Symposium/Showcase clicks in quick shift online

The Inventory Management System – SMURF project won first place in the CSET Research Symposium and Honors Showcase. Pictured are (from left) Justin Canode, Nick Heisler, Stone Sommers, Cameron Sullivan and Emilee Spence. Heisler and Sullivan contributed to the capstone project.

By Ashlee Larrison
GCU News Bureau

When COVID-19 became a global pandemic in March, the fate of numerous end-of-the-semester events was in doubt. But leaders in Grand Canyon University’s Honors College and College of Science, Engineering and Technology were determined to preserve the annual CSET Research Symposium and Honors Showcase, scheduled for late March.

Like ground classes, the answer was to go online.

“I had hoped to do something, but it was only after hearing of other conferences moving to an online-only format did it occur to me that we could probably do the same,” said Dr. Jon Valla, CSET Research and Design Program Director and Assistant Dean of Science. “We wanted to make sure that the student work was recognized, especially for graduating seniors, both publicly and to the GCU community and leadership.

"I am very grateful for the assistance of Breanna Naegali (Associate Dean of the Honors College) and the Honors College staff. We share this event each year, and I couldn’t ask for a better partner. This year was no exception.”

This year’s symposium represented 40 student research posters and 10 Honors projects ranging from campaigns to STEM programs and robots, just to name a few. Students  were presenting their work for judging when COVID-related regulations were implemented in Arizona, and the later rounds of judging were completed virtually.

Like any new experience, the transition didn’t come without challenges.

“It is quite difficult to replicate oral presentations and authentic interactions with judges and viewers – especially when working with such a short timeline to convert the event to an online viewing experience,” Naegeli said. “There is always room for improvement, and we would love to integrate video presentations in the future. However, for a tight three-week timeline, I think our administration, faculty and students did an incredible job bringing their work to life in a virtual manner.”

To showcase students’ submissions, event coordinators utilized Padlet, which allows viewers to like and comment on the posters and for students to interact with the comments. The top six were announced April 13.

Students' work is viewable here.

The first-place project, by Honors sophomore Emilee Spence along with Stone Sommers and Justin Canode, was the development of a fully autonomous inventory robot. The project wasn't affected much by the transition to online because most of it was done beforehand. The only real hiccup stemmed from having to give their presentation without the robot itself.

“I want to thank God first and foremost and give Him credit, glory and honor for the Honors Symposium, and without Him none of this would have been possible," Spence said. "I was so blessed by this whole experience, COVID and all.”

Caitlyn Ray and Alle Nichols' health-related project took third place.

Spence also emphasized that the mentorship of Dr. Isac Artzi and funding from the Center for Innovation in Research and Teaching helped make the project possible.

A project by Honors freshman Caitlyn Ray and her fellow student advisor Alle Nichols placed third. It involved collaborating with NeuroForce1 to beta test and enhance BioStrap, a wearable device with clinical-grade performance measures that could monitor health and determine the average health data of students on campus.

“It’s super exciting,” Ray said. “I didn’t know what to expect and, with it going online, if that would help us or hurt us in any way. But I’m really thankful that it did well.”

Going online actually helped the pair stay on track, and it also reduced some of the pressure of public speaking.

“I think it went really smoothly,” Ray said. “It was really nice, honestly, getting to video ourselves and having that freedom to make mistakes in what you say and make sure that video is perfect versus doing it in person.”

Georgia Hughes (front right) and her Career Connections Marketing Campaign Project group won sixth place.

Junior Georgia Hughes became the first student in Honors College history to take part in  two projects that made the top six.

Hughes, Olivia DuPuy, Michelle Fific, Josh Petrie and Brody Hicks placed fifth for their work with the Milwaukee Brewers STEM crew, a program organized by the Honors College and the Milwaukee Brewers to teach middle school students about STEM through the integration of baseball.

She and her fellow student advisors, Maria Paz Malo, Emma Blair and Nicole Shibata, placed sixth for their Career Connections Marketing Campaign project, which used data analytics to measure the effectiveness of how GCU’s platform for employees and job-seekers is being publicized.

“It was kind of a nice pat on the back, I guess, kind of a nice affirmation of all the hard work that went into both of those projects,” Hughes said.

As for the switch to online, Hughes said her group made it work through Zoom calls and Loom videos.

“One of the biggest struggles we found was trying to make a video seem professional and well rounded but also still have some personality and liveliness to it,” she said. “Finding that happy medium was difficult and different in the online setting, but it ended up working out pretty well.”


  1. Inventory Management System – SMURF: Emilee Spence, Stone Sommers and Justin Canode
  2. Works of His Hands: Lillian Martin
  3. How Healthy is GCU?: Caitlyn Ray and Alle Nichols
  4. The Sprouting Schools Initiative: Lena-May Haught, Brielle Milford, Marisol Ariza Fuentes, Elizabeth Randolph and Claire Hoffman
  5. Brewers STEM Crew: Olivia DuPuy, Michelle Fific, Georgia Hughes, Josh Petrie and Brody Hicks
  6. Career Connections Marketing Campaign Project: Maria Paz Malo, Emma Blair, Nicole Shibata and Georgia Hughes

Contact Ashlee Larrison at (602) 639-8488 or [email protected]


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