On April 28 and 29 Cal Poly hosted the 31st annual California State University (CSU) Student Research Competition. While the University of California (UC) system gets the lion’s share of public credit for academic research, the CSU’s system-wide competition showcases cutting edge research carried on by their students.
To judge the 240 contestants and their projects, the school needed some help from volunteers.
One of the advantages of having a world class technical and research institution in our backyard is that local businesses and individuals get a chance to participate once in awhile.
Sometimes that takes the form of a partnership or collaboration with Cal Poly or their students. On occasion the participation is a little more about civic engagement and staying in touch with the up and coming generation.
Mike Lee, with Simply Clear Marketing and Media –publishers of the SLO City News, Coast News and Bay News – got the call to come in and listen to the presenters for the event’s “Session 11 – Interdisciplinary Undergraduate and Graduate Research.”
Lee’s been out of the academic setting since his own school days, but in the meantime he’s owned businesses, spent 15 years in computer coding and worked in marketing for local media. In short, a good juror for an interdisciplinary panel which also included local scientists, and a technical types down from the S.F. Bay Area.
“I felt a huge sense of responsibility,” said Lee, noting respect for all of the work done by the students, “to judge them fairly based on the criteria we were given.”
All attendees of research symposiums no doubt enjoy some subjects more than others, but the event called for their jurors to sit through all speakers in their respective sessions – there were 11 simultaneously across campus – and discuss amongst themselves with a percentage based criteria.
In essence they were professors for a day.
That manifested itself in the question and answer period, and for that Session 11 at least, dealing with several technical challenges in the antiquated classroom.
“They were all much better live, in person,” Lee said, noting that jurors had already been asked to review the written works submitted for the competition, “I had to throw away any conceptions I had from the reading. In person everyone stood out.”
Most of the presenter’s, including Trevor Lowe, representing Cal Poly with research “Using Eye-Tracking and Task Analyses to Understand Human-Package Interactions,” used a variety of videos and other aids to make their talks a little more dynamic. However part of the “learn, by doing” ethos would be dealing with the unexpected in real world settings. A few of the afternoon visitors from other CSU’s were credited with handling themselves with distinction in persisting through interruptions and delays.
“I was just very impressed with what [the CSUs were] doing,” Lee said afterwards, “From a critique of 19th century nautical melodramas [Leena Jamaleddin, CSU Stanislaus] to gibbon research [Tiffany Darden, CSU Channel Islands], they’re all winners to me…that was the hardest part to pick just two out of ten was a real challenge.”