Concordia’s fall Student Lecture Series kicked off Oct. 8 with senior Mackenzie Kane’s lecture on fact and fiction within Bernard Malamud’s “The Fixer.” Mads Schimdt Christensen and Sean Volk follow with lectures on Nov. 3 and Nov. 19, respectively.
The Student Lecture Series is in its 21st year. It recognizes students who do outstanding research work in a discipline and provides an opportunity to share their results in a public presentation. The Student Lecture Series idea originated in 1988 with the Credo committee at that time and was developed by the SGA academic affairs commissioner at the time, Erin Delaney.
The Academic Advisement and Student Development committee, comprised of six faculty and staff members and two students, reviews nominations from faculty members and accepts the students for the series. A call goes out to faculty members to nominate students for the fall series in the spring, and vice versa.
Kristi Loberg, chair of the Academic Advisement and Student Development committee, said the committee averages 3-5 nominations each semester, but they would like to receive more.
“We do think it’s a great opportunity for students to in one way be recognized for their outstanding work, but also to present their work in the public setting,” she said.
The committee reads all of the nominations and then arranges them in rank order to make the selections. Loberg said they consider topics that have broad interest to the campus community and strive to gather representation from a variety of disciplines. Almost every academic department has had a faculty member sponsor a student for a lecture, but the departments of religion and philosophy are the most frequent sponsors. Discussion to determine which nominated students will be selected for the series also involves academic quality and the degree of in-depth research and analysis.
Religion professor Roy Hammerling, who has nominated three students in the past, said he nominates papers that take risks by making an argument that is not obvious and pushes the bound of knowledge in an area of study.
“It’s a paper with a creative thesis and when I read it, I feel like I’ve learned a lot,” he said.
Hammerling said that these kinds of papers are not frequent; he only sees a few each year. He only nominates papers when he sees not only a unique view, but also a fervent passion for the topic.
“[They’re] writing and reading because they can’t help but do it,” he said. “It’s become a part of their thinking, it means something more than just a paper; it’s a means to understand the world.”
Hammerling said these papers normally come as a pleasant surprise to him. He is not surprised that the student can produce such high quality work because normally the student is an excellent student, but the paper just has that something special that grabs his attention.
“The paper jumps out at you and says ‘I demand a bigger audience,’” he said.
Typically, nominations are a paper or presentation that the faculty member has worked on with the student, or a paper that was received as an assignment in class. Loberg said most faculty nominate students after consulting with them to see if they are willing to turn their work into a lecture.
Hammerling said the transformation process to turn the paper into a lecture is a big step because written persuasion won’t always work well in an oral form.
“Sometimes it takes months,” he said. “That’s exactly why I pick a student that has a passion for that topic, because if you’re not interested in that topic, you will get bored after a while.”
Mackenzie Kane, the first student lecturer of the series, worked on creating her lecture from her English capstone course paper over the summer. She said she thought about larger issues and expanded major points to make it more accessible to audience members who have not read Malamud’s “The Fixer,” the 1966 novel which her paper focused on.
Kane said it was an interesting process because rather than forming a presentation from work she had already completed, it was really an extension of the paper, since she had to take it to a new level to make it relevant for everyone.
Kane said her faculty sponsor, English professor David Sprunger, was a tremendous aid with helping her evolve her paper into a lecture, but also by promoting her lecture. Kane was grateful for the high turnout her lecture received and felt that it went very well.
“I was certainly nervous beforehand,” she said, “but afterwards I could really let it sink in that it was an honor and a culmination of my experience at Concordia.”
Kane said the Student Lecture Series exemplifies what liberal learning is about. She said the public venue allows for great dialogue and a chance to develop new connections. She encourages Cobbers to check out the upcoming lectures in the series.
“You’re supporting the fellow students in scholarship,” she said. “It’s a great way to be exposed to new things.”
Marisa Paulson is a senior and the news & features editor of The Concordian, although she still writes when she can. She plans to attend the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University in fall 2011.