Academic Conference 2018 Showcases Creativity, Independent Research of Over 470 Students

The four-day celebration was filled with performances, poster sessions and presentations across academic disciplines and class years

Over the course of four days, more than 470 students spanning all class years presented the results of their independent, creative and intellectual endeavors during the 2018 Academic Conference.

The celebration of academic life at the College of the Holy Cross came in the form of performances, poster sessions and presentations that showcased work across academic disciplines and highlighted the role professors play as mentors and model teacher-scholars for Holy Cross students.

Dive into some of the many highlights below.

Claude Hanley '18, dedicated the entirety of his senior year to conducting independent research on mercy and what it means in the world.

As this year's Fenwick Scholar, one of the College's oldest and most prestigious academic distinctions, Hanley sought to explore how his two seemingly disparate majors — classics and Catholic Studies — overlapped, and what the ancient texts he studied could say about a modern problem.

"I started thinking about working on the theology of mercy in the summer of 2016, after my sophomore year. Intellectually, mercy was one of the most important issues in Catholic theology at the time, and still is. I had a sense, then, that this research meant something to the Church, and that made it worth pursuing."

Hanley explained that undertaking such a rigorous project had its ups and downs. "The days I'll remember are the thrilling ones. Particularly as the project came into its final stages, themes that I had forgotten about or given up on would come back, and suddenly an entire web of disconnected concepts would make sense."

"The greatest gift of this year was to read, and write and think in the Church and with the Church," said Hanley, who will be pursuing a master's in theological studies at Notre Dame next year. "I hope to make a life out of it, although I'm not sure how just yet."

The original music of the Nate Chung Project, a pop-music band made up of five Holy Cross students, filled the The Pit during the band's hour-long performance at the Academic Conference. While creating music is a passion for each band members, Nate Chung '18 found a way to integrate this passion with his academics at Holy Cross.

"When I was enrolling in classes for senior year, I didn't get into a few, but this amazing opportunity opened up in the form of an interdisciplinary offering, which allowed me to create my own course," the political science major and Asian Studies minor explained between songs. "So through fall and spring of this year, I've received an academic credit to sit in the studio and record music, and play live, and research the music industry. It's been incredible."

Chung's independent study is also paired with a grant through the Ignite Fund. Together, Chung and his bandmates — Casey Dawson '18, Sean Horan '18, Frank Dwyer '19 and Zach Sowerby '19 — have built momentum around their band, playing weekly gigs in Boston and Worcester and recording their second EP, "Love Lust." This EP feature songs like "Heart & Soul in Letter Form," which was written and recorded last semester as a part of Chung's course and funded by his grant.

When Emma O'Leary '18 woke up on the morning of her first student teaching session at Burncoat High School in Worcester, she was nervous. "It was daunting," said O'Leary, who is in the Teacher Education Program, as well as an English major with a concentration in creative writing, during her presentation.

But she settled in quickly, teaching English to 10th graders. Her biggest highlight so far has been teaching Sophocles' play "Antigone."

"Most of my students are English language learners, and the complexity of language in the play was very challenging. On campus, I'm heavily involved in Alternate College Theatre (ACT), so a group of Holy Cross students from ACT woke up at 6:00 a.m. with me and piled into my Honda and came to Burncoat to act out scenes from Antigone for my kids. My heart was so full seeing my two worlds — Holy Cross and Burncoat — collide."

Mia Lambo '20 decided to take the course Principles of Biology: The HIV Pandemic with Ann Sheehy, associate professor of biology, because she feels anyone who cares about public health — and their health in general — should take a biology class that relates to the immune system. As a sophomore English major, Lambo could have easily been overwhelmed with her first Academic Conference.

"Professor Sheehy did a really good job in our class because everyone had to make a poster and she really embedded it a lot in the class curriculum, so it wasn't too intimidating," Lambo said in her presentation, "HIV Treatment, Drug Resistance and Novel Approaches for Prevention" with Joseph Brosseau '20 and Luke Dufour '21. "If I want to do something more specific to my major down the road, I'll at least have something under my belt — I'll know what it's like and the preparation that goes into it."

Tanusha Yarlagadda '18, an avid consumer of makeup, turned an academic lens on her personal hobby as she studied why marginalized populations, such as women of color and gay men, use makeup and how they find agency in it. "Them using makeup is a form of protest of the marginalized wearing and doing things that they have been excluded from doing in order to fit into society," Yarlagadda explained.

Yarlagadda, an anthropology major with a concentration in Gender, Sexuality, and Women's Studies, will be pursuing a law degree after graduation, with this anthropology honors research playing a big role in her next step.

"I wrote my personal statement for law school on how I think it should be illegal for makeup companies to not create products for darker skin and that these corporations are culpable in the continuation of colorism and racism within already marginalized populations," said Yarlagadda. "This project helped me realize that my passions for makeup were not just frivolous but have dire societal consequences."

Students in the theatre and dance department's Movement and Creative Practice course made the basement of the Hogan Campus Center their stage, while performing a fluent piece created in collaboration with Jimena Bermejo, director of the dance program at Holy Cross, and members of the renowned Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Company.

"The first day we walked into class Jimena and the choreographers posed the question, 'Do you like working in a group or by yourself?'" said philosophy major Adeline Gutierrez Nunez '19, who performed alongside 19 of her classmates. "Throughout the course, this is a question that I continued to explore especially as we developed the dance. It was important for me to make my own choices, but as someone who has never been in a dance class before, I was intimidated. Before college, I didn't consider myself a creative person. However, my ideas about how creativity manifests has developed in my time here."

