Education News

Barnard College’s Annual Senior Thesis Poster Session

2010-06-06

Barnard College’s Annual Senior Thesis Poster Session for senior students in the environmental and earth sciences was held on Thursday, April 22. Forty-four students from the departments of Environmental Science; Earth, Evolution, and Environmental Biology; and Earth and Environmental Science at Barnard College and Columbia University presented minute-long speeches, each accompanied by a summary slide. Following their presentations, the seniors informally discussed posters of their research findings with attendees and fellow students.

Martin Stute, the Ann Whitney Olin Professor of Environmental Science and co-chair of the Environmental Science Department at Barnard College, helped to organize and host the event. Professor Stute serves as one of the faculty advisors for students in the program, and he was instrumental in helping the students conduct their research and prepare their final presentations. Professor Stute introduced the program and the students to the audience and also explained that the poster session highlighted the many accomplishments of students’ research during their four years at Barnard and Columbia. Seniors presenting faced the final challenge in their research by summarizing the nature of their senior project in a one-minute presentation.

A Senior Seminar course is required of seniors in the environmental science programs in order to complete their degree. Eighty percent of the grade for the seminar is based on the research presented at this poster session, and students generally work for over a year on their theses. To conduct their research, many of the students traveled to locations throughout the world. For example, three students traveled to Bangladesh to study various aspects of water contamination. One of these research projects investigated the use of experimental equipment that tests for poisonous arsenic in the urine of Bangladeshi citizens.

For Kimberly Wu, one of the three students that traveled to Bangladesh, the trip was an integral part of her senior thesis, “Development of a Filtering Method for Radioactive Carbon Analysis of Microbial DNA and PLFA.” After a year of hard work and time spent developing close partnerships with University faculty and the Earth Institute, Kimberly said of the poster session: “Watching all the senior presentations made me think about how proud and grateful I am to have worked with such an enthusiastic and intelligent group of peers, advisers and mentors.”

There were 80 participants at the poster session, including friends, family, fellow students and professors. Nicholas Christie-Blick, professor of earth and environmental sciences, remarked how successful the event was: “Two things struck me at the poster session. First, the ability of each student with whom I spoke to describe and defend his or her results. Second, I was impressed by the diverse ways in which our students plan to move on beyond Columbia and contribute to society.”

Events such as these that effectively highlight student research are an integral and important part of Columbia and Barnard’s educational programs. Students can not only showcase their projects, which often took over a year of intensive work to complete, they also have the important opportunity to build on the professional skill of presenting and advocating for their work to a new audience. In stepping into a job market that requires a grasp of effective communication techniques, Barnard and Columbia’s environmental science; earth, evolution and environmental biology; and earth and environmental science seniors have had a chance to hone new skills in project presentation. The annual poster session will continue to celebrate and set a precedent for the unique, hands-on work done through Barnard and Columbia’s environmental, earth science and sustainability programs every year.

The Senior Thesis Poster Session was a great success for each of the 44 presenting seniors, as well everyone in the audience, who had a chance to share and appreciate the months of hard work that had gone into the senior research projects presented that evening. On such a celebratory note, the faculty and staff are proud to see an excellent class embark on new experiences, now beyond the classroom.