A few weeks back I had the opportunity to do something I rarely get the chance to do: see students in action in the classroom. Typically while students are situated in classrooms, labs, practice rooms, or other student-centered space, I'm toiling at my desk (yes, toiling), writing assorted content for the info that appears on the college's website.
Yet on this day, our office managers--the college, as a whole, in fact--encouraged us to break from our daily routine to hear presentations by students during the first Senior Symposium. This event, as publicity announced, was held to showcase the intellectual and artistic achievements of students, many of who have worked on projects and or conducted research since joining the Oberlin community some four years ago.
What better way to show what you know than to present it yourself? These presentations took the form of PowerPoint presentations, mini lectures, interactive discussions, demonstrations and role-play, poetry readings, slide shows.... In fact, Arts and Sciences Dean Sean Decatur called these endeavors a hallmark of an Oberlin education. He said that the symposium established "a forum for the recognition and celebration of students' accomplishments."
My sole criticism and observation: there were few onlookers. The turnout for the symposium was, well, low. In the session I attended, the dozen or so people in the classroom were mostly friends of the presenters. The rest were the students' advisors or mentors. I was probably odd woman out, which was OK by me. I was truly fascinated by what the students chose to share. Each presentation I attended seemed to be an expression of either the student's personal academic journey or experience or an indication of their focus of study at Oberlin.
I think the symposium was an important first step for students to share information, ideas, and research results with their peers, professors, staff, and others. Oberlin is noted for many things and the students who emerge from this institution are supposed to be well able to do one of the things for which it's known: making a difference, in the sciences, the arts, and the humanities.
I hope organizers don't let turnout or lack thereof determine whether or not to offer the symposium again. Doing something for the first time always has its risks. Yet it also allows the opportunity to build upon what was attempted and even do things differently the next time. And I do hope there is a next time. I agree with Dean Decatur that students deserve a forum to present their scholarly and artistic accomplishments. We as campus members need opportunities like these to see students at their scholarly best.
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