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Maisie Anrod, a senior biology major, presented her poster titled "Expanding the Pollination Neighborhood: A Study of Pollination Ecology for Conservation."

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Spring Symposium Celebrates Students' Work in Arts, Sciences, Humanities

April 17, 2019

MIDDLEBURY, Vt. – McCardell Bicentennial Hall was teeming with activity on Friday, April 12, as the Middlebury College academic community took a day off from classes to celebrate the research efforts and creative achievements of its students.

The Spring Student Symposium, now in its 13th year, is a daylong celebration of undergraduate work in the arts, humanities, and sciences. One Friday every spring, the students take center stage to share their research, creativity, and intellectual explorations with the entire community.

In Bicentennial Hall, a throng of students crowded around senior Jenna Marotta and her poster titled “The Effect of Social Media on Students’ Self Esteem: A Middlebury Analysis.” Forty-six of Marotta’s fellow students volunteered last fall to participate in her study. First they took the Rosenberg Self-Esteem (or RSE) Scale, an acknowledged tool for assessing an individual’s level of self-esteem. Next, her respondents were then divided into two groups: a treatment group that used an online app to limit its social media screen time to 30 minutes per week, and a control group with no screen-time limit.

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Marotta ran four one-week trials with both groups, and in the end found no significant difference in the self-esteem measurements of the treatment group vs. the control group. “The relatively small sample size and the timing of the testing [during the holiday season] could have been pitfalls of my study,” the neuroscience and economics major allowed.

On the other side of Tormondson Great Hall (where the Student Symposium poster sessions are always held) first-year student Grace Harlan was sharing her research on “The Implications of Masculinity and the J. Edgar Hoover FBI Building.” Less than 20 percent of FBI employees are women, she said, and both the design of the 43-year-old building and the culture of the agency reinforce male dominance within the FBI.

Lead architect Stanislaw Z. Gladych designed the structure “with a Brutalist style containing several overtly masculine themes throughout. The building begs the question of what it means to be powerful and have a role in government,” Harlan showed, “[because] in this building masculinity is not only represented. It is promoted.”

The FBI building “exists today as a constant physical representation” of an agency that is 67 percent male and white, she added.

In an oral presentation on Friday morning, Travis Sanderson ’19 discussed the evolving role of the dramaturg in American theatre and said the scope of the dramaturg’s duties is largely dependent upon “how hands-on or hands-off” the director wants to be. For the play “Baltimore Waltz,” which had just concluded a one-week run at Middlebury’s Seeler Studio Theatre earlier in April, Sanderson served as the co-dramaturg. He played an active role in researching the early days of the AIDS epidemic and in raising the college community’s awareness of that crisis through a film screening, a display, and a talk given by an AIDS activist. He also was involved with the director (and the cast and crew) in the scenic design of, and music selected for, the play.

“The role of the dramaturg is an emerging and exciting frontier in theatre,” said the senior from Las Vegas.

For her oral presentation during a session titled “Interpreting Processes,” Jenna McNicholas ’19 discussed Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood and discussed the irony extant in his account of the Clutter family murders. Capote, who was gay, was not well-received in Holcomb, Kansas, when he arrived in 1959 to write about the crime, McNicholas said, but he was accompanied by Harper Lee, the author of To Kill a Mockingbird, “which was how he garnered the trust of the people” in that small Kansas town.

Capote and one of the two accused murderers, Perry Smith, became friendly and traded books with each other, which signified to McNicholas that Capote had become “too emotionally involved” with his subject matter. The title of Capote’s heralded book, which was later made into a movie, is ironic, she said, because In Cold Blood is more about the state-ordered execution of the murderers than it is about the violent death of the Clutter family.

As throngs of students, faculty, and staff moved quickly between the poster sessions and oral presentations in Bicentennial Hall, and viewed the art exhibits in Johnson Memorial Building, there was much to talk about on the day that President Laurie Patton said many people call “a big party all about independent work and collaborative thinking.”

At the opening of the Symposium, the president welcomed everyone and said, “I like to ask students what is the one question you will never get tire of asking and that you’ll be asking for your whole life.” She looked out at the gathering and added, “This is your chance today to ask your question and to enjoy exploring it with everyone around you.”

– Photos by Todd Balfour; reporting by Robert Keren