Undergraduate Scholars Forum Goes Online During COVID-19 Pandemic

The 12th annual Undergraduate Scholars Forum scheduled for April 16 at Westminster College successfully pivoted to a virtual format this year during the COVID-19 pandemic.

One of Westminster’s primary Signature Events, the Forum typically allows Westminster students to showcase their academic talent during a day-long, all-campus occasion in Coulter Science Center.

Undeterred by COVID-19, the Teaching and Learning Committee modified the plan, shifting to an online format that recognizes students who were able to complete their projects and those who only made it to the abstract stage before the semester was disrupted.

The impressive collection of posters, special presentations, papers and research projects can be found on Westminster’s website.

Because Undergraduate Scholars Forum is vitally important to the Westminster experience, Teaching and Learning Committee Chair Dr. Carolyn Perry says the committee was determined to feature participating students’ work in some way.

“Having so many disrupted research projects created a real challenge, and having to go virtual was a disappointment to us all,” Perry explains. “But many of our students pushed through and completed outstanding work in the midst of very difficult circumstances.”

Barrett Houska, ’20 , says he spent four years looking forward to presenting extensive senior year research at the Forum. The biochemistry and psychology double major from Arnold, MO, says his group’s psychology study went surprisingly well in the new format.

“I believe that moving online worked in our favor, as we were able to gain a large sample size, which wouldn’t have been reached if we hadn’t been pushed to expand our horizons,” he reflects.

Houska is one of four students who completed a thesis project and received special recognition by faculty judges. A complete list of student recognitions is found below.

Undergraduate Scholars Forum Awards

Congratulations go to the following students for their outstanding work:

Best Poster

Maggie Morris and Susan Buchanan

“Isolation and Characterization of Bacteriophages from Water Samples”

Faculty Sponsor: Dr. Matt Howell

Best Presentation

Madalyn Whelan

“Purge and Trap vs. Headspace Analysis: A Sample Processing Method Comparison for the Detection of Volatile Organic Compounds in Water”

Faculty Sponsor: Dr. Lauren Strawsine

Best Paper

Brooke Thompson

“Not So Homegrown Hatred: Neo-Nazis in America”

Faculty Sponsor: Dr. Tobias Gibson

Excellence in Quantitative Research

Matthew Copher, Samantha Henderson and Angela Vanderpluym

“Balance in Ages – Force Plate Analysis”

Faculty Sponsor: Dr. Therese Miller

Excellence in Interdisciplinary Research

Abigail Beach, Destri Eichman, Jacob Hansen, Missy Rolseth and Stacia Schollmeyer

“Anti-Vax Culture: Where Does it Begin and Where Does it End?”

Faculty Sponsor: Dr. David Jones

Thesis Projects

The faculty judges recognize the outstanding work of the following students who completed thesis projects: Macalah Danielsen, Ethan Deimeke, Destri Eichman and Barrett Houska.

Special Recognition: Best Presentations by First-Year Students

The Teaching and Learning Committee placed special emphasis this year on bringing our first-time college students to the Undergraduate Scholars Forum. Westminster Seminar faculty members chose the following four students to showcase their talent:

Joseph Garner

“United Suffering: How Mindfulness Practices Influence Social Engagement”

Faculty Sponsor: Rev. Kiva Nice-Webb

Stephen Rogers

“Confronting Conspiracy Theories: Applying Critical Thinking to Winston Churchill’s Role in the Sinking of the Lusitania”

Faculty Sponsor: Dr. Mark Boulton

Celena Weber

“Shaping a First-Year Experience”

Faculty Sponsor: Dr. Cinnamon Brown

Shannon Kauffman

“The Future of Human Limb and Organ Regeneration”

Faculty Sponsor: Dr. Jane Kenney-Hunt



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Sarah Rummel Backer

Sarah Rummel Backer is the Director of Media Relations and Senior Writer at Westminster College in Fulton, Missouri. A proud Westminster graduate, Sarah has more than 20 years of experience in marketing and strategic communications in the areas of higher education, medicine, agriculture, and the private business sector.