Research Expo offers opportunity for students and alumni alike

OHIO alumni volunteer as judges at each Expo and encourage other alumni to do the same.

Grace Miller, BA, BSVC ’24 | March 26, 2024

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As 600-plus students prepare their projects for the annual Student Research and Creative Activity Expo (held this year at the Convocation Center on April 11), members of OHIO’s Research Division and OHIO’s Division of University Advancement work hard to engage and prepare alumni to volunteer as Expo judges. In truth, their knowledge and expertise are invaluable to the judging of the Expo.

Judges, who work in pairs, “are not the actual faculty or staff that a student would have in a classroom,” said Expo Director Martha Adsitt-Ergood, also the services administrator in the Graduate College. After an 8-10-minute “lay” presentation from the student or student team, judges query students from a set list of questions, she explained, before submitting their final scores. In total, each judging pair will assess between seven and nine presentations. Though the Expo itself is in its 23rd year, it’s Adsit-Ergood’s fourth year working with the Expo and second year as director.

New judges needn’t be intimidated by the process, said Maggi Karagosian, associate director of development for major giving in the Division of University Advancement.  “We pair returning judges with some of our rookie judges, so that they have a partner to go around with to learn the ropes,” she noted, adding that subject matter interest is taken into account when making assignments, “to make sure that we’re aligning judges with student projects that they’re familiar with.” With Expo presentations representing all departments throughout the University, according to Adsitt-Ergood, finding that alignment is what makes the judging so important to the event.

As a bonus, alumni judges have the opportunity “to network and meet other alumni and some faculty and staff who they probably wouldn’t connect with otherwise,” Karagosian said. 

a student points to his research project display while another student looks on

Scenes from the 2023 Expo. Photos by Ben Siegel

two students stand in front of their research project presentation

Karagosian shared that many alumni who show interest in volunteering are previous student participants of the Expo, making it “a really full circle moment for them to come back and serve as a judge.”  

OHIO News connected with three of this year’s judges to learn more about why they give their time to this event and others like it.

Dr. René Paulson

René Paulson, BA ’99, is no stranger to leveraging her professional skills in support of OHIO students. Based in Dallas, Texas, the research and statistical consulting firm owner has already sponsored student prizes at the University’s Three Minute Thesis® Competition this year.

Working to “increase engagement and bring attention to the work that graduate students are doing,” Paulson said the Three Minute Thesis® “is really important, because in the world that we live in, it’s often that pitch of your idea in such a short window [that] is really what creates opportunities [for] your research.” The opportunity to practice such a skill was extended further this year, with undergraduate students joining in the fun.

 

 

Ultimately, Paulson said, her involvement with such opportunities at OHIO is about helping prepare students for the first stages of their careers.

“Twenty years ago, the amount of experience you needed as an undergrad was different; now what you need is much more, right out of the gate, to be competitive,” she explained. “People like me [with] careers in this area really need experienced students, and events like the Expo and the Three Minute Thesis® gives those opportunities that students can translate to the work they do when they leave school.”

To that end, Paulson encourages students presenting at the Expo “to really think about the most salient message of their research—what did they learn, what did they gain, what were the actionable insights that came from their work—and lead with that,” instead of getting bogged down by the minutiae of the project.

And while volunteering as an Expo judge is rewarding in and of itself, Paulson noted that “being able to come back to Ohio U [to do so] is just an extra bonus.”

Dave and Cathy Levy

The journey that brought Dave Levy, BS ’78, and his wife, Cathy, to begin volunteering at OHIO started with Dave’s retirement in 2013. Shortly after leaving, his employer invited Dave to return on a part-time basis.

“We said, ‘Why in the world would I do that?’” Dave recalls. He and Cathy didn’t need the income, and Dave had been looking forward to taking a step back. But after further reflection, the couple realized they could leverage the opportunity to make positive changes in the world. Over the last decade, the Levys have used their additional revenue stream to fund endowed scholarships and other support at both OHIO and Cathy’s alma mater, Ohio State University. Dave fully retired in 2023, but he and Cathy continue supporting their schools by donating not only their treasure, but also their time and talent. 

a woman points to an item in a glass display case while a man and two women observe

Cathy (center) and Dave (back) Levy at a University event in 2017. Photo by Daniel Owen

Similar to Paulson, the Levys will arrive as Expo judges fresh off the experience of judging this year’s Three Minute Thesis®. And like Paulson, they encourage others to get involved, too.  

“Your judging is important to help [students],” Dave said. “There’s a whole lot of learning that happens” in the process of delivering feedback. However, students aren’t the only ones who benefit from the interactions, Cathy added.

“You can get very encouraged” by volunteering at either event, she said. “One of the most exciting parts about it is that you get a [boost to your] faith in humanity, because you get to see these motivated, smart, passionate students and you just know that the world’s in good hands.” 

a student points to her research presentation display while two observers look on

Scenes from the 2023 Expo. Photos by Ben Siegel

two students discuss a research project presentation displayed behind them

A Common Goal

Both Paulson and the Levys share an interest in supporting students, whether that means showing “that people outside of just their faculty and their colleagues are interested in their work,” said Paulson, or encouraging students by telling them, “‘I am so glad you’re working in this field; this is such an important question that you’re looking at,’” said Cathy.

“That’s one of the main purposes here [at University Advancement], is to make sure that our alumni are engaged and they’re staying connected to their alma mater,” said Karagosian.

“There’s nothing more valuable than that [engagement],” added Adsitt-Ergood. “That, to me, is the ultimate goal for alumni, because it is the beauty of bringing the strength of our past together with our present. It is a joining of knowledge and our future. You bring those things together, and you get just the coolest opportunities.”

Are you inspired to volunteer as a judge at next year’s Expo? Contact Adsitt-Ergood at adsitt@ohio.edu or keep an eye out for a registration email from University Advancement and Alumni Relations this winter.