Union during a luncheon marking the 25th anniversary of the Steinmetz Symposium

On Friday morning in a second floor classroom in Lippman Hall, Jacqueline Weiss ’15 methodically laid out the efforts by Republicans and Democrats in the last four presidential elections to woo Latino voters in those two key states.

“I took a class with Professor Zoe Oxley focusing on the 2012 race, and this was an issue that interested me,” said Weiss, a political science major (with a minor in Spanish) from Moorestown, N.J.

“I’ve been working on this presentation for some time. It’s an honor to present it at the Steinmetz Symposium.”

Weiss was among hundreds of students, faculty and parents who fanned out across campus Friday to celebrate undergraduate research as part of the annual symposium.

Now in its 25th year, the Steinmetz Symposium has grown from that first spring day in April 1991, when 130 students presented, to one that now features more than 500 students - including more than 280 oral presentations and over 70 poster presentations. Nearly 200 additional students were involved in a dance performance, two musical concerts and an art exhibit.

Overseen by Becky Cortez, associate professor of mechanical engineering and director of undergraduate research, the symposium showcases the type of hands-on, faculty-mentored research that is a staple of the Union experience.

Following tradition, classes were canceled for the day to allow faculty, staff, students and visiting parents to sample projects in all fields – the arts, humanities, social sciences, sciences and engineering.

One could check out topics as diverse as “Modeling the Human Vocal Tract for American English Vowels” (Samantha Griffiths ‘15) to “Selective Attention and Prey Tracking in Dragonfly Larvae” (Natalia Ciesielska ‘17) to “Tracking the Tupamaros: The Movimiento de Liberacion Nacional-Tupamaros’ Transition from Guerrilla Movement to Political Party and the Success of the Frente Amplio” (Lucas Hall ‘15).

“This is a celebration of students who are ‘doing,’ said President Stephen C. Ainlay. “They take their ideas and the rich experiences they have and they go about the business of practicing economics, or mechanical engineering, or dance or theater or literature. There is a moment when a student becomes a doer, essentially the authors of their lives. That’s what Steinmetz is about - making students authors of their lives.”

To commemorate the 25th anniversary, a special luncheon was held featuring remarks by John E. Kelly III '76, senior vice president and director of research at IBM. Joining invited faculty, students and staff were a host of local government and business leaders, representing General Electric, GlobalFoundries, Price Chopper Supermarkets and others.

“This inspiring event symbolizes what Union is all about,” said Kelly. “It integrates the humanities and social sciences with science and engineering in new and exciting ways, it provides students with a broad and deep education, and it ensures students are engaged, innovative, and adaptable contributors to an ever-changing world.”

Yi Cao ’15, a mechanical engineering and chemistry major from China, shared three presentations based on her work in the College’s aerogels laboratory. Headed to Stanford in the fall, Cao said the undergraduate research opportunities at Union have prepared her well.

“The real world problems lie not only in the exploration of real world knowledge and finding technical solutions, but also depend on effective communication, collaboration and entrepreneurship. My experiences at Union have prepared me to face future challenges and to make a difference to the world’s energy problems.”

In the afternoon, more than 70 performers took to the stage in the Nott Memorial for the Lothridge Festival of Dance. Representing a variety of styles, including ballet, ballroom, contemporary lyrical, hip hop, jazz and tap, dancers performed highlights from the Winter Dance Concert, ACTION, and pieces inspired by movies such as The Hunger Games, Twilight and Crouching Tiger.

The performance also showcased the work of Dance Program Director Miryam Moutillet and instructors Marcus Rogers and Laurie Cawley.

At the end of the show, the Edward Villella Fellowship, which allows exceptional students to expand their dance studies beyond the campus, was awarded to Maddison Stemple-Piatt '16. She will pursue Middle Eastern dance with Sahina Sadai, a choreographer and costume designer in Western Massachusetts.

Guests could also check out the annual Visual Arts Student Art Exhibit, on view in the Burns Arts Atrium Gallery, featuring the most accomplished student works completed during the 2014-15 academic year.

A concert by the Union College and Community Orchestra and the Union College and Community Chorale, under the direction of John Cox, director of performance and lecturer in choral and orchestral music, was held in Memorial Chapel.

For a complete list of presentations, visit the Steinmetz website.

Steinmetz Symposium coincided with Prize Day on Saturday in Memorial Chapel, followed by a reception on the Reamer Campus Center patio. Students were honored for achievement in academics, research, service and governance.

Among the top awards given were the Josephine Daggett Prize to the senior for conduct and character (Caelan Lapointe ‘15) and the Frank Bailey (1885) Prize to the senior who has rendered the greatest service to the College in any field (Chetna Prasad ‘15).

For a list of all Prize Day winners, click here.

Later in the day, the Union College Jazz Ensemble, led by Professor Tim Olsen, performed in Emerson Auditorium.

The symposium is named for Charles Proteus Steinmetz (1865-1923), who taught electrical engineering and applied physics at Union. Also chief consulting engineer for the General Electric Company, he was widely regarded as America’s leading electrical engineer.