Isabel Chaidez never really considered engaging in research as an undergraduate until she was halfway done with her bachelor’s degree at Elmhurst.
“I went into college thinking research isn’t for me,” she recalls. “I thought, I’ll do my classes, I’ll do a double major. But research was this big daunting thing.”
Then she attended the College’s Research and Performance Showcase near the end of her sophomore year.
“To see the level of achievement of my peers and their academic advisors…It was truly inspiring to see what could be accomplished by students in their late teens and early 20s,” she says.
The following year, Chaidez worked on two presentations. This year, as a senior with a double major in Spanish and communication sciences and disorders, she embarked on an ambitious research presentation about Romantic poet Gustavo Adolfo Becquer (which required translations from Spanish to English and back again).
Chaidez was one of some 150 students who participated in the College’s 13th Annual Research and Performance Showcase on May 7. Over the course of the day, Elmhurst hosted more than 90 oral presentations and 65 poster presentations on a variety of subjects, including religion in contemporary French society; tourism as propaganda in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict; overcoming dormancy mechanisms in garlic mustard seeds; and creating “herstory” in Helena Maria Viramontes’ The Moths and Other Stories.
“As the saying goes, if you want to know something, teach it to someone else,” says Honors Program Director Mary Kay Mulvaney.
Each year, the College’s Sustainability Committee awards a $250 prize for the best sustainability-related entry at the Showcase. This year’s award went to Matthew Straub for his poster, “Heck Reaction: A Greener Alternative to Conventional Synthesis.”
Student participants in the showcase typically work closely with a faculty mentor as they conduct research and prepare for the Showcase. This year, senior music major Elvis Andruszkiewicz and English professor Bridget O’Rourke teamed up for “RoaraTORio: a Senescent Circus on Finnegans Wake,” an audio composition that includes original music, music by John Cage, extensive sound recordings and dramatic readings from James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake by English student Lee Borocz-Johnson. They presented their work in the Founders Lounge with a laptop and speaker.
The project—inspired by O’Rourke’s father’s experiences with Alzheimer’s disease and Andruszkiewicz’s own traumatic brain injury from a car crash—aims to explore the idea of non-narratives and human consciousness, mimicked by Joyce’s complex writing. “The whole point is that you can have a lot of fun by sitting there, idle, submitting to the dialogue in your mind,” says Andruszkiewicz.
Andruszkiewicz and O’Rourke have presented their research in the academic journal Hypermedia Joyce Studies and received a Summer Faculty-Student Research Grant to expand on their project.
Mulvaney sees the Showcase as a perfect way for students to fine-tune their academic skillset and prepare for wider audiences. “It’s a stepping stone,” she says. “This is a good, safe environment with people who are all supporting them.”
In past years, Elmhurst students have used the Showcase to prepare for larger events like the National Collegiate Honors Council and the National Conference of Undergraduate Research (which had more than 3,000 presenters last year).
After making three presentations in two years, Chaidez says the experience has given her a sense of confidence and accomplishment. “[Presenting] was very eye-opening and inspiring,” she says. “I think it gives students a sense of empowerment.”