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Zooming over the Great Miami River

Zooming over the Great Miami River

Teri Rizvi April 24, 2020

The River Stewards describe a child’s imaginative dream in their newly published children’s book, Into the River.

“Suddenly you find yourself flying through the gold and pink evening sky. Where am I?” wonders the child, who has turned into a great blue heron and is soaring majestically over the Great Miami River.

As the 16 seniors in the interdisciplinary program took turns reading pages from the book in their bedrooms scattered around the country, they may have briefly wondered where they were, too. These debut authors surely didn’t envision a live, virtual book launch from a Zoom room.

Just weeks ago they dreamed of sharing the book with their University of Dayton Rivers Institute peers, classmates and professors on campus at the Stander Symposium, then later at a celebration at the downtown Dayton library with community partners, teachers and children. Today, they’re planning virtual readings and offering free downloads of the ebook, so children and teachers will have immediate access during a time when libraries and schools are closed because of the coronavirus pandemic.

“Rolling your book out on Earth Day at a virtual Stander Symposium shows your adaptive nature,” said Leslie King, director of the Rivers Institute, praising the students for their resiliency, creativity — and commitment to literacy and the region’s watershed.

Adaptability became the watchword at the annual Stander Symposium, which showcases research, scholarship and artistic achievements of students. At this year’s re-imagined virtual event, 575 students, guided by 150 mentors, presented 307 projects — drawing an estimated audience of 9,000 and growing.

Some participated in live presentations, others recorded their work, and a number uploaded posters on topics ranging from Andy Bazler and Nick Lanese’s design of an improved trike for paraplegics that features electrical stimulation of leg muscles to Maura Hohl’s survey of UD students and their breakfast habits, which found (not surprisingly) that those who ate healthier breakfasts carried higher GPAs.

In Zoom rooms, students and faculty engaged in conversations over the questions of our day from medical advances to angry tweets. Dhaval Kadia, a graduate student in computer science, is using “deep learning” — a subfield of artificial intelligence — to improve 3D medical imaging for lungs to help detect COVID-19 and other diseases. Sean Newhouse, online editor-in-chief for the Flyer News, analyzed 2,000 tweets from interest groups on both sides of the political spectrum leading up to the 2018 midterm elections to determine which ones received the most retweets or comments. “Tweets that used argumentative language received consistently more feedback. Negative messaging reaches the largest audience possible,” said Newhouse, who is double majoring in political science and communication. “Twitter is a platform that elevates the angriest voices.”

Stander coordinator Andrea Wade, working with co-chairs Katy Kelly, Ryan McEwan and senior biology major Connor Holzer, never seriously considered cancelling the ambitious scholarly event after faculty and students transitioned to remote learning after spring break.

“The virtual energy of the typical Stander day was there, at least for me,” said Wade, whose day started at the crack of dawn. “I hopped from Zoom room to Zoom room trying to maximize the number of presentations I could see. Sadly I couldn't see all 71 live sessions, but the ones I did attend were outstanding with great interaction and engagement from participants.”

A welcomed upside: all abstracts, multimedia recordings, posters and other material are available on demand on eCommons, UD’s institutional repository, effectively expanding the symposium’s reach and visibility. Since each project features its own web address, students can promote their work on résumés and graduate school applications.

“Even apart,” Wade said, “it was still the special tradition in the academic life of our campus.”