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Conference, journal shine light on research opportunities for Monmouth students

Barry McNamara
Elias Shammas '18 adds to the discussion during a presentation at the inaugural Conference of Undergraduate Scholarship & Research
– Undergraduate research is thriving at Monmouth College, and two recent events show how seriously the College takes providing scholarly opportunities for its students.

On April 21-22, the inaugural Conference of Undergraduate Research & Scholarship was held on campus, hosted by the College and the Midwest Journal of Undergraduate Research (MJUR). Also that weekend, the latest issue of the journal was released.

Founded in 2010, MJUR is a peer- and faculty-reviewed journal produced by a team of Monmouth student editors and faculty mentors. This month’s conference was the first one the journal had sponsored.

Monmouth faculty member Judi Kessler said the inaugural conference was a success, with about 70 visitors to campus to join two dozen Monmouth students and faculty. Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and author Isabel Wilkerson gave the conference’s keynote address.

MJUR editors, faculty advisers and conference committee members have received very positive feedback from conference presenters and other attendees – including inquiries about future MJUR-Monmouth College undergraduate conferences,” said Kessler. “The keynote speaker, Isabel Wilkerson, was very well-received. We have solicited and are waiting to receive more detailed feedback from participants, including suggestions for improvements to incorporate into the next conference.”

In addition to eight schools from Illinois, 10 other states were represented by schools that included the University of Alaska-Fairbanks, Northern Michigan University, Eastern Washington University and Colorado Mesa University.

Monmouth faculty member Fred Witzig who, along with Kessler, is an adviser to MJUR, said he was impressed with the dialogue that take place on campus during the conference.

“The level of discussion and the faculty interaction were both very good,” said Witzig. “I feel like students got a true scholarly experience. I was also impressed that they took it so seriously. They put their heart and soul into their presentations. This was a very liberal arts experience.”

Kessler said a special MJUR issue featuring the conference proceedings will be published in December.

The conference was unique among undergraduate conferences in the Midwest and Plains states because it was open to not only students in the social sciences and humanities but also to students in STEM disciplines, said Kessler.

Also unique, said Witzig, is the Midwest Journal of Undergraduate Research itself.

“As best we can tell, there are about 75 national journals like ours that publish beyond their campus,” he said.
“When you break those down into journals that are multidisciplinary and have student involvement, there are only six, and only one of those six besides ours is done by a liberal arts college. So that makes MJUR really, really rare.”

And Witzig said that the new 259-page issue of a journal is a testament to the publication’s strong year.

MJUR had a banner year,” said Witzig. “We almost doubled our submissions received and submissions published. Submissions by two of our students, (2016 graduates) Matt Bersell and Hind Allouch, successfully made it through the double-blind review process.”

Bersell’s article is titled “Industrious or Iniquitous? Virtue and Vice in the Colonial South Carolina Backcountry.” Hind’s is titled “Depression and Purpose in Life among the War-Affected Population in Syria.”

The other 11 articles in the issue were written by undergraduate students from three other Associated Colleges of the Midwest institutions – Coe College, Knox College and Macalester College – as well as Carthage (Wis.) College, Crown (Minn.) College, Mount Saint Mary’s (Md.) University, the University of Central Missouri, the University of Missouri-Kansas City, the University of Utah and the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay.