The show must go on: UNK Research Week becomes virtual event

UNK Communications

KEARNEY – The University of Nebraska at Kearney’s creative and scholarly activity is on display in a unique way.

Research Week, which celebrates the work of UNK students and faculty, continues through Friday as a digital showcase featuring more than 135 presenters.

Originally planned as an in-person event, Research Week includes Student Research Days that allow undergraduate and graduate students to present and discuss their projects, as well as the unveiling of UNK’s annual faculty research magazine, New Frontiers. Faculty featured in the magazine also present.

Mark Ellis
Mark Ellis

When the coronavirus outbreak forced UNK to restrict on-campus activities and transition to remote learning for the remainder of the spring semester, organizers challenged themselves to find a new way to host this yearly event.

“Research Week is an important showcase for UNK student research that could not be canceled. It is the one week during the year when campus is focused on all the quality research UNK students are doing,” said Mark Ellis, dean of graduate studies. “It would have been a shame had we not offered this opportunity for students.”

Matt Bice agrees.

“Our job as educators is to provide opportunities for students. I felt as if it was our duty to provide this opportunity,” said Bice, who serves as associate dean of graduate studies and director of undergraduate research and creative activity. “Canceling Research Week was never in the plans.”

Bice and Ellis teamed with Assistant Vice Chancellor for Research Richard Mocarski to devise a plan for a virtual research conference, then worked with a host of campus partners to get the ball rolling.

“We kind of just jumped in the deep end,” said Bice, noting that Assistant Director of Academic Support Services Don Ray and the Information Technology Services team were an “essential” part of this process.

“They are amazing,” he said. “They allowed us to build this platform.”

Matt Bice
Matt Bice

Using Canvas, a cloud-based learning management system, UNK students are able to share their research posters, oral presentations and performing arts pieces with a campuswide audience. Each participant was also required to create a video detailing their project.

The online platform is organized by faculty, undergraduate and graduate student research, with other subcategories. A multidisciplinary event, Research Week features work from a variety of academic programs.

Another function of the digital event allows UNK faculty and students to interact with each other by asking questions, sharing feedback and discussing research projects.

This dialogue is an important part of the learning process, according to Bice, who has been impressed by the campus engagement. More than 250 people have shared over 1,000 comments so far.

“That’s absolutely amazing,” Bice said.

Undergraduate and graduate student awards will be announced 3 p.m. Friday during a virtual ceremony.

Ellis said he’s “thrilled” with the support this year’s Research Week has received.

“We knew we would have strong participation, but we did not expect to see almost 150 students present,” he said. “This is a fine example of how UNK’s experience in online education allowed us to quickly move a traditional on-campus event into the online world. We are proud of our students and very much appreciate all the work faculty have done to help prepare students for this event.”