Putting Tier One Ideals Into Motion
12 Years of the COLFA Research Conference
UTSA is an organization in the midst of dramatic growth and transition. In less than a decade the university has evolved from a commuter college with a local presence to a diverse and dynamic institution 30,000+ students strong, and nowhere is this transformational energy more evident than in the university’s drive for top-tier research status. The phrase ‘Tier One’ has become embedded in the campus psyche as our mission has grown to include firmly establishing premier research as a new model for faculty and students alike.
The liberal arts have a vital role in new knowledge creation and in keeping the nature of research diverse. This is a fact that, for the last 12 years, COLFA has demonstrated by taking college research beyond the sole domain of faculty by hosting an annual interdisciplinary research conference where doctoral, graduate, and undergraduate students in the college come together to share ideas, practice presentation skills in a professional environment, and receive recognition for their extraordinary contributions.
The COLFA Spring Research Conference allows students to present their work and research before a wider audience than would be found in a seminar class, but without the added stress of travel associated with out-of-town conferences. It started as a graduate-only conference in 2001 under then-Associate Dean Dorothy Flannagan in the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences (which would later merge with the College of Fine Arts and Humanities to form present-day COLFA). Associate Dean Christopher Wickham took the lead for the event in 2005; by this time it had expanded to include undergraduate participants. Since then the conference has grown to embrace all disciplines in the college, giving rise to a diverse event filled with engaging presentations, poster showings, musical performances and art exhibitions, and culminating in an awards ceremony to recognize and financially reward standout participants in each area. The college’s research conference is a model for other institutions that have only recently begun to organize similar events as the demand for undergraduate research takes hold on campuses nationwide.
Every March, the second floor of the Main Campus University Center becomes a hive of intellectual activity for a day, with visually rich research posters displayed in the foyer and a steady stream of conference participants flowing in and out of meeting rooms. As the day progresses, focus shifts across campus to the Arts Building. Attendees gather for a reception in the lobby and visit the Art Gallery to browse student artwork before heading to the Recital Hall for the concluding awards ceremony, which features musical performances and presentation of the awards by Dean Daniel J. Gelo, Dr. Wickham, and a selected member of the UTSA research community. Winners receive cash awards funded through the COLFA Dean’s Office and the office of the Vice President for Research.
As Dr. Wickham points out, the guiding purpose of the conference is to serve as a vehicle for the professional development of COLFA students: “It gives students the opportunity to present their original work in a forum of interested and critically engaged minds that is at the same time welcoming and inclusive. It’s an excellent chance to practice public speaking and presentation for those who will enter academic fields or careers where these skills are required.”
In our students' words...
Jodi Ierien, 4th Place Undergraduate Research Paper (tied)
“The conference proves that not all research has to be STEM-based [Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics]. It gives us an opportunity to share information and ideas across the curriculum. When I met with the head of the graduate English program at Our Lady of the Lake, she was impressed to see [the conference presentation] listed on my CV and was interested in the premise of my paper.”
Amanda Salerno-O’Donnell, 1st Place Undergraduate Creative Writing
“It’s an incredibly satisfying feeling to share your hard work with others and have others share theirs with you. I loved listening to the research papers, presentations, and creative writing pieces that my fellow students have worked on unrelentingly to perfect. The sharing we experienced lends to an overall feeling of teamwork and mutual pride.”
Jana Cobb, 1st Place Undergraduate Research Paper
“I benefitted most noticeably in confidence, and that includes confidence in my research and in talking about my research with other intellectuals.”
Austin Bonecutter, 2nd Place Undergraduate Research Paper
“I feel much more confident about making my research known to the academic community since it was very well received by the graduate students that attended my presentation.”
Virgie Taylor, 2nd Place Undergraduate Multimedia
“The conference is very important to UTSA because it provides an extracurricular opportunity outside of athletics for students to develop their minds and refine their skills.”
Adolfo Mora, 1st Place Graduate Multimedia (with Yvette Garcia)
“It’s extremely helpful as a student to share ideas and inspiration with other students, to be able to create something of your own and get feedback from your peers and mentors.”
Jason Treviño, 3rd Place Graduate Creative Writing
“The conference not only demonstrates the intellectual rigor of our institution, but also allows for an atmosphere that is supportive and non-threatening for those of us who haven’t had the opportunity to present at conferences outside of UTSA.”
Carla Pezzia, 4th Place Graduate Research Paper
“It would be nice to see each college do something similar to COLFA’s conference. The events could be hosted at the same time to create an expo of the work being done by UTSA students.”
Trudi Carter, 4th Place Undergraduate Research Paper (tied)
“I went into the conference a student and left a scholar.”