Thursday, January 17th, 2019

The minds of USM showcase work at Thinking Matters

Shealy Williams

Posted on April 26, 2016 in News
By Zachary Searles

Shealy Williams

For college students, there is a lot of work that goes on inside the classroom. Regardless of their workloads, some students still choose to do research outside of the classroom, with the hopes of educating others on topics that mean a lot to them. Last week, that work was put on display during the annual event Thinking Matters.

The event started with breakfast as posters were starting to be put up, followed by some opening statements. The first comment was from the director of research, Kris Sahonchik who stated that Thinking Matters is one of the most important days of the calendar year.

“I hope that other people too are going to see these [student presentations], along with all the other work that’s here, and learn as much as they can possibly learn,” Sahonchik said.

Ethan Strimling, the mayor of Portland, was also in attendance last Friday, saying a few words before the presentations began. He joked that through his experience of participating in politics, sometimes thinking doesn’t matter enough.

“The only word I would add to your title is critical thinking matters and questioning thinking matters. I hope that as you do this work, you’re continually trying to question what it is that you already see and try to confirm whether that may be true,” Mayor Strimling said.

This year, there were over 100 poster displays and student presentations, all of which showcased many different kinds of work students – whether it’s graduate studies work, or just a presentation on just something that is of high interest to them.

One student presentation titled, “Characterization of a Magnetic Tension Pendulum,” was given by Alexander Knight, who started the design process six years ago. The presentation focused on work that was trying to, “measure the strength, direction, and variations of the earth’s magnetic field in Portland, ME.”

Professor of environmental science Joe Staples regarded the research done by Knight as, “some really extraordinary work.” Most of the work is grounded in physics and high level mathematics, so Staples made it clear that he understood most of it, but not all of it.

Knight references some troubles that he ran into while conducting his research. He stated that the apparatus he was working with was highly sensitive and would track the greatest change in magnetic fields, which wasn’t always helpful.

“So when this thing is at a very high grade of sensitivity, we have a six-foot tall car detector,” Knight said. “ Any cars that drive by, it would stop what it’s doing and track [the cars] as long as it was in its field of view and then go back to what it was doing.”

Knight also explained that it is very difficult to track magnetic field data in a big city like Portland because there is just too much noise – such as noise from a car or a plane overhead – that messes with the data, which explains why a majority of magnetic field tests take place in the part of the country where there will be very little interference.

Timothy Sprague, a communications major, gave a presentation titled, “The Deep Structure of Bullsh*t,” which was based on research done by Harry Frankfurt, who stated that the essence of bullsh*t isn’t that it is fake, but rather that it is a phony concept. This project was a collaboration between Sprague and Lenny Shedletsky, a professor of communications at USM.

According to the abstract submitted, the research explores people’s perceptions of the nature of bullsh*t, their perceptions of its frequency in their lives and their perceived responses to bullsh*t. Sprague discussed a pilot study that was done where 83 percent of respondents said that at least 30 percent of their interactions on a day-to-day basis were BS.

“Bullsh*t is kind of a rhetorical device. You are trying to persuade somebody, but by using this BS,” Sprague said. “In Greek rhetoric, there’s three layers: Logos, pathos and ethos… So I’m thinking that there should be a fourth layer and that’s bullsh*t.”

After the preliminary study, there was another survey that went around, that gathered responses from mostly college aged kids, that showed that most people agreed that the most BS is encountered in the mass media. Surveyees were also asked what BS means to them and a lot of responses featured the words “misleading” or “embellishing,” according to Sprague.

Along with the three oral sessions, there were also three sessions devoted to poster presentations, with more than 100 students displaying posters of the research that have been conducting over the past semester and for some even longer than that.

Poster topics included: Fighting the Ebola virus, journalism ethics in a digital age, the impact of incarceration on relationships, Malaga Island geochemistry and even a poster that detailed why red hair comes in so many shades.

Before the Thinking Matters event took place, Rebecca Nisetich, director of the honors program and chair of Thinking Matters, wrote an oped piece for the Portland Press Herald where she states why an event like this matters.

“Research shows that to foster long-term student success, we need to give students opportunities to use their learning in real-world contexts,” Nisetich stated in her Press Herald piece. “At USM, our students learn with their communities in ways that shape their careers and broaden their horizons.”

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