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College of the Ozarks hosts annual Celebration of Student Scholarship, Research, & Creative work

Engineering students Aden Sissek, Chandler Garrison, and JungHun Shin work on a senior capstone project proposed by SOAR Special Needs that allows special needs individuals to enjoy water playtime.

POINT LOOKOUT, MO. — College of the Ozarks hosted its annual Celebration of Student Scholarship, Research, and Creative work on May 4, at The Keeter Center. Featuring projects from seven areas of study, select departments held an award ceremony, recognizing students for their academic excellence and personal achievement.

Students with various majors presented personal research accumulated throughout their college careers. Departments that participated included the following: animal science, biology, chemistry, computer science, engineering, physical education & health science, and psychology.

The purpose of the Celebration of Scholarship is to highlight the research and projects completed by College of the Ozarks students over the past year. It is designed for both internal and external audiences and held at The Keeter Center to provide easy access to those from off campus.

“Students develop confidence in sharing their academic learning with others, including peers, faculty, staff, administration, and business owners,” said Eric Bolger, dean of the College. “They learn how to present and explain information in a compelling and accurate fashion, including in writing, visually, and orally. They learn that they are part of a larger story that includes people and businesses from off campus.”

SOAR Special Needs Project

Three engineering students -- Aden Sissek, Chandler Garrison, and JungHun Shin -- worked on a senior capstone project proposed by SOAR Special Needs. The duration of this project lasted nearly three semesters.

“We designed a portable outdoor water activity for the enjoyment of the individuals participating in the summer day camps hosted by SOAR Special Needs,” Garrison said. “This product is useful to SOAR for transportation throughout their multiple locations and provides many fun experiences for their campers.”

SOAR Special Needs was interested in an activity that could be transported from each location where the camps would be hosted. The three students would regularly schedule video calls, consulting with SOAR, to clarify questions and avoid roadblocks.

“We met with SOAR via virtual meetings several times throughout the school year regarding important decisions,” Sissek said. “Every two weeks, we would email SOAR for design approval, major purchases, and construction updates.”

The engineering capstone project taught students to communicate technical details professionally and effectively. Judges were also impressed by methods of logic and problem-solving used by the students to navigate potential setbacks.

Computer Science Senior Project Showcase

The Computer Science Senior Project Showcase provides real-world feedback to students outside of what they hear from professors in the classroom. Five students participated in this year’s showcase, presenting their senior capstone projects for peers, professors, and industry partners.

Cheri Kembell, assistant professor of computer science, is the director of this annual event.

“Students identify a problem and then design and build a solution utilizing technology in 15 weeks,” Kembell said. “When they present at the Celebration of Scholarship, they demonstrate their completed application to an audience. They communicate the logic behind their technical design as well as successes and failures that they encountered along the way.”

“Before students leave College of the Ozarks, they have experience with the entire software development life cycle at a professional level and can deliver and present their solution to a room of industry professionals,” Kembell said. “It gives students the opportunity to experience what it feels like to be questioned on their problem-solving and thought processes. In addition, it allows them to improve their written and verbal technical communication skills.”

Off-campus guests are individuals that the CS program calls their “industry partners.” Some of them are alumni of the program, others are I.T. professionals that work for organizations that hire students for internships and full-time employment. This year the showcase had judges who came from Abbott, FedEx, Forvis, ZeroSum, Netsmart, American National Insurance, Dragos, Inc., Johnson County Community College, ShadowDragon, Classy Llama, and Baton Pass. 

“Our industry partners ask difficult technical questions and provide honest feedback to the students that day,” Kembell said. “This is our students' dress rehearsal for becoming the next cohort of C of O computer science industry partners.”

History of the Celebration of Student Scholarship, Research, & Creative work

For this event, the chemistry department started with student poster presentations over 30 years ago. It soon grew to include biology, along with the gradual participation of other departments. In 2021 the college marked the first year that the Celebration of Student Research event was combined with the Computer Science Senior Project Showcase to make it a campus-wide celebration. Jim Buchan, professor emeritus of computer science, and Andrew Staugaard, professor emeritus of computer science, started inviting industry partners to senior project presentations 21 years ago because they believed that it was more valuable for the students to present to individuals who were actively working in the industry. Industry professionals provided real-world feedback and relationships were formed between the industry partners, the professors, and the students. 

“I feel very fortunate to have inherited this event that is a tradition for our department that our industry partners look forward to almost as much as we do,” Kembell said. “This event is my second favorite day of the year on campus next to graduation.” 

“Today I was talking with the CIO of a regional eCommerce development company that has clients in every segment of the industry,” Kembell said. “He said that he was surprised and impressed by the modern tech stacks that the students were utilizing for their projects. His comments are validation that what we are teaching in our courses is in line with what students will experience in industry. It’s a win-win for the students and for the organizations that hire them.”

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