Presenting for the Future

Another Academic year at Eastern Oregon University will soon come to an end, and with it, the culmination of thousands of hours of work and research by students. Though many will be moving on, these efforts won’t simply disappear into the void once diplomas are handed out. Spring Symposium returns live and in person this May, giving students of all majors the opportunity to share their knowledge and hard work with the campus and local communities.  

Spring Symposium is EOU’s annual undergraduate research presentation event. Run by faculty in support of students for over 20 years, the Symposium is, as stated by Associate Professor of Library and Symposium committee member Sarah Ralston, “where students are able to present the results of their capstone research, or other junior or senior level research work that they might be doing, in a formal conference level setting.”  

The word “symposium” originated from ancient Greek tradition, in which knowledgeable citizens would be invited to perform songs, recite poetry, or take a deep dive into philosophy. Usually following a dinner, those attending a Greek Symposium would recline in a chair and soak up some of the most impactful speech and performance that is still commonly referenced today. For example, Philosophers such as Plato, and Aristotle participated in Symposiums.  

Though EOU may have ditched the reclining chairs, the academic tradition and the passing of art and information remain strong. Many senior undergraduate students are encouraged, if not required, to submit a symposium abstract by the recommendation of professors. These referrals usually result from exemplary student work on capstones, performances or other similar projects, though some are submitted on student volition alone. The Symposium is a great opportunity for students to collaborate on projects together, allowing EOU students to feel a greater sense of academic comradery. EOU Collections and Instruction Librarian Sally Mielke summarized it as “an experience providing students a way to do a professional type presentation, and to gain experience presenting their academic work.” 

The majority of recent projects have fallen under the sciences and social sciences, with Professor Ralston noting they “always have a lot of posters from biology, chemistry, mathematics and health and human performance. There’s usually a lot of talks from physiology, history and English/writing.” Categories include standing posters, art and project exhibits, talks, panel discussions and performances, with each organized into a 20-minute presentation block. One student, if they noted interest, is selected for an extended keynote presentation, with Ralston telling The Voice

“Sometimes we have to talk them into it…It’s a very prestigious thing to be giving a keynote at a conference, especially if a student is going on to grad school, it would be a great opportunity to put something like that on their resume.” 

It is quite the opportunity, both for presenters and attendees, to share and listen. On average, some 100 to 120 students present their work to the campus, though only around 60 to 80 presented last year. The 2021 symposium was held online over two days. As Ralston told it, faculty were acting as make-shift hosting platforms via Zoom, running 3-4 presentations at time in hour blocks. With the Symposium returning to campus this year, the committee is looking forward to a renewed surge of community interest and the general atmosphere of a busy campus event, with Ralston stating: 

“I always feel that there’s such great energy on campus on Symposium Day because everybody is kind of moving around from building to building to look at the different poster sessions or go and hear different talks. It’s a really proud moment for students who have been working hard on some of this research, so I always really enjoy that energy.” 

While the atmosphere will return to normal, major changes are imminent for Spring Symposium behind the scenes. For its entire existence, the event has been faculty sponsored and run, with a mix of teachers and office staff doing most of the heavy lifting. But with an ever-increasing scale and a growing difficulty in finding available volunteer coordinators, the committee has decided to institutionalize the event moving forward. Though this will be somewhat away from the ground-up model, the university support, which includes extra coordination staff, will make Symposium much more accessible for all involved. 

Sally Mielke emphasized the pathways that can arise from participating in the Symposium. Sally believes many of the EOU students that present at the symposium are placed well and have high acceptance in furthering their academics and careers. Thanks to the faculty for continuing this ceremony of academics, students at EOU are able to immerse themselves into their careers with confidence. As Mielke put it, “the faculty who support and promote Symposium are interested in their students having the same opportunity that students can get on larger campuses.”

Ultimately the event comes down to a celebration of knowledge and achievement that can be shared by students, faculty and the community. Students can share their proudest academic achievements, gain experience in public speaking and, as Ralston pointed out, have a convenient and shining mark on their resume, especially for those moving on to graduate programs.

Faculty meanwhile can see the final evolution of the academic careers they helped foster, right on the eve of their completion. Ralston told The Voice the story of one in particular, a non-traditional student “who had retired and decided she wanted to go back to school because she loved learning.” This student focused on the environmental history of Celilo Falls and the Columbia gorge, presenting at the Symposium in 2018. Though this student has since passed away, Ralston watched her progress from a freshman all the way up until the final capstone presentation, explaining: 

“I have opportunities from the time they’re freshman all the way up through their academic career. It’s great to see the library research that they’ve done, the background research, the literature review, it’s great to just see how that pays off and how much they’ve improved or advanced in their time here.”  

For members of the community, both campus and greater Union County, it’s an opportunity to see what has been happening at the EOU, the kinds of topics students have been putting their efforts into and the discoveries they’ve made. As Ralston put it, “if you’re just waffling on whether or not it’s going to be interesting, it’s always interesting.”  

When asking what advice would EOU’s Librarian Sally Mielke give to a student presenting at Symposium for the first time, her response was very informative. Mielke’s advice is to “work with a faculty member to better prepare oneself, anticipate questions, and practice oral presentation. Most importantly, do a presentation that you are passionate about or interested in.” 

Spring Symposium takes place Wednesday, May 18 from 10:30 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. Abstracts submissions closed on April 15 with review currently underway. presentations will be distributed between the Library, Badgley Atrium and the Loso lobby, with the keynote booked for the Mckenzie theater. Final presentation locations and schedules will be published as they become available. 

For additional information visit or contact Sarah Ralston and Sally Mielke.  

Sarah Ralston: 

Sally Mielke: 

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