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28th annual student research event, CERCA, to take place online April 27-May 1

| Denise Olson (story); Glen Mabie (video)

The Office of Research and Sponsored Programs (ORSP) at UW-Eau Claire will host the first-ever online presentation of the annual student research celebration. The 28th annual Celebration of Excellence in Research and Creative Activity (CERCA) will take place the week of April 27-May 1, and will be delivered to audiences through the campus Canvas online instruction platform.

Although so many other campus events, gatherings and presentations were forced to cancel due to COVID-19, leadership in ORSP and several other units on campus decided that this signature campus event showcasing the hard work and dedication of Blugold research collaborators simply had to take place. Faculty, staff and students quickly got to work finding ways to host this weeklong celebration in a virtual way. 

While the scramble to problem-solve can be stressful for anyone, it can also serve as a unique opportunity to develop skills that will prove useful for any future Blugold graduate in any potential career field, a silver lining pointed out by the newly appointed director of ORSP, Dr. Catherine Chan.

Dr. Catherine Chan

Dr. Catherine Chan, director of the Office of Research and Sponsored Programs (ORSP)

"Supporting our students to adapt to change and rise to whatever challenges are on hand is part of the learning opportunities UW-Eau Claire provides, and the upcoming online CERCA is yet another example," Chan said. "The shift in this event has been a chance for our students to work alongside others — students, staff and faculty — to collectively problem-solve using all resources available. This is exactly the kind of experience employers value."

Dr. Patricia Kleine, provost and vice chancellor for academic affairs at UW-Eau Claire, has been a longtime champion of undergraduate research and her office has sponsored a major component of CERCA each year, the Provost's Honors Symposium. She and other campus leaders knew that this event, the culmination of often thousands of hours of work and creativity for students and faculty, had to take place in a new way. 

"I'm grateful for the energy and vision of Dr. Catherine Chan, who saw how these events could occur in a virtual environment," Kleine said. "I also thank the faculty, staff and students who have embraced the challenge of the conversion and posting of their presentations, creative efforts and research posters to the CERCA Canvas site." 

Although Canvas is mainly used on campus for online course delivery, the module-style structure provided a suitable site to host the various aspects of CERCA. A total of 236 posters and 19 video or audio recorded presentations representing more than 30 departments and programs will be available to site visitors to explore. The following companion events and special presentation sessions will have their own module under the CERCA Canvas site:

  • Math Retreat
  • Nursing Symposium
  • Spotlight on First-Year Research
  • Provost’s Honors Symposium
  • Global Experiences and Domestic Immersions Presentations
  • Latin American Studies Capstone
  • Public History Capstone
  • English Panel

To see the list of topics, student researchers and faculty mentors, see the 2020 Virtual CERCA Program, which is a spreadsheet organized by discipline.

New platform, new patrons

One major advantage for both student researchers and their audience of interested campus and community members is the relative flexibility offered by this online format. In addition to removing the time and location restrictions of the previous daily schedule for seeing posters and hearing presentations, this type of virtual event will open up the range of audience types to entirely new audiences.

"The online format allows CERCA to engage audiences who may have physical and/or time constraints that prevent them from participating in the event in person. The platform allows us to involve a wider range of constituencies, such as high school students and teachers as well as others in the community," Chan said.

One such high school teacher is looking forward to the potential learning opportunities this new online event could offer to her honors biology students. Dr. Anne Geraghty of Regis High School in Eau Claire hopes that the interactive platform will be an exciting addition to her own online curriculum, both as a supplement of content and as a way for her students to see concrete examples of what college biology studies might look like. 

"I'm excited to hear that the UWEC student research day is going online this year," Geraghty said. "It will be a great opportunity to connect some of the research projects with our high school curriculum, allow our high school students to interact with the college researchers and hopefully encourage our students to promptly seek out similar undergraduate research opportunities for themselves at college."

Prepping and moderating in new ways

Angie Stombaugh
Angie Stombaugh

Angie Stombaugh, director of the Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning (CETL)

The complicated work of shifting this signature campus event to a virtual presentation began as soon as announcements were made to cease in-person classes and campus events. While it was a collaborative effort across several units, the heavy lifting in the area of hosting the event in Canvas and offering the interactive elements fell to staff and students in the Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning (CETL).

Angie Stombaugh, CETL director, understands the campus significance of CERCA, and was eager to help create the best way to allow this research celebration to continue despite the COVID-19 outbreak and the constraints of social distancing. 

"CERCA is a beloved event on our campus. Students and faculty mentors work so hard during the academic year on their scholarship and it was crucial to create an avenue to showcase their work," Stombaugh said. "The event is a big moment for our students to share what they’ve learned and to build confidence in their knowledge about in their discipline. Virtual CERCA will create these opportunities and will provide opportunities for feedback and discussion for our students and faculty mentors. One of the essential parts of doing research and scholarship is the dissemination of the work."

Taylor Reisdorf

Taylor Reisdorf, graduate assistant, Office of Research and Sponsored Programs

Taylor Reisdorf is a graduate student in English literature and works as a graduate assistant in ORSP. She has been responsible for a great deal of the legwork required to convert the 2020 CERCA to a virtual event, working to record and organize the 250+  poster and video presentations. While the work has been taxing given the timeline, Reisdorf is happy to have created a new and effective way to celebrate student research. 

"It has definitely been overwhelming to pull this virtual event together, while also trying to navigate and simply exist in what's become our new normal," Reisdorf said. "However, I'm so glad that the hard, important and innovative work of both students and faculty can still be celebrated, despite the global pandemic and subsequent chaos. CERCA has become a staple for UWEC, and I'm proud that we've worked to continue the tradition despite such strange circumstances. I truly hope that everyone — UWEC-affiliated or otherwise — takes advantage of this virtual celebration."

CERCA 2020 will showcase not only the impressive and engaging research of Blugold students and faculty but also their determination and ingenuity in making this virtual presentation a reality, a fact summed up well by Provost Kleine. 

"Blugolds will emerge stronger as a campus despite these challenging times," she said. "Whether we are six feet or sixty miles apart, we have learned how technology can bring us together in ways we never thought possible. Through the first-ever virtual CERCA week, we will continue the tradition of excellence in undergraduate student-faculty research, a new way to marvel at the creativity of those among us. Visit the CERCA site, sit back and enjoy — at UW-Eau Claire, the show must go on."

Visit the CERCA website for campus and community access and instructions for Canvas.