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CEE Graduate Research Symposium

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Award winners_DSC_0863The Sixth Annual CEE Graduate Research Symposium was held Friday, March 21 in McManus Lounge. The fast-paced program included presentations by 18 CEE graduate students on topics as varied as probabilistic modeling of wind loads, using bacteria-inoculated mulch to remove the contaminant TCE from groundwater, and modeling landslide-generated water waves using depth-integrated equations. This symposium was organized and presented by the CEE Graduate Student Association and featured faculty judges and cash prizes. Yitian Sun and Mian Wang served as Chairs of the GSA’s Symposium effort and their work paid off in a smoothly run and academically stimulating day.

The official program ran from 9 am to 2:30 pm and concluded with the awarding of prizes for the five highest-scoring presenters. The graduate students each had ten minutes to talk about an aspect of their current research. Audience members then had three minutes for questions. During the course of the day, a total of nine CEE faculty served as judges. One of the judges, Professor Damian Helbling, had this to say, “As a new faculty member, I found the symposium to be a fantastic venue to meet and interact with the current graduate students and to be introduced to the breadth of research taking place in the school.” Award winners_DSC_0863

The symposium offered students an opportunity to talk about their research with a more diverse audience than usual. “It’s a chance to practice public speaking and presenting your technical work to a general audience,” says structural engineering major Brett Davis. “The challenge is being able to describe your research with sufficient technical detail so that the audience, who might not be experts in the specific field, can relate and take something away from the presentation.”

Graduate student Rick Zamora agrees, “The symposium is an ideal format for students to practice presenting their research to a general technical audience. This practice pays off down the road when students are interviewing for jobs or presenting their research to funding organizations.” Presenter and Graduate Student Association President  Alin Radu said, “All in all, I think that the symposium is good practice for future conferences and job interview presentations. You also get to know the subjects covered by your colleagues in the department and this could sometimes lead to interdisciplinary research collaborations.”

The faculty judges used a rubric consisting of three criteria to evaluate each presentation. Students were scored on how appropriate and understandable their content was for an audience with a wide variety of CEE and engineering backgrounds, on how well the visual aids were organized and used to convey the presenter’s ideas, and on presentation skills such as eye contact and clarity and speed of speech. DSC_0632

One of the faculty judges, Professor Patrick Reed, gave a well-received keynote address during the catered lunch in McManus Lounge. “I quite enjoyed the symposium and very much appreciate the opportunity to speak to the students,” said Reed. “This is a great forum for the graduate students and faculty to interact while learning about the breadth of work being explored at Cornell.”

After the final presentations were complete, the participants adjourned to the graduate student lounge in Hollister Hall for the awards announcements and an ice cream social. The CEE Graduate Student Association awarded a total of $1200 to five presenters, including $500 to top-scoring speaker Rick Zamora. Zamora spoke about his research in Professor Derek Warner’s lab into the chemo-mechanical origin of hydrogen assisted cracking in aluminum alloys.

Nimish Pujara, another of the prize-winners, was impressed by the range of topics covered. “The problems that are being worked on in this department and the methods used are quite diverse. I was happy to have an opportunity to listen at an event where so many ideas were so well-explained.” CEE Department Director Phil Liu concurs, “This symposium really reflects the diversity of the school in terms of research areas and students’ backgrounds.” Graduate student Casey Garland appreciated the symposium as a welcome break from her usual tasks, “It gave me the opportunity to step out of my day-to-day tasks of running experiments and processing data to explain what I do and why it matters.”