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Necessity, invention’s mother, made a surprise appearance in early 2020—forcing Eckerd College to rethink how it did just about everything. The annual Research and Humanities symposia were no different.

“It was canceled in 2020 because the organizers thought it impossible to continue with students being sent home for the rest of the Spring 2020 Semester,” said Beth Forys, Ph.D., 2021 event chair and professor of environmental studies and biology.

For 13 years, the Eckerd College Research Symposium had been held on a single day, in person with students giving oral presentations and poster presentations for a judging panel and observers. Similarly, the Humanities Symposium gathered the community together to hear oral presentations in a gallery setting for six years. This academic year, regulations prohibiting indoor gatherings of large crowds didn’t deter Forys, who had seen a successful virtual symposium at her daughter’s college.

“I thought, ‘I could do this at Eckerd,’” she said.

With volunteer help from eight fellow faculty members and three staffers, Forys combined the Research and Humanities symposia into six virtual events hosted on three different days in April. In total, 58 students representing 13 disciplines participated in 38 presentations.

Ideas cribbed from across the campus community, including the idea of prerecording presentations from Professor of Marine Science and Biology Shannon Gowans, Ph.D., came together to make the event a success. Seventy to 150 people attended each presentation.

“I thought it was funny because the students would wear the same outfit they taped in, so when we got to the Q&A, the audience didn’t even know,” Forys explained.

The finished videos of oral and poster presentations were uploaded to YouTube, collected and displayed on a brand-new Eckerd College Research Symposium website for others to learn more about the work taking place on and off the campus. The Eckerd Library has already archived all the videos and documents for future reference. Forys said she has also already seen students adding the videos and website to their LinkedIn profiles.

“It’s pretty cool because the website shows anyone what sort of research is happening here at Eckerd. We had first-year research associates present up to seniors doing their theses,” she said. “It shows the wide range of things happening at the College.”

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