Look to the web rather than the ivy-covered halls of campus to see this year’s annual showcase of scholarly activities by SUNY Cortland’s students.
This year, some 170 students and their faculty mentors submitted proposals to share their findings, which represents the highest number of Transformations participants in several years.
Transformations 2020 went live on May 13, with the research and other activities of 170 students posted online after the original event set for Friday, April 24, was cancelled in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. Most students have not been able to return to campus since mid-March.
The Transformations Committee decided to publish all of the abstracts submitted by students in the conference program booklet that will be posted on the Transformations web page. That’s easily done, as Transformations in 2019 became almost 100 percent digital in terms of reading material.
Meanwhile, the online Digital Commons, already home for an archival collection of Transformations programs, will take center stage for those students who opt to post more extensive conference materials online, including posters, presentation slides and research papers. Browse the 'Collections' button on the left and scroll down to the 'Transformations' links.
Thirty-one presentations are posted there, according to Hilary Wong, an instructional services librarian who serves on the Transformation committee and has assisted in uploading conference digital images.
Joseph Stewart, a fourth-year dual physics and psychology major from Stillwater, N.Y., recently wrote to thank the Transformations committee for their work to bring about the virtual event where his work could be shared and to express his eagerness to review his classmates’ accomplishments online.
“I’m sure I speak for all of the student researchers and faculty mentors when I say that the effort and execution of this new Transformations format is much appreciated given all of the hard work done throughout the year to create these presentations, papers, etc.,” Stewart said.
Stewart’s presentation is on “Understanding Adolescent Friendships: An Analysis of the Role of Social Perspective-Taking in Friendship Dissolutions.” A few other presentations will be on titles including: “Why a Woman Was Against Her Own Equality: Understanding Phyllis Schlafly's Opposition to the Equal Rights Amendment”; “Strikes on Central Ave — The Closure of Brockway Motor Trucks and the End of Huskietown, USA”; “The Bare Bones of Paleontology”; “Using Robots to Teach Mathematics to First-Grade Students: Preservice Teachers' Perspectives”; and “Women’s Rights are Human Rights: The Story of Abortion Laws and the Women Affected.”
It was always intended for the event to fill Sperry Center and Old Main with student presenters showcasing their wide array of scholarship, original research and creative works before live audiences of proud faculty members, classmates and friends.
COVID-19 and the associated social distancing changed all that.
Transformations itself was initially scotched completely.
“This is not unexpected, as across the country, nearly all professional conferences scheduled for spring 2020 have been cancelled,” said Bruce Mattingly, the Transformations chair and dean of Cortland’s School of Arts and Sciences.
“We understand how disappointing this is for the student researchers and their faculty mentors who are eager to share the results of their efforts.”
Among the most heartbreaking aspects of the decision was the cancellation of SUNY Chancellor Kristina Johnson, herself a noted researcher, as keynote speaker. She will be invited to visit the campus and speak next academic year.
Meanwhile, the Transformations Committee members held online meetings to find ways to recognize the outstanding work of Cortland’s students.
“The feeling was students needed to be focused on managing their online classes,” Mattingly said. We didn’t want to be coming up with something that’s way out of the norm when it’s challenging already.”
The burden to load all those student transcripts to the web fell mainly on Meghan VanDeuson, administrative assistant to the school of arts and sciences, and Kim Rombach, associate professor and chair of the Childhood/Early Childhood Education Department.
Committee member Kaitlin Flannery developed an electronic entry submission form that removed any remaining manual input of information from VanDeuson’s process of uploading the students’ submissions to the web program.
“This entire process is a group effort and I am very thankful for everyone,” VanDeuson said. “The students have done an amazing job and I am very proud of them.”
The committee, while remaining focused on the need for students to simply survive the academic rigors of an extremely demanding second half of semester, nevertheless looked for ways to share more conference material by virtual means.
“I said I would still push for having something instead of the physical Transformations,” said Kaitlin Flannery, an assistant professor of psychology, who joined the committee last spring.
She advocated hard on behalf of her team of student research assistants.
“My students have been working a year and a half and were really pushing for something besides abstracts,” Flannery said.
“We came to a decision that students could upload posters and visuals to the SUNY Cortland Digital Commons,” Flannery added.
It will become a place for actual student work presented at the conference, especially students’ posters, said Hilary Wong, an instructional services librarian who serves on the Transformation committee and has assisted in uploading conference digital images.
“With the COVID 19 crisis and the cancellation of the Transformations conference, Digital Commons takes on new significance,” Wong said. “It has now become an opportunity for students to celebrate and share the work they can no longer share in person, with their peers, the faculty and the campus as a whole.
“Any student who had planned to give a presentation or present a poster at Transformations will have the chance to share their slides, their posters, or the research papers on which their presentations or posters would have been based, if they so choose,” Wong said.
Participation by students is totally voluntary.
“We recognize that students and faculty have other priorities during this challenging time, including maintaining their own health and safety, as well as managing the transition of their courses to distance education for the remainder of the semester,” Mattingly said.
Memorial Library’s Digital Commons is an online repository intended to publicize and make available various collections created by SUNY Cortland faculty, staff and students. Developed in the last couple years and unveiled last fall, the Digital Commons is a work in progress with continual updates being loaded to the web for both campus and community to enjoy or use in their own research. The repository includes archival material, including photos and yearbooks, and has been expanded to house digital honors theses, and a peer-reviewed, open-access journal, the Journal of Scholarship and Engagement.
By encouraging students to post the content of their presentations to the Digital Commons, the campus has followed the lead of SUNY Brockport, which also used its digital commons to continue its annual scholarly showcase despite an empty campus.
“The intent is to add to it annually, with student work from each successive Transformations conference, and with participation being totally voluntary,” Wong said. “I coordinated with both the Transformations Committee and the Library’s Digital Commons team to plan and initiate the inclusion of posters from Transformations 2020.”
“The irony is we were going to have the students work on the Digital Commons anyway,” Mattingly said. “It was going to be after the fact, but now it’s kind of the main way that it’s going to be shared. We’ll have more details about the way they can get their work uploaded.”
The College Archives already houses a historical Transformations Collection, which was recently digitized, said Jeremy Pekarek, the university’s archivist and instructional services librarian. This new online collection is located at Digital Commons@Cortland.
“It covers official programs beginning with Scholar’s Day, as it was known before turning into Transformations in 2012,” Pekarek said. “The online collections ranges from 1997-2018. It includes writing contest winners, abstracts and schedules.”
More information is contained in the College Archives Research Guide.
“We were gratified to see such a high level of interest in Transformations this year, which shows the importance of student research and applied learning at SUNY Cortland,” Mattingly said.
“It’s important to remember that our students still had marvelous experiences and accomplished great work through their research experiences during the last year,” he said. “While they will not be able to present their results here on campus this spring, we are hoping that posting their work on the Digital Commons site will be a nice way for the campus community to see the wide range of our students’ scholarly and creative activities.”