Molecular motors, ikebana and Pulitzer-winning novels: SSRD features something for everyone

by University Communications,

Undergraduate classes were canceled Wednesday at Willamette University, but students and professors still filled classrooms across campus — and this time, the students led the discussions.

Every spring on Student Scholarship Recognition Day (SSRD), a 14-year tradition at Willamette, hundreds of students present their research and artistic work to the broader campus community.

Their professors, friends, family, classmates and other community members fill the audience to see and engage with their work, while honoring their academic accomplishments.

“SSRD, alongside our other amazing programs that fund student research, represents Willamette’s commitment to fostering engaged scholars, researchers and artists,” said Jonneke Koomen, assistant professor of politics and chair of the SSRD committee.

This year, more than 300 students donned their dress clothes and prepared posters, PowerPoints and artistic performances that highlighted the results of their senior theses, independent research and class projects.

In the morning, a packed room in Collins Science Center listened as biology major Bianca Nagata ’14 detailed her research on the molecular motor protein myosin — a physics project she worked on as part of the Science Collaborative Research Program.

Over in the Art Building, Christian Oldham ’14, MBA’15 presented his art history thesis on ikebana, the ancient Japanese art of flower arrangement. The audience learned that despite modern American ideas that flower arranging is a domestic hobby for women, ikebana masters are traditionally men — creating arrangements to represent man’s relation to the universe.

Other programs throughout the day included panel discussions on ethnic studies for social change; presentations on an Indian mascot community listening project, funded by the Liberal Arts Research Collaborative; and literary roundtables on Junot Diaz’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, “The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao.”

Outside Cat Cavern, first-year students presented posters on research from their introductory chemistry courses. The packed room of attendees included Willamette President Steve Thorsett.

Amy Creasy ’17, Jessi Weaver ’17 and Alexis Carey ’17 researched and made a poster on the chemistry behind hair dye, something they thought many students could relate to (although only two of them had used hair color).

They said that SSRD gave them valuable public speaking experience, and they enjoyed watching seniors present their theses, giving them a glimpse of the work they have to come. “It’s also nice to see all the different topics students are researching,” Carey added.

And with nearby posters explaining the chemistry behind cheese, methamphetamine and rocket fuels — just part of the day’s vast array of explorations into historical and modern debates and quandaries — it seemed as though one could learn just about anything at SSRD.