WIU knows how important research is and that’s why every year, the university dedicates a day to research. Undergraduate students had the opportunity to present their own research at Wednesday’s Thomas E. Helm Undergraduate Research Day. I was one of the many students who participated in the day’s events. But before I did, I spoke with Patty Battles of the Centennial Honors College. She said Undergraduate Research Day started twelve years at Western. “It started as a way to celebrate and showcase the research, scholarship and scholarly activities of our students,” Battles explained.
Students presented their research in one of three different ways: podium presentations, poster presentations or a performance. With so many choices, I wondered what type of presentations students would choose and why. “I am not comfortable speaking publicly in front of people,” said senior Kyle Sallas, a law enforcement and justice administration major. Sallas decided to complete a poster presentation. Battles said most students choose the poster presentation option. For a poster presentation, students showcase their research on a poster with graphics. They don’t really have to do much talking unless someone asks questions about their findings. I actually counted the number of presentations and 159 students chose to complete posters out of the 189 presentations. “I think a lot of students don’t want to stand in front of a group and talk about their research,” Battles stated.
Junior Sean Ellis, a journalism major, also showcased his research via a poster. “I usually fumble words or forget some portion of my presentations,” Ellis explained. Senior Dana Franklin, a history major, chose the same route for two reasons. She first explained the poster would allow onlookers to get a closer look at the artwork she discussed in her research. But she had a common fear like Ellis, “I get nervous when I speak, and often times I stumble over my words,” Franklin said. Senior Rachel Caston, a forensic chemistry major, also didn’t feel comfortable presenting her project verbally. Caston admitted she does feel comfortable reciting a speech if she is prepared, “if I am not prepared then I tend to draw a blank on what to say.”
After chatting with these students, I saw a pattern form: many students aren’t comfortable with publically speaking. However, public speaking has many advantages as David Zanolla, a WIU communication instructor, explained. “When we opt to express our thoughts, beliefs and opinions in a public setting, we are communicating these ideas in a conversational way that ideally allows for a connection to be made between us and our audience,” Zanolla said.
As for myself, I completed two presentations: one podium presentation and one poster presentation. For my first presentation I chose to present using a poster because I found it extremely hard to narrow my research down to only 10 minutes. Presenters were only allowed 10 minutes for a podium presentation. I don’t mind public speaking; in fact I enjoy it. Surprisingly, after chatting with some students, I realized that wasn’t the case for everyone participating in Undergraduate Research Day, including both Terrence Petry, a freshman forensic chemistry major and junior Brittany Dutkiewcz, an exercise science major. This was Dutkiewcz’s first time participating at Undergraduate Research Day. “I fear that if I mess up or do something remotely embarrassing everyone will notice,” she said. On the flip side, Petry used this day as a learning experience. “I have never been a good presenter so I am using this as an opportunity to improve my presentation and public speaking skills,” he said.
Whether the students enjoy or just muddle through public speaking, instructor Zanolla offered advice to all students, “many think public speaking is all about exciting delivery involving being both vocally and physically dynamic; I contend delivery should not be the primary focus.” He explained speakers should focus on the audience and make decisions that help communicate ideas to that audience. Whether students publicly spoke, or stood beside their poster, I believe the Thomas E. Helm Undergraduate Research Day was a successful learning experience for all who attended.