During his junior year, August D’Amore ’23 took a literature theory course with Jennifer Mitchell ’04, associate professor of English. As part of the class, D’Amore revisited Ralph Ellison’s classic 1952 novel, “The Invisible Man,” which he had first read in high school.
In the book’s second chapter, a character named Trueblood impregnates his daughter. The act is described in excruciating detail, and, as D’Amore learned, the narrator and the reader have little choice but to sit through the painful account.
For his senior thesis, D’Amore, a double major in English and economics, decided to explore taboo text and how authors include content that does not revolt the reader. Besides Ellison’s work, he examined Lord Byron’s poem, “Manfred,” and William Faulkner’s “The Sound and the Fury.”
“I wanted to answer how an author can take such a grotesque subject that no reader can derive pleasure from and make it so we don’t throw the book away, and we keep reading forward,” said D’Amore, who worked with Kara Doyle, professor of English, and Claire Bracken, associate professor of English.
Displaying a confident command of the subject matter, D’Amore , who plans to pursue a Ph.D. in English, shared some of his findings Friday as part of the Steinmetz Symposium.
Now in its 33rd year, the symposium has grown from its debut in April 1991, when 130 students presented, to one that now features more than 400 students. The day included a diverse lineup of oral presentations, poster sessions and exhibits highlighting student research as well as dance and musical performances, an art exhibit and other activities.
Overseen by Heather Watson, director of Undergraduate Research and associate professor of physics and astronomy, 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 family members 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 symbiotic relationship humans enjoy with therapy and emotional support animals on college campuses (Jocelyn Poste ’23), a reliable weather prediction device for practical use in remote locations without access to accurate forecasts (John Pipes ’23) and a better tissue retractor for open umbilical hernia surgeries that limits the amount of stress placed on the tissue (Connor McVey ’23, Hung Pham ‘23, Joshua Kent ‘23 and Melanie Baker ‘23).
Standing in front of a classroom in the Integrated Science and Engineering Center, Caitlin Williams ’23 gave an entertaining and informative presentation on her research into the sensory and cognitive capacity of lizards.
Working with Leo Fleishman, the William D. Williams Professor of Biological Sciences, and three bearded dragons, Frances, Bruce and Buzzy, the biology major wanted to explore whether lizards can see polarized light, a type of novel sensory stimuli. This built upon earlier research she had conducted into whether the lizards were capable of learning or being trained.
“I’m encouraged by the results,” said Williams, who plans to pursue a Ph.D. in limnology, the study of inland aquatic ecosystems. “Bearded dragons are trainable. They have different personalities, which impacts how they do. Some are more motivated. Age plays a difference as well as gender.”
In the afternoon, 95 student performers enthralled an audience that filled the Nott Memorial for the annual Lothridge Festival of Dance.
The hour-long show, created by Dance Program Director Megan Flynn and Assistant Director Laurie Zabele Cawley, featured 14 works in an array of dance styles.
Students from the Hip Hop, Bhangra, LatinX Dance Club, Kpop, Dance Team, African Dance Club and Tap Club performed, and Union’s dance seniors performed their own number.
At the end of the show, the Edward Villella Fellowship, which allows exceptional students to expand their dance studies beyond campus, was collectively awarded to the students who will perform this summer at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, the world's largest performance arts festival. They will use the award to further their dance education in Scotland through classes, workshops and other activities. The students: Rachel Bryan ‘24, Maia Carty ‘24, Eva Crowley ‘24, Sarah Dames ‘24, Melanie De La Cruz ‘26, Claire Knecht '26, Adriana Lawton ‘24, Grace Newcombe ‘25, Alexandra Nicolas ‘24, Lydia Singer ‘24, Sage Stinson ‘25, Jennifer Vil ‘26 and Anna Zusi ’26.
The day’s highlights also included the Steinmetz Symposium Student Art Exhibition, on display in the Crowell and West galleries in the Feigenbaum Center for Visual Arts. Featured are 231 works by 77 students. Mediums include digital art, drawing, painting, photography, printmaking and sculpture.
The day wrapped up with a concert featuring the Union College Jazz Ensemble, led by Professor Tim Olsen, in Emerson Auditorium in the Taylor Music Center.
For a complete list of presentations, visit the Steinmetz website.
The symposium coincides with Prize Day, held Saturday afternoon in Memorial Chapel. More than 100 awards were presented to honor students for achievement in academics, leadership and community service.
Abigail Smith ’23 and Brandon Mitchell ’23 captured the top two awards.
An interdepartmental major in biology and English from Killingworth, Conn., Smith received the Frank Bailey (1885) Prize. It is awarded annually to the senior who has rendered the greatest service to the College in any field. It is considered the most prestigious student prize at Union.
A neuroscience major from Brooklyn, Mitchell received the Josephine Daggett Prize, presented annually to a senior for conduct and character.