Hampden-Sydney College is renowned for providing students with a well-rounded educational experience with opportunities for original research across many disciplines. Under the watchful eye of experienced faculty mentors, students can delve into their research and develop critical thinking and analytical skills.
Opportunities to perform undergraduate research is all but expected by today’s students. Unique to the Hampden-Sydney research experience though is the breadth of opportunities for undergraduates in any academic discipline to present their research at professional conferences.
During the 2022-2023 academic year, Hampden-Sydney students attended research conferences across North America that afforded them valuable opportunities to hone their presentation, analytical, critical thinking, and communication skills; connect with professionals; and extemporaneously articulate complex information—skills that they first develop in the rhetoric program at Hampden-Sydney.
“The rhetoric program is the crown jewel of the College,” says Professor of Rhetoric Claire Deal. “More and more students are realizing the importance of rhetoric and having special communication skills, like public speaking.”
In March, four students, Alex Cofield ’25, Sam Detrick ’25, George Langhammer ’24, and Henry Whitley ’25, accompanied by Deal and the Director of the Rhetoric Studio Miranda Rouse, attended the National Association of Communication Centers (NACC) Excellence at the Center Conference held at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Virginia. The hybrid conference's theme, "This is Home: Cultivating Community at the Center" aimed to share experiences and foster opportunities for discussion and growth in institutional rhetoric centers.
During the conference, Alex, Sam, and Ryan Scott ’23, who joined via Zoom, presented a panel titled “The Maze of Public Speaking”. The focus of the discussion was on techniques to manage public speaking anxiety. To illustrate the difficulty of public speaking, an interactive maze activity was created where one participant held a mirror for another participant while they tried to complete a maze while looking into the mirror. This activity served as a metaphor for the challenges of public speaking and formed the basis of their discussion with the audience.
“Overall, it was a very enthusiastic conference,” says Sam. "Everyone was interested in what we had to say, and vice versa because everyone was working towards a common goal of improving their respective rhetoric communication centers.”
While Alex, Sam, and Ryan were presenting, George and Henry had the opportunity to attend several sessions and learn from other students and professionals. They returned to Hampden-Sydney with unique communication ideas to share with their student consulting staff members and faculty.
With proficiency in rhetoric serving as a foundational curricular tenet of the College, there was an eagerness to share the experience with the students. “Being able to bring consultants from the Rhetoric Studio was amazing for me,” says Rouse. “I had multiple colleagues from other institutions praise our students for their work and respectfulness. I know they were representing Hampden-Sydney College in the best ways possible.”
Meanwhile, across the country, McGavacks Professor of Biology and Director of Undergraduate Research Michael Wolyniak was leading his own trip. Wolyniak accompanied Trey Grimes ’23, Taylor McGee ’23, Caleb Manu ’23, and Tyler Hobart ’23 to the Discover BMB conference, the annual meeting of the American Society for Biology and Molecular Biology held this year in Seattle, Washington.
The students worked in tandem with a faculty member to conduct their research. Caleb worked with Dr. Wolyniak on the characterization of bacteriophage found on the Hampden-Sydney campus. Trey, Taylor, and Tyler have been working with Elliot Assistant Professor Chemistry Tim Reichart since 2021 on targeting the transmembrane domain of COVID-19 spike proteins. Taylor also completed an off-campus summer research project at the University of Iowa, adding to his research experience.
Wolyniak noted that the American Society for Biology and Molecular Biology values undergraduate research presentations, which allowed the students to present their research twice while at the conference — in a general and an undergraduate area.
“There was a great feeling of pride seeing the students communicate effectively as scientists, receive positive feedback, and meet people from different institutions who are partaking in similar actions,” says Wolyniak. “We offer an intensive hands-on approach which prepares our students for their research, and it is fascinating to see that our students have the same experience as other students who attend research-focused institutions.”
Near the end of the semester, a handful of students and faculty members made their way down to Cancún, Mexico, from April 16 to April 18 for the Association of Private Enterprise Education Conference. The conference focused on topics related to Philosophy, Politics, and Economics (PPE) and the private enterprise system, featuring scholars presenting economic research, policy analysts, and educators.
During the conference, Hampden-Sydney students Max Pietrykowski ’24, David Crego ’23, Jacob Smith ’23, and Grant Paramore ’23 participated in various activities. Max investigated the differences in discrimination in Major League Baseball umpire decisions; David presented data on the presence of food deserts and the effects of health concerns; and Jacob examined the Bottled-in-Bond Act of 1897 from an economic and political economy perspective. These students, who had been working with professors on their research for over a year, presented their undergraduate research at the poster competition, while five Hampden-Sydney faculty — Assistant Professor of Economics and Business Trey Carson, Elliot Professor of Economics and Business Gregory Dempster, Professor of Economics and Business Justin Isaacs, Assistant Professor of Economics and Business Audrey Redford, and Elliot Associate Professor of Economics and Business Indu Khurana presented their research on eight panels.
The students found the conference experience to be valuable in terms of enhancing their abilities to present research. Grant elaborates, "The most important thing I learned during this experience was how to present information in a knowledgeable and friendly manner. Many of the best competitors were able to engage you in their research while also giving detailed information."
The Hampden-Sydney College philosophy and economics departments have played a significant role in helping students improve their research and presentation abilities. “Through the courses I have taken at Hampden-Sydney, particularly in the philosophy and economics departments, I have greatly improved my abilities to conduct and present research,” Jacob says.
Carson notes that the faculty’s desire is to witness their students succeed by publishing their work, and presentations serve as an excellent opportunity to make that happen. The presentations allowed the students to face inquiries, examine varying perspectives, and receive valuable feedback from attending scholars, all of which will serve them well in the future.
The research experience at Hampden-Sydney offers a diverse mix of opportunities for a blend of majors. Hampden-Sydney’s intimate student-to-faculty ratio fosters impactful relationships between students and faculty, and our liberal arts focus empowers students to synthesize information from seemingly disparate disciplines, deepening their perspective and research. Added to this already powerful dynamic is an unyielding dedication on the part of the faculty to advocate for their students and aid them in pursuing opportunities to broaden their experiences. The College presents unique research opportunities that allow students to branch out and improve their presentation, critical thinking, analytical, and communication skills on the same scale as a major university but with even greater nuance. Thanks to the Hampden-Sydney faculty's dedication and the students' ambitions, there are limitless possibilities for conducting and presenting the best possible research on and off the Hill.