Student Academic Conference: Poster Presentation

By Deborah Falco, alum, Long Island Center – Hauppauge Unit

October 3, 2011

When I received an email about the opportunity to submit a proposal to be a presenter at SUNY Empire State College’s Annual Student Academic Conference, my first instinct was to delete it, thinking that no part of my work as a student would be of interest to anyone other than me or my mentors.

I was proud of the research I had done and the papers I had written, believing the credits earned for this work were all the reward I deserved. Besides, participating in an academic conference was an activity meant for professors and true scholars – very intelligent people – and not for someone like me, an average student trying to juggle all the demands of work, family and school, hoping just to complete each learning contract successfully. But most of all, submitting a proposal (and having it accepted) would mean that my work would be subject to the scrutiny of others beyond the secure, one-to-one boundaries of the student-mentor relationship.

But my curiosity and ego got the better of me. I discussed the possibility of submitting a proposal with my primary mentor, Marianne Giardini. She encouraged me and offered helpful suggestions about types of presentations and content. I mulled over which topics I felt comfortable enough to share with others. I submitted two separate proposals, one on writing PLAs and the other on using yoga to deepen self-awareness as part of the counseling process. I also decided that a poster presentation would be the best format for me to use to convey information to others about the topics I chose.

The poster presentation seemed to be more informal than a paper or panel discussion. It also allowed for “safety in numbers,” as several poster presentations are displayed within a common space, with no particular emphasis given to any one project. I filled out the proposal submission form on the college’s website and lived in a state of heightened anxiety for several weeks.

I eventually received notification that the yoga proposal was accepted (the other proposal was declined). I was very proud, yet terrified at this news. I scoured the Internet for examples of poster presentations and read the FAQ section on SUNY Empire State College’s site dozens of times while creating my poster. I wanted the presentation to be informative, but not too “busy;” visually appealing, but not too “pretty.” The poster emphasized some key points of the subject matter and I put together two brief handouts that offered sources to obtain more detailed information.

When I arrived at the White Plains conference and set my presentation up in the area assigned to me, the fear of being ridiculed again swept over me. But I kept recalling the advice given to me by one of the conference organizers, Linda Hamell, that the people who would come to see my presentation would be there because they wanted to be – because they were truly interested in what I had to say. This proved to be true as each and every person who stopped by my presentation was encouraging and inquisitive, supportive and interested.

The other presenters in my group and I remarked on the warm welcomes we received and expressed how happy and proud we were to be given the opportunity to be included at this event. We developed a sense of camaraderie, joking with each other and taking pictures of our exhibits.

The unique academic environment at SUNY Empire State College, which emphasizes individual learning, presents a challenge to interaction with other students. With few exceptions, much of the knowledge gained by a student during the term of a learning contract usually is appreciated only by the individual student and their mentor.

The Student Academic Conference is an excellent opportunity for individual learners to meet face-to-face, to celebrate their achievements, to explore divergent subjects and to foster the sense of belonging that is so important to students. I can honestly say that taking part in the conference as a poster presenter was one of the most rewarding experiences of my academic career at SUNY Empire State College. I met many interesting people, some of who I still keep in touch with.

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