A Celebration of Academic Excellence

Western Oregon University student Sandra Cerda-Lezama ’20 sought to understand what causes parent-child conflict.

Graduate student Leslie McLane designed a lesson plan to equip high school students with the mental tools for effectively processing cognitive dissonance in school settings and throughout their lives.

Although their projects differ, both McLane and Cerda-Lezama are excited to participate in WOU’s Academic Excellence Showcase (AES), which starts online today and runs through June 15 .

“This type of collaboration is so important to creating environments that span content domains,” McLane said. “We can all learn so much from each other.”

Western Oregon University graduate student Leslie McLane is presenting her work at the Academic Excellence Showcase.

As the coronavirus pandemic has changed how students present their work, Nelina Vargas ’20 said what has remained consistent is the honor students feel to participate in AES.

“We have all worked so hard throughout our time at WOU, and I am so lucky to be surrounded by such wonderful and hardworking people,” Vargas said. “We are all dynamic and resilient, and I truly believe that each of my peers worked hard to remotely present their projects, portfolios or research.”

Educational Psychology Associate Professor Xiaopeng Gong encourages current and incoming WOU students to view this year’s AES to cheer for their peers and to understand the potential types of the research they can do. WOU is unique in that it provides undergraduates the opportunity to pursue research experiences, which is normally reserved for graduate students.

“For faculty or staff, viewing AES projects provides ideas about how we can nurture students through sponsoring their research. It offers an alternative approach to support and collaborate with students,” Gong said.

More than 200 students are participating in this year’s event with their submissions running the gamut from art portfolios to computer programming.

Here’s a glimpse of a few students presenting their work at AES.

Exploring pathways in education

An Interdisciplinary Studies major, Rachel Bayly ’20 plans to pursue a career in which she can advocate for high-quality early childhood education for every child in the United States.

Her AES research examined the academic achievement gap that results from unequal learning opportunities and the effects of poverty on child development.

“Through this project I learned that the problems causing unequal access to high-quality learning opportunities are deep-rooted and systemic, and the solutions have to be the same,” she said. “Surface-level solutions will not help many families.”

Portfolio of self-reflection

A fine arts major with a psychology minor, Vargas said her presentation explains the choices and conceptual ideas of her recent artwork, inspired by her own and others’ deeply personal experiences.

“Much of my work deals with the darker, often sexual or painful sides of being human,” Vargas said. “I think the most important thing I learned is to not be ashamed of the subject matter I choose to explore. Stigma can be broken down through representation, and that is something I advocate for.”

To understand is to explore

Matt Duffy ’23 said his project “The Year of the Cyber Athlete: Electric Boogaloo,” will transport people into the mind of a programmer tasked with a coding project for a somewhat seedy individual.

By viewing his project, people will learn how Duffy’s protagonist turns the table on this client by “devising a plan so crazy, it might just work.”

Duffy described his program as having a sordid, neo-noir vibe with a specially curated soundtrack.

“You don’t want to miss ‘The Year of the Cyber Athlete’ coming May 28 to an AES near you,” he said.

Serving the community

Two people with their presentation
Kim Castro and Tracy Sanchez studied homelessness in Polk County for their presentation at Western Oregon University’s Academic Excellence Showcase.

Nursing students Tracy Sanchez ’20 and Kim Castro ’20 partnered with Family Promise of the Mid-Willamette Valley for 10 weeks to learn ways to address homelessness in Polk County. Their project made others aware of the unmet needs of unsheltered families in the county, including the importance of families sheltering together and the need for more affordable, permanent housing.

“We learned that the community is not always open to the idea that homelessness is an issue in their community,” Sanchez said. “We also learned that to make this happen, we need a lot of support from the community.”

Understanding Relationships

Sandra Cerda-Lezama ’20 worked with a team of four Latinx college students to understand what led to parent-child conflict within emerging-adult students at WOU. The team explored questions such as if females experience more parent-conflict than their male counterparts, and in terms of race and ethnicity, what are the differences faced by students going through similar parental conflicts? You can visit AES to learn what their research found.

“It makes us feel lucky that we are able to share new information with students,” Cerda-Lezama said. “Sharing is so valuable because we educate and learn from each other as students and peers.”

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