Open Grounds holds Public Day

Students showcase research on Lawn


Student researchers represented a variety of years and University schools, both undergraduate and graduate.

Marshall Bronfin | Cavalier Daily

Open Grounds held the second annual Public Day showcasing student research, scholarship and creative work across disciplines Friday. The exhibit was held in collaboration with the Office of the Vice President for Research and the Office of the Provost on the behalf of President Sullivan.

Students from varying years and undergraduate and graduate schools gathered on the Lawn to present their work. The event featured projects discussing a diverse range of topics, including mental health awareness, pancreatic cancer, astronomy and female suicide in China.

Photo: Marshall Bronfin

OpenGrounds Associate Director Lindsey Hepler said the event presents a rare opportunity for a diverse range of students to display their academic strides at the University.

“To have first years through post-doctorates in all disciplines in all schools presenting their work in one place is a really rare thing,” Hepler said. “Public Day is meant to showcase the depth and breadth [of work] students across the University are all doing.”

The idea behind Public Day goes back to the early history of the University, when students and professors displayed their work to the public in the Rotunda. Over the years, the tradition disappeared as the University opted for more formal commencement ceremonies.

“We're expanding and embodying that spirit,” Hepler said. “This event is striving to recapture that.”

To find student researchers to highlight, OpenGrounds reached out to all of the undergraduate and graduate schools. A student could be featured through nomination by their respective professors, deans or peers.

“There is wonderful work going on that students know about,” Hepler said. “We rely on students, faculty and administrators to let us know what work should be here.”

Fourth-year College student Alex Rafala presented a film inspired by the suicide of one of his co-workers.

“The reason I started doing this was because I wanted to create a film, then it had meaning when the incident happened,” Rafala said. “Instead of trying to represent how a suicidal person feels, I decided to approach it from what I knew, how a bystander feel[s].”

Rafala said the Public Day attendees who stopped by his presentation were intrigued. Because the film addresses what he said is such an important topic, Rafala hopes the attention it’s getting will create dialogue.

“From anyone who has seen the film, we get overwhelmingly positive feedback,” Rafala said. “I hope that will spur discussion so we can all try to understand each other better.”

PhD Nursing student Karen Moss presented her project on end of life care among African-Americans. She said she has been working on her research since her entrance to the Nursing School.

“It started when I entered the doors as a student of the University,” Moss said. “We [graduate students] have an idea of what we want to research and we build upon it.”

A faculty member nominated Moss as a representative of the Nursing School for Public Day. Moss said her collaboration with the faculty has been indispensable to her research and her growth as a student.

Public Day 2015: Projects by School and Discipline

Source: UVa Today

“It's uncharted territory to enter a PhD program,” she said. “I couldn't be doing what I'm doing without the help of my advisors and mentors to get this work done.”

Moss’s said her interactions with public audiences were constructive and brought to light the importance of an often overlooked issue.

“The persons I've spoken to have been great,” Moss said. “I'm amazed by the input I'm getting from folks who have stopped by and the discussion we're having on this topic in a very specific topic.”

Overall, Hepler said she thought Public Day was a success as it allowed students and passerby to engage in critical discussions on students’ work.

“It's really great to see some of the conversations that have been happening and for the participants to be interacting with each other and with the people who come by,” Hepler said.

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