by Ward Mullens, Published March 18, 2011
YPSILANTI - For many college students, spending more time with a professor means asking a question after a lecture. And research is something done in the library the night before a paper is due.
But for students participating in Eastern Michigan University's Undergraduate Symposium, those activities have a whole different meaning.
The 31st Annual Undergraduate Symposium, one of the few of its kind in the nation, takes place Friday, March 25, at the EMU student center. The event is free and open to the public and features student oral and poster presentations ranging on a wide variety of topics.
"Most students don't want to spend extra time with their professors," said Norbert Vance, professor of astronomy and a mentor for Symposium students the past 20 years. "I have been fortunate to have a string of enthusiastic students who have helped gather data. It's not the most glamorous thing!"
For Clara Balmer, a junior from Ypsilanti, it means spending at least part of her weekends for the past three months in the cold of the open Sherzer Observatory, focused on one star 2,000 light years away and measuring a star's brightness.
"The hardest part is the weather and the cold," said Balmer, an art student who took basic astronomy and then changed her major to physics. "But it's the most fun I have had. I didn't think I would have access to real astronomical science and get to work on a real major science project."
Balmer and Vance's data is part of national data collection by amateur astronomers to determine why the star changes brightness every 27 years.
For Zack Arp-Barnett, a freshman from Grosse Isle, those extra hours are spent in the practice room of the music department with Professor John Dorsey.
"It took at least three hours a day of practice over a couple of months to get it down," said Arp-Barnett of his project, a marimba solo piece for four mallets by world-renown Japanese artist Keiko Abe. "It takes a lot of patience to figure out the notes and how to hold the mallets."
"This is a great opportunity for students to pursue their passion," said Arp-Barnett. "Professor Dorsey and I have built a great relationship. He has really become a mentor to me."
"The Symposium is a wonderful environment for students to get a feel for the professional environment they want to go into," Vance said.
The Symposium includes more than 300 student presentations from four of the five colleges at EMU and encompasses 21 different academic departments. For additional information, go to http://www.emich.edu/symposium/
Some other interesting presentation topics include: