Bemidji State holds virtual Student Achievement Conference

Hannah Olson, The Bemidji Pioneer, Minn.
·4 min read

Apr. 9—BEMIDJI — Bemidji State students Alysha Beaulieu and Cole Lewison spoke to university faculty and community members on Wednesday afternoon about their research regarding Bemidjians' tumultuous relationship with recycling.

Instead of presenting this information in person, the two presented their research in a virtual reality conference space, appearing to the casual observer almost like a video game. Each presenter had designed an avatar to represent them, as did the event attendees.

For their presentation, which was titled, "An Analysis of Recycling in Bemidji," the pair displayed a cause and effect diagram highlighting what they determined were major reasons contributing to the lack of recycling within the town. These included cost accessibility, confusing labels, unwillingness to recycle, improper disposal, malfunctioning equipment and hard-to-access recycling facilities.

Beaulieu and Lewison asserted that while this may not seem like an issue to the naked eye, Bemidji's lack of consumer recycling could soon pose a large threat to the environment.

"To maintain the natural luxuries we have in Minnesota, we must realize what is going on with Bemidji waste. We hope to understand at a larger scale what can be recycled," they wrote. At the conclusion of their project, the two laid out their goals "to help create a better future generation," and "to provide a data-driven conclusion (to create) imaging of what Bemidji and Bemidji State University could look like with increased recycling."

Around 50 other student researchers also demonstrated their quests for knowledge, musical performances, artistic endeavors, and business acumen during the "Greatness Achieved," 21st annual BSU Student Achievement Conference on Wednesday, April 7. The conference featured approximately 30 poster displays and 20 oral presentations.

Students' topics ranged from strategizing how to reduce wait times at the Bemidji McDonald's drive-thru line, researching aquatic vegetation in Lake Bemidji, analyzing how Catholics have voted in past elections, looking into Amazon.com's sustainability efforts to delivering a brief history of pirates on the high seas.

To deliver these student success stories, BSU tried its hand at a new program — giving some a break from video conferencing. Students could choose to present orally via Zoom or give a poster presentation in a virtual conference room on a program called GatherTown.

The result was positive — though at some points chaotic — as the platform created avatars that users could control using a computer keyboard to interact with students and their posters in a number of virtual rooms, meaning occasional hiccups and interruptions occurred when avatars waltzed into others' presentation rooms unknowingly. The minor inconveniences certainly beat canceling the event entirely, as happened in 2020.

"This event is a culmination of learning and accomplishment across multiple disciplines as evidenced by the research, innovation and creativity seen in the students' presentations, posters and performances," BSU President Faith Hensrud said at the head of the conference. "The conference reflects the interactive relationship between students and faculty, and exemplifies the university's rigorous and engaging academic environment. We are very proud of our students and their fine work."

The conference began with an opening ceremony where Hensrud and Travis Ricks, associate professor of psychology and conference director, welcomed attendees and congratulated them on their achievements, before presenting a handful of awards.

"It is exciting to celebrate this day of discovery as we mark another milestone of success in the intellectual development and personal growth of our students," Hensrud said. "The creative, virtual presentations that you will experience today, are a testament to BSU's ongoing mission of teaching, exploration and reflection — all crucial to fulfilling our vision of preparing students to lead inspired lives."

The ceremony featured a recitation of "Progression," a poem written and performed by Meghan Trimble, a senior creative and professional writing major from Elk River, Minn., and a performance by tubist Brennan Paulson, a senior music major from Solway.

The following awards were distributed at the start of Student Achievement Day:

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2021 Student Achievement Award: Lacie Hines, 2020 psychology grad from Pillager, Minn.

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2021 Student Achievement Award: Jeffrey Erickson, 2020 biochemistry and molecular biology grad from Sebeka, Minn.

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Emeriti Achievement Award: Dr. Donna Palivec, professor emeritus of human performance, sport and health.

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Emeriti Achievement Award: Dr. Muriel Gilman, professor emeritus of human performance, sport and health.

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2020 Northern Minnesota Achievement Award: Jennifer Kovach, 1993 social work alumna.

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2020 Northern Minnesota Achievement Award: Jennifer Anderson, 1994 social work alumna.