Ask a student studying at St. Mike’s to write on the theme of City and Wilderness: Opportunities, Tensions, Responsibilities and it turns out you’ll get papers ranging from thoughts on engaging community in bee-friendly gardening through to a reflection on the fall of Satan in Milton’s Paradise Lost.
Those were two of the topics presented by some of the bright lights on campus at the 2nd annual St. Michael’s College Student Colloquium. The Jan 26th event was open to St. Mike’s undergraduate students, students from the faculty of theology, and students from other colleges registered in a St. Mike’s course.
Dr. Tristan Sharp, a post-doctoral fellow at the faculty who was one of the organizers of the event, explained the day was designed to offer a student-friendly bridge from the first forays into university essay writing to more sophisticated research and presentation.
“We really view this as a teaching experience,” Dr. Sharp said before the event. “It’s designed to be collegial, with a fairly small pool of presenters and a relaxed atmosphere. We do not want this to be an intimidating experience but an opportunity to get experience in receiving more feedback than would be given on a regular paper or during a poster presentation.”
While presenters offered their papers from a podium, for example, their peers were seated around them on couches, creating a more comfortable setting than the standard table and chairs set-up. After each of the three panels presented their papers, professor respondents offered feedback and direction.
In his welcome to attendees, university president Dr. David Sylvester observed that the colloquium was the start of a “really good weekend for student research and research in general at St. Mike’s,” noting that the Mediaeval Studies Undergraduate Conference was also getting under way later that day.
For Maryrose Doucette, a 2nd-year Christianity and Culture/Mediaeval Studies major who also participated in last year’s conference, this year’s experience was quite different because she had a clear understanding of what to expect.
“I felt far less pressure because I had a better idea of what is meant by an academic defence,” said Maryrose, who presented a paper titled “The Benedict Option: Tensions Between the City and the Wilderness in Modern Christian Life”.
“I really value the discussion that’s part of a colloquium, and now I see that the presentation is just the start of a thought process rather than a finished product. It’s okay to say ‘I don’t know’ or to tell a questioner, ‘I’ve never thought of that before. I’ll think about it and get back to you’ ”
Participant Ana Karen Garza said she was encouraged to submit an abstract for consideration after listening to Maryrose describe last year’s event, and agreed with her friend that the experience was positive and productive.
“It was exciting to put myself out there, sharing my research in front of professors,” she said.
Participation “really helps build your public speaking skills, and it’s an excellent way to learn how to receive criticism and see it as a positive thing. The experience is a positive one for me now as a student, but it also builds skills I’ll use after graduation,” said Ana Karen, who presented a paper titled “Human Over-Rationalization and Environmental Degradation: Adorno, Horkheimer, and Weber.”
With a background in the performing arts, the thought of presenting a paper was not daunting for Master of Divinity student Josefine Leventhal-Noble, who said that when she saw the call for papers, “I knew in my heart I needed to do this.” She then raced to meet a deadline just two days after she learned of the colloquium to submit a 200-word abstract explaining her topic for consideration by the organizers.
What was particularly useful for her as she worked through drafts of her paper was the importance of parsing her words to ensure she was expressing clearly and accurately the concepts she wanted to convey in her paper, “An Approach to Respecting Mother Earth Through the Connection of Laudato Si’ to the Anashanabek First Nation. ”
Working with eco-theologian Dr. Dennis O’Hara as a sounding board, she began to realize, for example, that the term stewardship, which appeared in her paper, means different things to different people, and she became even more conscious about cultural sensitivity as she wrote about a culture not her own.
She also had to learn to boil down all her presentation to ensure it hit the 15-minute mark required of all presenters, working to be as concise as possible.
“I’m really going to sell this conference to my peers,” Josefine said. “I’m going to make a pitch for them to participate next year. It was exciting to be involved.”