Students, faculty showcase research at 3rd Annual Scholarship Symposium

Wilkes University hosted its 3rd Annual Scholarship Symposium in the University Center on Main from April 1 to the 4. This year saw the highest level of student participation with over 100 students being involved in the event.

The symposium featured 36 faculty led projects, 24 oral presentations and 22 poster presentations. The Scholarship Symposium’s purpose is to celebrate the faculty research and scholarship that takes place throughout Wilkes’ institution’s spectrum of disciplines.

Scholarship is such a highly regarded value at Wilkes that President Leahy committed $1 million to create the Research and Scholarship Fund in 2016. Also, 18 faculty members have received over $8,000 in external funding as well.

Provost Anne Skleder presented the President’s Award for Excellence to Dr. Z. J. Witczak, professor and chair of Pharmaceutical Sciences, though he could not be present due to presenting with students at the American Chemical Science meeting in Florida.

The symposium was brought to an official start with a presentation about robotics by Yong Zhu, professor in mechanical engineering. Zhu’s presentation was titled “The Future of Robotics: Fantasy, Reality and Ethics” and focused on how robotics works, the important contributions robotics has in other fields as well as the ethics of robotics.

To begin, Zhu first shared a story of a visit he took to a kindergarten class where he explained how robotics works.

“How the robot works is that there is a sensor, that when you wave it detects it and it will turn around and move the opposite direction, so it is like a puppy,” said Zhu. “So I explained to the kids that a robot works like us. Everything we do is because of three basic functionalities of our eyes, our brain and our body. Those three things work in a constant loop, and a robot is the same, functioning with a sensor, a controller and an actuator. So that concept can be understood by six and seven year olds, so there is no excuse for those of you here.”

After explaining how robots work Zhu went into detail about how robotics is expensive and relies on commercial success as well as research. He went into detail about how robotics have improved productivity, quality of life, and has removed and reduced risks that humans otherwise have to face.

Zhu talked about the medical field and the use of robotics for both physical support and emotional support interaction. He mentioned that robotics has been used in manufacturing to do repetitive tasks, and that it has been used in the service industry as well as a major component to space research.

Finally Zhu talked about the importance of ethics in robotics, about how robots do not have moral compasses or recognize harm. As such Zhu stressed that technology combined with A.I must be kept in check, though he assured that in our life time there is no way for the code of the A.I. to get so complicated that it is out of human hands.

Also throughout the four days other faculty presented their research findings in sessions and with students through poster projects set up, so that students and other faculty could look, learn, and inquire about the research.

Maddie Davis
Senior biology major Brendon Kelly presents his research titled “Latitudinal gradients in plant-animal interactions: biogeography of pre-dispersal seed predation of acorns of oak by insect larvae.“

One of many presentations was from Dr. Linda Gutierrez, professor of biology here at Wilkes, who worked alongside Jacob Baranski, senior biology major, and five other students in researching the effects of intestinal tumor growth on adipose tissue in a model of intestinal carcinogenesis.

Baranski said, “It was very empowering and nice to work with someone so knowledgeable who let me take charge on many occasions. It was exciting to see what everyone else has been working on and to learn about other fields while at the symposium.”

Many other faculty and students from different fields came together to present posters throughout the event covering a variety of topics from preventing ACL tears to looking at what motivates young women to fight sexism.

Finally the symposium concluded with the Paul A. O’Hop Final Word Lecture presented by Professor Dana Manning from the pharmacy department on the perception of health and wellness and how it is more of a holistic concept.

Manning’s lecture, titled “Beyond Medication: Health and Wellness as a Holistic Concept” focused on a central question that Manning has been research since her time as a student, what is healthy?

Manning addressed this question by sharing her experiences throughout her life and by analyzing how we view health.

“At first I wanted to stick to what I was taught even as those things crumbled beneath me. It turns out that the version of the dietary guidelines I was taught during my early years were more influenced by politics and subsidies than by science,” said Manning.

She addressed how articles and studies are produced telling people what is and is not healthy. Manning found through her research, including her time in Uganda, that all foods serve functions and that there is no one way to treat all patients.

Instead she found that there is an importance in community when it comes to the medical field, and that often nutrition and health are viewed as black and white when that is not the actual case.

Manning wrapped her lecture and the symposium as a whole by making a list of promises to help support and guide the community here at Wilkes. This included bringing other cultures to Wilkes, taking students to other cultures and creating a nutrition course available for all majors to present a course that is beneficial for even non-medical students.