Harrison Symposium spotlights students’ work

Alyssa Villaire

The 15th annual Richard A. Harrison Symposium took place this past Saturday, May 19 in Main Hall.

Over 30 students gave presentations in topics across the social sciences and the humanities. Presentations lasted 20 minutes each, and all were followed by a 10-minute question-and-answer session in which the students fielded questions from faculty, students and community members.

All student presenters were nominated by members of the faculty, and after an application process, students were given time slots to present in the symposium. Many presentations covered students’ honors projects or Senior Experience research, though not all presenters were seniors.

After a reception and a welcome by Provost and Dean of the Faculty David Burrows, presentations were given in two sessions. The range of topics included, “Needles and Natural Healers: The Integration of Medical Systems among the Tanzanian Maasai” to “Spike Lee: Historian of Metaphoric History?” and “The Politics of Music in Sierra Leone.”

While student attendance was sparse in the morning session, the presentations gained more momentum later in the day. The audiences for the presentations also included faculty, staff and family members of the presenters.

The symposium was named for former Lawrence Dean of the Faculty Richard A. Harrison, who organized the first symposium in 1996, after he died suddenly the following year.

Currently, the symposium is organized by Burrows, Associate Dean of the Faculty and Associate Professor of German Ruth Lanouette, and Senior Administrative Assistant-Dean of the Faculty Sharon Marks.

Burrows emphasized the importance of the symposium in Lawrence’s Senior Experience program. Said Burrows, “What’s happening right now is that there are a lot of different venues for [Senior Experience projects], particularly since they’re departmentally based. But… we want to do something that is more comprehensive and high-profile to highlight this very important aspect of the education program.”

English major and senior Bridget Donnelly gave a presentation titled ” ‘Different Ways of Not Saying Such Things’: Conflicting Modes of Realism in Pamela and Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure.”

Said Donnelly about her experience as a presenter, “It’s a really valuable experience, especially for people who are going on to academia, because that’s exactly what they’re going to need to do. And that format of 20 minutes for presentations and 10 minutes for questions is pretty standard.”

Burrows, who has encouraged presenters to put the symposium on their resumes and curriculum vitae, cites this career preparation as one of the main purposes of the symposium. “You have to plan a very brief presentation, you have to put together the materials for it, you have to make sure that a general audience can understand it, and you have to deal with questions. Those are very, very good skills to have.”

Burrows also cited the individualized learning opportunity offered to students in the form of honors projects and the Senior Experience is invaluable. “Educationally, doing something that has never been done before, that is generated by you, is one of the best ways to learn there is. If you contrast sitting in a class and listening to other peoples’ ideas, they can be well presented and absorbed nicely, but the very best way to learn is to generate your own ideas and to play them out. That’s one of the most important things the symposium does… So doing an original piece of work from an idea about something that’s very interesting to you is very valuable.”

Donnelly also noted that this is a rare opportunity for many students. “The third thing that the symposium does, though it’s very hard because of the timing, is to allow families to see the kind of work the students have been doing.”

“There aren’t that many opportunities for people in the humanities and the social sciences [to present their work],” said Donnelly. “I think it’s great to have this to give students the opportunity to see what it would be like to present a paper in an academic setting.”

For a full schedule of presentations from the 15th annual Harrison Symposium, please see www.lawrence.edu.