Growing IdeaFest kicks off at USD Wednesday

IdeaFest is becoming a big deal.

In fact, it's becoming so big, it might be outgrowing the space available for it at the Muenster University Center (MUC) already.

This year's event featured 277 students and 163 projects, which Coordinator of Academic Engagement Jacquie Lonning said made it the biggest IdeaFest ever.

IdeaFest started in 1992 and was a weeklong event, but it was later condensed to one day.

Then three years ago, the event became a two-day affair after combining the undergraduate and graduate IdeaFests.

IdeaFest Chair Brennan Jordan said during the past couple of years IdeaFest has been a more focused activity than in the past.

"We have a really full schedule and I feel good with where we stand," Jordan said before this week's event began. "Last year was a big success and I think this year will be even bigger."

Jordan said all the space available for the event was utilized.

"We are using the conference space and the ballroom in the MUC," he said Tuesday. "For the two-day event, everything is full."

With all the available space used this year, Jordan said if the event grows next year, they will have to think about making it a three-day event or finding more space. But Jordan would like to see it stay in a central location like the MUC.

"Having the MUC online represents a huge step in the event and has added cohesion to it," he said. "Years before they had it in the library and law school, so the event was scattered around."

Lonning added when the event wasn't in one spot and students moved from place to place, they would leave the group and go off and do something else instead of attend other parts of the event.

IdeaFest has been able to expand thanks to the students and professors at USD.

More students became involved this year and presented topics of a wide variety from professors on Facebook to the first ever presentation of paintings at IdeaFest.

Jordan said it's important for IdeaFest to touch on a broad range of topics.

"We need to always actively work to highlight all academic achievement, and I feel IdeaFest is doing that well," he said. "I think we are seeing more of that this year and it's important for it to be diverse."

Diversity is also what drew Jordan and Lonning to both keynote speakers this year.

The first keynote speaker was Dr. David Frayer, who is a professor in the Department of Anthropology at the University of Kansas.

Frayer's address was entitled "the Neandertals and Us."

The other speech was giving by two presenters – Jessica Blank and Erik Jensen – who are writers, actors and playwrights.

Their presentation was called "Empathy as Catalyst: Theater and the Real World."

"Last year's keynote speakers were well attended, and I hope this year will be as well," Jordan said Tuesday, the day before this year's IdeaFest began. "Both offered broad interdisciplinary interests, and that's what I aimed for."

Lonning said Frayer brought a perspective on how research in and out of the classroom can be brought together.

"He shows that there are many ways to learn," Lonning said. "He talks about the research and engagement and that there is an academic connection."

Jordan said he just didn't bring in Blank and Jensen for their writing ability.

"We are pleased to have them represent the theater and fine arts, but you just need to see the title to see what they bring to the presentation," he said. "They aren't just great writers, but they also have a strong connection to the issues."

Lonning said one of the reasons IdeaFest keeps growing is because of the school's professors.

"If they come across a paper or topic they think would be interesting, then some of them comment or try and push the students to present the topic," she said. Jordan added that some professors are deliberate in getting students involved in IdeaFest.

"We have more professors pushing students to do this, which only enhances the event," he said. "We have terrific support from the administration."

Two of the students who were pushed to participate in IdeaFest were Wayne Curry and Tiffany Hrdlicka.

Both students are Contemporary Media & Journalism students and are doing a poster presentation about faculty on Facebook.

Curry said two of their professors – Candy Walton and Michelle O'Malley – suggested they present the poster.

Curry said the project looks at how students view their professors' activity on Facebook.

"It looks at professors and their disclosure of stuff like photos and wall posts and if it affects the environment in the classroom in a positive or negative way," he said.

Curry and Hrdlicka sent out surveys to students who were asked to view three different profiles and answer questions.

Curry found the results very interesting.

"We learned from the project that professors with a high disclosure on Facebook are perceived as better with students," he said. "Which meant they shared their photos, had a lot of wall posts and provided a good amount of information on their profile page."

Curry and Hrdlicka presented their poster on Wednesday, the first day of IdeaFest.

Lonning said once again IdeaFest helped showcase the University and its students.

But both Jordan and Lonning seem excited for next year as well and the hope that IdeaFest will grow once again.

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