The Earth Day Student Research Showcase was held virtually April 22, organized by the Center for Earth and Environmental Science. Students delivered presentations on various topics of research pertaining to ecology, pollution, biodiversity and other wide-ranging fields of study.
At a traditional in-person showcase, students would have stood next to posters displaying their research, and visitors would have made their way around the room and stopped to chat with individual students about their work. However, because of COVID-19, the showcase was held online, utilizing Zoom to deliver presentations instead. Participants were assigned to breakout rooms, in which students discussed their research using a PowerPoint, Adobe Sparks Presentation or other digital format. Visitors rotated between multiple breakout rooms throughout the event, so they could observe all the students’ presentations.
“I had each presenter mapped out in their respective rooms and made sure they were exactly where they needed to be,” Mark Lesser, the head organizer of the showcase, said. “Then there were over 80 visitors whom I was rotating between breakout rooms. It was sort of a challenge to keep track of everyone, but it worked out well.”
This was the second time the showcase was held virtually, the first being held last year. However, Lesser reflected that this year’s event was far more efficient and ran more smoothly.
“Last year’s showcase, which we held on Zoom as well, was very last-minute,” Lesser said. “This year’s involved a lot more planning and coordination. Though there were some minor technological issues, such as some students not being able to share their presentations from their devices, I think overall the event was very successful and was a great opportunity for students to show what they have been working on for a long time.”
Assistant Professor of Environmental Science Mary Alldred, who moderated one of the breakout rooms, felt the hardships stemming from pandemic restrictions made the students’ and organizers’ accomplishments all the more meaningful.
“It was great to see that so many of our students are still having the opportunity to participate in research projects,” Alldred said. “It was also so encouraging to see students and their advisors going out of their way to make this work happen. This has been a challenging time for productivity in general, so to see students collecting data out in the field, performing experiments, or even spending additional time on Zoom with their collaborators to do this work was truly amazing.”
Another aspect of the digital format that proved beneficial was the fact that visitors from outside SUNY Plattsburgh could enjoy the showcase as well, according to presenter Samantha Beck.
“I had friends and family attend who live over six hours away and otherwise would not have been able to see my presentation,” Beck said. “Although virtual presentations and meetings can provide some difficulty in terms of comfort with technology, I thought it was really useful in the context of the showcase because it allowed for many more people to attend. I thought the CEES department came up with a great solution to still have the presentation in a safe way that made students still feel proud of their work.”
Beck received the Undergraduate Research Award for planning. Her research focused on e-planning, or using computer-based systems to conduct decision-making, in the context of managing community forests.
Carrie Benatti, a first-time presenter, echoed the sentiment that the digital format — although not without complications — added to the overall memorable and unique feeling of the showcase.
“This was my first CEES Earth Day event and I loved it,” Benatti said. “It was quite an undertaking and not without its technological hiccups. But, compared to the many other virtual events I’ve been to in the past year, I really think changing it to run more smoothly would have detracted from the feeling of togetherness that they managed to pull off. Seeing the depth of work being done by other students was really inspiring. I can’t wait for next year.”
Benatti’s research centered around examining how cows and other ruminants gain nutrients by recycling nitrogenous wastes that most animals excrete. Her presentation employed a range of diagrams to explore the role of amino acid metabolism and lysosomes in the process.
Students expressed their gratitude for the opportunity to share the research they had spent months committing themselves to.
“I think the showcase was a great experience for presenters to show off their work and guests to get a taste of the work that goes on in the Center for Earth & Environmental Science,” Jordan Baer said. Baer’s research focused on examining state parks’ responses to COVID-19 and assessing how effective various approaches were. “I was personally overjoyed that I could share the work I’ve been doing for the past year and feel that others were happy to have their effort be recognized through the presentations and awards.”
Likewise, students enjoyed seeing their friends and classmates present as well.
“It was a fantastic opportunity to see what my peers have been working on all semester. Even though the showcase was on Zoom, this was a great way to bring people together during COVID,” Jillian Kara said.
Kara presented her research on public engagement in the planning process during COVID-19, examining in detail the relationship between the public and state governments in decision-making throughout the crisis. She was also named the Outstanding Graduating Senior in Environmental Planning and Management at the end of the showcase.
“I loved seeing different students from SUNY Plattsburgh share their work and findings on research they’ve been working on,” fellow presenter Hannah Cave said. “I loved being able to share my research with other students and I hope they took away some new interesting findings from my project.”
Cave’s presentation took a close look at the wildlife response to a wildfire in Atlanta Flat Rock, specifically examining how predator-prey relationships were affected by the environmental changes.
Others appreciated that professors had the opportunity to see what their students had been working on and how they had applied what they learned in the classroom. Among them was Sophia Griffiths, whose work showcased the effect of global warming on plant migration in mountainous regions.
“It was really great to have all the professors on there that were so excited to hear from us,” Griffiths said. “I liked that I had the chance to show off all my hard work and hear about what others had been working.”
All in all, the showcase gave students a platform to share their research and allowed visitors from all across the country to take part.
“The showcase really was a very special and exciting opportunity for all of us,” Lee said. “Students, professors, and everyone involved appreciated being a part of this.”