Steinmetz Symposium a showcase for scholarship, creativity and innovation

Publication Date

Growing up in New York City, Lai Wong ’17 would encounter homeless people on the streets. Often, she would offer money to help.

But the sociology major was unaware of the depth of the issue until she secured an internship with the Department of Homeless Services in the city. There, she learned of the myriad of challenges faced by social workers on the front lines, including heavy caseloads and complex policies and regulations that kept them from getting the homeless off the streets.

Wong, who plans to become a social worker, also visited with experts in Los Angeles, which also has a large homeless population.

“This is an issue we need to talk about,” said Wong, “to make sure the homeless are being advocated for.”

Wong shared her expertise as part of the Steinmetz Symposium during a presentation in Lippman Hall Friday morning.

Now in its 27th year, the symposium has grown from its debut in April 1991, when 130 students presented, to one that now features nearly 500 students.

Overseen by Rebecca 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 shuffle between various academic buildings to sample presentations on such topics as the evaluation of cell-permeable analogs of trehalose (Jack Bragg ’17), how the app Tribe has revolutionized the way millennials socialize (Connor Janson ’17), the impact of exercise on stress responses in undergraduates (Ana Carranco ’17) and designing and building a multiple-rotor triboelectric wind turbine (Adam Forti ’17, Elizabeth Donlon ’18 and John Costa ’18).

One could also listen to the sweet vibrations produced from the violin of Gillian Henry ’17 outside the Phasor Lab or stroll through Wold Atrium, where hundreds of students participated in a poster session. Among them was Karl-Ray Jeune ’17. He arrived at Union after his family was forced to flee Haiti following the catastrophic earthquake in 2010.

A political science and health professions major, Jeune hopes to specialize in emergency medicine. His research focused on why young minorities don’t consider medicine as a career. He discovered that among other factors, young minorities have few role models in the field.

Jeune is lucky in that regard; he has been working with Kirk Campbell ’03, an orthopedic surgeon in New York City whom he will shadow this summer as part of his career path.

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

The day began with a corporate breakfast featuring remarks by Victor (Vic) Abate, chief technology officer and senior vice president for General Electric. Abate discussed accelerating breakthrough technologies for competitive advantage. Bianca Mielke ’18, an electrical engineering major with a minor in dance and mathematics, talked of her Union experience. Joining invited faculty, students and staff were a host of local business leaders representing GE, GlobalFoundries, Naval Nuclear Laboratory, Capital Region Chamber and others.

At 4 p.m., more than 80 performers took to the stage in the Nott Memorial for the Lothridge Festival of Dance, presented each year at the symposium.

Featured were works from the Winter Dance Concert, “Beyond Steps,” by dance minors Emily Alston ’19, Ayanah Dowdye ’18, Lily Herout ’17, Grace Kernohan ’17, J’Kela Smith ’17 and Maddison Stemple-Piatt ’17.

In addition, students from the Bhangra, Hip-Hop, Step and African Dance clubs, Terra Dance, the Dance Team and Just Queenin performed.

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 Ayanah Dowdye ’18 for her exceptional participation in the dance program. The fellowship allows her to take a leap into studying aerial dance at Aircrafts Aerial Arts in Boston this summer. A pre-med neuroscience major and dance minor, Dowdye started dance, her childhood dream, at Union.

Also, the annual Visual Arts Student Art Exhibit, on view in the Feigenbaum Center for Visual Arts, featured the most accomplished student works completed during the 2016-17 academic year.

Curated by Visual Arts faculty members, the exhibit included works from classes in photography, sculpture/3D design, digital art, painting, drawing and printmaking.

The day wrapped up with a concert in Memorial Chapel featuring the Union College Choir under the direction of Dianne McMullen, professor of music, and the Union College and Community Orchestra, conducted by Hilary Tann, the John Howard Payne Professor of Music.

The Steinmetz 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.

The symposium coincided with Prize Day on Saturday in Memorial Chapel. 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 (Krystal Edwards) and the Frank Bailey (1885) Prize, to the senior who has rendered the greatest service to the College in any field (Sharmeen Azher).

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.