15th Undergraduate Scholars Conference


The 15th Annual Undergraduate Scholars Conference held on May 4 was attended by St. Ambrose faculty and families who were eager to listen to the students' months-long research projects. According to Patrick Archer, PhD, the Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, the event was an exceptional opportunity for students interested in pursuing graduate studies to present and discuss their research. For those students who are planning to pursue their careers immediately after graduation, the conference was equally beneficial in helping them articulate and defend their ideas publicly.

Oral Presentation Sessions

St. Ambrose students, including Petter Kolaas, Thalia Ortiz, Karilyn Ross, Emily Markowski, Kili Alexander-McCallum, and Savannah Smith, delivered impressive research presentations covering a diverse range of topics, including art and culture, civic engagement, and conspiracy theories.

The conference began with an enlightening speech by keynote speaker Holly Aitken, PhD, '15, an orthopedic biomechanics researcher, who shared her personal journey and offered advice to the graduate scholars.
"Everyone's journey is unique and has twists and turns," Aitken noted. "Even though some of my experiences did not work out for me in the long run, it showed me what I was truly passionate about. Make sure to always advocate for yourself and surround yourself with family, friends and mentors. You will be able to look back on these experiences that helped to make you a better researcher and highlight the areas you are most interested in."

Petter Kolaas - The Root of Learned Helplessness in Civic Engagement
Seeking to understand patterns of waning civic engagement, Petter combined concepts from philosophy and psychology to form a theory around why people don't vote in a democratic society. He discovered a connection between the growth of the power elite and a decrease in the perceived impact of the average citizen, leading him to describe this phenomenon through the lens of Learned Helplessness. Like a true philosopher, however, it wasn't enough to just accept this theory for what it was. Instead, he asked the question, "why are we conditioned to accept powerlessness?" and inspired the audience to reject the herd to eliminate political apathy.

Thalia Ortiz - My Great Aunt Can Predict the Future
Tasked by her Critical Thinking professor to explore a conspiracy theory, Thalia used qualitative analysis from her family to investigate if her great aunt, a self-proclaimed witch who specializes in tarot card readings, can really predict the future. Through her experiment, Thalia created a concept she coined "Affirmations of Manifestations" as she sought to understand whether or not we hear only what we want to hear. While we may never know for sure if Thalia's great aunt can truly predict the future, one thing is for sure - she accurately predicted that Thalia has a successful future ahead of her!

Karilyn Ross - Gender's Affect on Exercise and Mental Health
Karilyn conducted an independent, interdisciplinary study to better understand the role gender plays in the relationship between physical activity and quality of life as we age. In line with the university's mission to be in, of and for our community, Karilyn partnered with participants from the Center for Active Seniors, Inc. (CASI) in Davenport to gather data. With much more to learn about the connection between psychology and kinesiology, Karilyn's research is the start of an important exploration into the factors that truly impact our perceptions of health and wellbeing throughout our lifetime.

Emily Markowski - Data Reliability When Using Different Online Data Collections
Emily conducted a study to evaluate the reliability of various online data collections using descriptive measures, control filters, and Cronbach's Alpha to assess consistency and comparisons. Although the results did not meet her expectations, the research helped Emily refine her critical thinking skills and investigate the motivators behind student participation in online data collection.

Kili Alexander-McCallum - Hulu Manu: A Royal Hawaiian Art Form
Kili's research delved into the rich cultural heritage of Hawaii, specifically the ancient and prestigious art form known as Hulu Manu. This craft involved the use of thousands of native bird feathers to create intricate and luxurious garments reserved only for the Hawaiian elite and royalty. Kili's research not only deepened her appreciation for her culture but also inspired her to continue exploring this art form in the future.

Savannah Smith - Nordic National Romanticism
Savannah's study focused on Nordic National Romanticism, a movement in late 19th century Sweden and Finland that aimed to establish a unique national identity through various art forms. Savannah's research not only highlighted the beauty of these art forms but also shed light on their deeper meanings, traditions, and sometimes political messages.

Read more about the keynote speaker, Holly Thomas-Aitken here.


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