Every spring, St. Mary’s University hosts its annual Research Symposium and Creative Activities Exhibition, drawing student researchers across disciplines to engage in scholarly dialogue and to highlight top presentations.

Due to the coronavirus outbreak, this beloved University event, among others, was canceled — until a faculty member announced a tweak in programming.

“After some quick discussions with our staff in the Academic Media Center and Academic Technology Services, I decided to move the symposium to an online format,” said Melissa Karlin, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Environment Science, who also serves as Director of the Office of Student Research and Inquiry. 

“I didn’t expect there to be much interest with all the hardships our students and faculty were facing,” Karlin said.

But she was wrong — 60 students submitted their digital presentations.

According to Karlin, some of this year’s presentation titles include “The American Dream, the Immigrant Nightmare,” “Survival as a Function of Gender in Zombie Films,” “Influence of the Amount of Siblings on Competitiveness,” “The Orchestral Resonance of Joy” and “Artificial Intelligence Implementation to Enhance Water Conservation.”

Environmental Science junior Tanya Helbig conducted research on dolphin behavior in relation to humans they are familiar with.

“The St. Mary’s community is strong,” Karlin said. “As faculty, we do what we can to still connect with our students virtually and provide as much of the St. Mary’s community atmosphere as we can.”

Tanya Helbig, junior Environmental Science major, submitted a presentation titled “Friendly Faces, Familiar Fins.” Helbig planned to visit the Roatan Institute for Marine Sciences in Honduras to observe and collect data on dolphin behavior in relation to humans they’re familiar with, but the COVID-19 pandemic made her trip impossible. 

However, Helbig said the institute provided her and her classmate information so they could complete their project. 

“It was upsetting that we weren’t able to collect our own data, but both Dr. Karlin and Dr. (Heather) Hill were flexible and helpful to make sure we had research to present,” Helbig said.

In typical symposiums, faculty judges select top presentations for each academic school. This year, Karlin said there will be no awards, but they will publish an e-book compiling all submitted projects.

“That should be a great marketing tool for our students as they consider graduate school, internships or careers,” Karlin said. 

“I plan to continue this digital format for future years,” she added. “We have to adapt and respond to necessary changes, always.”

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