URCAS: 20 Years of Students Sharing What’s Learned In and Out of the Classroom

two people looking at a research poster

Since 1996, the Undergraduate Research and Creative Activity Symposium (URCAS) has been showcasing students’ work to the campus. It has been so impressive, inspiring, and integral in elevating student learning and engagement, that there are no classes on the day of URCAS so that all students and faculty can participate.
Student presentations highlight work in various disciplines and departments and are in the form of oral or poster presentations. This year’s event is April 29 and will take place at various locations on campus throughout the day. More than 300 unique student projects were presented last year covering topics such as fellowship activities, student research, creative and fine arts projects, community engagement, service-learning, and independent pursuits. Much of the work presented is done at a graduate level.

It all began 20 years ago with 29 posters in the natural and social sciences. Poster sessions are widely held at scientific and medical conferences, and the event builds students’ confidence and helps prepare them to present in future professional settings.  Two  Class of 1997 students—Dr. Michael Long, a neuroscientist at New York University who graduated with a B.S. in biology, and Dr. Katherine White, who graduated with a B.A. in psychology and now  teaches at Rhodes—were instrumental in founding URCAS, with support from Professors Robert Strandburg and Natalie Person of the Department of Psychology.  Long is the keynote speaker for this year’s program and will present “How Does the Brain Generate Behavioral Sequences.” 

Since Long and White’s time as students, URCAS has expanded its focus to include the humanities and fine arts. However, it is still set up like a conference where students present to their peers, academic mentors, and community partners. To present work at URCAS, students must submit an abstract that has been endorsed and approved by a faculty sponsor. Abstracts are accepted in March and early April, and a planning committee reviews and organizes them into different sessions. Collaboration is a major factor in organizing the program. 

URCAS is a wonderful Rhodes tradition celebrating student achievement and has become a highlight of our academic year, according to Dr. Mauricio Cafiero, chair of the Department of Chemistry and chair of the planning committee.

Since its inception in 1996, URCAS has grown in both reputation and student involvement, benefiting both presenters and attendees. Furthermore, students learn to summarize their findings in front of an audience and present an argument for the validity and importance of their research.  

A full schedule of events for the 2016 symposium can be found here.