"Working with choreographers Christina Robson and Carlo Antonio Villanueva was unlike anything I've ever experienced," shared Sierra Hannough '18, a psychology major. "The best piece of advice we got was to get comfortable with the uncomfortable. Christina would say 'If you don't want to do it, it means you're on to something important.'"

Over the course of his senior year, international studies major Blake Basmajian '18 worked on a College Honors thesis that explores how the United States defines terrorism and the limitations of those definitions.

"What I sought to show in this thesis is that the United States government delegitimizes abusers and their use of violence," Basmajian said during his presentation titled "Is Terrorism Ever Justified?" "These groups are things that we inherently assume are bad groups, that anything they do is evil. I wanted to show that the United States government is actually delegitimizing these groups before they even have the opportunity to judge the violence, affecting the way we can understand these groups, and also not allowing us to understand how they function or what their next attack will be."

Colleen Mulhern '18 worked on a year-long thesis as a part of the College Honors and English Honors Programs.  Titled "Music and Identity in James Joyce's Major Works," Mulhern drew inspiration from her year abroad in Dublin, Ireland.

"There are numerous musical performances peppered throughout Joyce's poems, short stories, and novels that elicit wide ranging emotional messages from their fictional audiences," explained Mulhern, an English major with a concentration in creative writing.  "While living in Dublin, I came to appreciate that music, in its many forms and genres, integrated into everyday Irish life.  I found this musical omnipresence that I observed from the buskers on Grafton Street to the harps on a bottle of Guinness reflected in my own personal readings of James Joyce."

Vincent Crotta '18 was introduced to Chinese traditional medicine from a high school project about sustainable living, and when he studied abroad in Beijing, China, he had the opportunity to gain first-hand experience with Chinese traditional medicine techniques. His research project focused specifically on xi shu, a tree plant that has been known to be effective in curing cancers and other diseases.

"Studying abroad in Beijing, there was a research project component consisting of interviews, a 2,000 character essay, and a faculty presentation — all in Chinese," the Chinese and classics double major explained in front of his poster in the Hogan Ballroom. "It was through one of those interviews that I found out about xi shu. The tree has compound elements in its bark, leaves, roots and fruits that can be isolated for cancer treatments. Its natural habitat is southern China and Tibet on the banks of the Yangtze River. There's no way to derive the compound synthetically, however, so the tree has now become an endangered species."

Thirteen senior studio art majors, including Demetrius Wilson '18 (pictured above), displayed the fruits of their year-long labor in the Cantor Art Gallery during the exhibition "Fine Art." Annalisa Dow '18, who is also a history major, discussed her work consisting of sharp colors and interactive padded-wooden objects in front of the packed gallery.

"Humor and playfulness are a big part of my artistic process," said Dow, who shared that her desire to create a colorful, bold and interactive work stemmed from her experience working in a chaotic and consumerist American Girl doll store. "I wanted to bring the fun I had setting up the American Girl doll store to the gallery setting — it's free, it's interactive, anyone can use it." Sharing her plans to attend business school next year, Dow said she wants "to figure out a way to make sure there's more color in adult life."

Chemistry major William Cassels '18 has been doing research on campus since 2016 — and the relationship with his mentor, Kevin Quinn, professor of chemistry, has helped shape his Holy Cross experience and his decisions after graduation.

"Having someone like Professor Quinn to discuss my future plans with helped me reach the conclusion that graduate school will be the right path for me after graduation," said Cassels, who presented on "Total synthesis of (+)-bovidic acid." "Working under Professor Quinn has given me an opportunity to develop important lab skills and techniques along with understanding the expectations that come with working in a lab."

Manuscripts, Inscriptions, and Documents Club hosted a roundtable discussion comparing digital editions of some of the oldest-known extant manuscripts available. The discussion featured two "teams," one focusing on Pliny the Elder's "Natural History" and the other on selected texts of Homer.

Meeting on Friday afternoons, the club is comprised of students of all class years and disciplines, the only requirement being having a passion for ancient texts and manuscripts. First-year student and classics major Maia Lee-Chin '21 knew very little Greek when she began helping transcribe "The Iliad."

"Once you figure it out, you get so excited and you want to be there every Friday. When we started Book Two of 'The Iliad,' I could read the title of the chapter. It helped me realize and appreciate all of the hard work we had spent hours doing."

While spending a semester abroad in the medieval Italian city of Siena, Mia Yee '19 became a bookbinding apprentice.

Yee, an anthropology and Architectural Studies double major and studio art minor, explored her interest in old artisan crafts through courses on silversmithing, ceramics and paperworking at Siena Art Institute, but especially through the hours spent weekly in the workshop of a local bookbinder, learning the meticulous art form one-on-one.

"The reason I'd say I was more of an apprentice than a student was because I was left to mind the shop a lot," Yee shared during her presentation, where she showed off books she handcrafted, start to finish. "I would get to talk to customers that came in and it was a great experience that let me feel like more of an insider than an outsider in Siena. It was a great way for me to practice my Italian and to tell them exactly what I was doing there."

Academic Conference 2018 was sponsored by the Office of the Provost and Dean of the College. For a full list of all the presentations, events, and performances celebrating the dynamic academic accomplishments of the campus community, visit the Academic Conference site.

Photos by Tom Rettig