Chestnut Hill College hosted the Southeastern Pennsylvania Consortium for Higher Education (SEPCHE) Honors Conference in April for the third time since its inception 18 years ago, bringing together some of the best and brightest young minds from the group’s member colleges and universities.
“The goal of the honors conference is to allow our students the chance to present research, artwork or a musical performance in front of a professional audience, thus helping them develop the confidence they will need throughout their careers,” says Kathleen Duffy, SSJ, Ph.D., director of the interdisciplinary honors program and this year’s conference coordinator.
Given the huge undertaking of planning a conference of this size, Sister Kathy and her team began putting details together for the conference last summer. By February, students were asked to submit their proposals and then the real work began as Sister Kathy and her student assistants organized conference sessions, assigned rooms for presentations, worked with catering to provide breakfast and lunch for students and their guests, and created folders, name badges, and certificates for the close to 200 student presenters.
The day began with opening remarks provided by Chestnut Hill’s President, Carol Jean Vale, SSJ, Ph.D., who expressed her great joy and gratitude at being able to welcome all of the students, their families and friends to share in the day. Student speaker, Sunaina Gohil ’16 shared her experience of interdisciplinary honors with her fellow students and congratulated them on all of their hard work.
In all, 33 Chestnut Hill College students presented at the conference, the most ever. The presentations included three musical performances, eight students who presented original art exhibitions and the remainder whose research covered many academic areas such as chemistry, criminal justice, environmental science, digital forensics, business, early childhood education and sociology.
According to Sister Kathy, while many of these presentations fell within a specific discipline, others were of an interdisciplinary nature, something the College encourages throughout its curriculum, especially within the honors program.
“Our honors students found ways to blend subject matters so seamlessly and embrace the interdisciplinary nature of the program or of their departmental honors, and of what we hope to see from the conference,” she says. “Overall, I was so impressed and pleased by the work of our students, and of course of all of the students who attended. Everyone was so well-prepared.”
One of the intentional aspects of the conference is to group students together, not necessarily by their area of study, but rather by their topic and the theme. For example, one academic session, which focused on the effects of social media, grouped presenters who viewed the topic through the lenses of communications, public speaking and social consumerism.
“We wanted students to see the interdisciplinary nature of their topic rather than to see it in isolation,” says Sister Kathy. “It was important to give students this chance to see that while they may have viewed their topic through one lens and within one subject area that someone else could come at it from a completely different perspective. Overall, I think this was of the greatest benefit to the students.”
Adding to the interdisciplinary effect was the presence of the facilitators, 10 of whom are College faculty who “really helped to bring the topics together,” says Sister Kathy.
Student musical performances, a retrospective given by Cecilia Cavanaugh, SSJ, Ph.D., dean of the School of Undergraduate Studies and acting College officer for diversity and inclusion, and remarks by Elizabeth Moy, executive director of SEPCHE, ended the event.
“It really was an incredible success for everyone involved,” says Sister Kathy. “The students, who put so much hard work and dedication into their presentations, left taking away experiences that they’ll never forget and that really is the most important part of these types of conferences.”
— Marilee Gallagher ’14
This story originally appeared in the May 2016 issue of Connections.