Students showcase projects, research at undergraduate symposium

Ashley Larson makes her presentation, “Culture and Perfectionism,” during the Canyon Undergraduate Research Symposium.

Photos by Ralph Freso / Slideshow

Theatre students wowed the audience at the beginning of the academic year with their production of “Mary Poppins.” Carousel horse racing, tea parties on the ceiling, a magical bag and a flying umbrella dazzled audiences who saw the show at Ethington Theatre.

But where did it all come from? Who came up with all the design ideas, tips and tricks?

Grand Canyon University senior theatre major Ivy Angle and sophomore Mica Paden revealed the behind-the-scenes details in their presentation at the Canyon Undergraduate Research Symposium Monday afternoon in the Antelope Gymnasium.

The symposium was just one part of the Canyon Undergraduate Research Conference, organized by the Honors College. The conference also featured 47 oral presentations and 78 poster presentations taking place simultaneously over four hours.

Mica Paden presents “Mary Poppins, Behind the Production" at Monday's symposium.

“In my GCU history, this is the most presentations we have ever had,” said Honors College Dean Dr. Breanna Naegeli. “This is the most interest we’ve ever had and even the most attendance we have received from spectators.”

Angle and Paden were among the four chosen groups selected to present their ideas to executive and academic leadership, including President Brian Mueller and Provost Dr. Randy Gibb.

“It takes a lane of people to paint layers of happiness,” Angle said as she began her presentation titled, “Mary Poppins, Behind the Production,” by revealing the scenic concept behind their production work.

After working as a set designer originally for GCU theatre's production of “Shrek” and seeing Angle’s interest, there was no doubt for assistant College of Arts and Media dean Bill Symington that she should contribute her skills to “Mary Poppins.”

Angle spent hours studying the Ethington stage and drawing out multiple sets that showed, step by step, how everything was to be designed and created. Those drawings were then used to build props that resembled the drawings exactly.

Rachel Anderson and Blaze Hulderman speak about “Academic Theology for the Layperson.”

The goal was to create something appropriate for the team and the specific theatre space and to make sure that everything resembled the appropriate century in which the play is set, Angle shared. One of the ways she did that was by designing props that had multiple purposes. Every piece was either used multiple times or was designed with two different sides so it could be flipped and immediately serve a different purpose.

“Professor and director Cindy Calhoun’s concept for the show was inspired by painting restorations and wanting Mary to clean the ‘grime’ away,” added Angle. “A visual representation of the feeling we wanted the audience to have as the Banks family is restored to happiness at the end of the musical.”

It took many revisions to produce those exact scenes, which Angle showed in her presentation, in which she included photos of her multiple drawing drafts.

But it takes a village to produce a production as massive as “Mary Poppins.”

“When Ivy came to us, it was the question of what can we do with what we have?” shared Paden.

University Provost Dr. Randy Gibb compliments students' work.

Theatre students put their skills to a test having to work with limited space and equipment and spent time researching how to use certain software and hardware for the first time. It was an immersion in engineering, technology and fine arts.

“My favorite projection was of Mary flying in the sky because it created sweet moments for kids,” added Paden. “Every time it was on, you could hear all the kids pointing, saying there is Mary, and she is flying.

“It was gratifying to hear the tangible impact of the production. It goes to show that working together, we were able to create something special that none of us could make on our own.”

Rachel Anderson and Blaze Hulderman were also among the four groups who presented their research on “Academic Theology for the Layperson,” to the executive team and faculty.

“Layperson refers to those who do not have the privilege to go to Bible college,” said Anderson. “There is a lack of theological education available to the layperson, and in the U.S., people are leaving the church in rapid numbers. We wanted to know why and what we can do about it.”

Faith has a deep and rich historical impact of addressing societal questions, but churches are often hesitant to answer questions asked by society.

Laken Friar, Abi Layne and Layla Garcia (from left) make their presentation on “Early Childhood Education Methods Immersion."

There are numerous reasons that contribute to lack of belief, such as personal, societal or even experienced faith issues, added Hulderman. They can be internal and external factors.

“We want to create a space for Christians to discuss theological subjects often reserved for academic theologians,” shared Anderson. “The subject of the matter will be to provide understanding where foundations of faith will act as mutual ground not affiliated with any specific church. We are calling it the Foundations of Faith conference.”

Though similar conferences already exist, Hulderman and Anderson argued that a lot of them don’t meet the layperson's needs because they are built by and for specific denominations or by and for theologians. In former cases, conferences would oftentime focus on denominational differences.

Their goal is to simply relate to all audiences.  

“When we first started this project, we were inspired by the rich history and historical depth of the Christian faith but were struck by tragedy of the divisions between the denominations,” said Anderson.

“I have been working out a purpose in my work to create projects that cause denominational unity. This project has been a great opportunity to explore what possible steps we can take and the impacts it can have on believers.”

GCU president Brian Mueller compliments the student’s presentations during the Canyon Undergraduate Research Symposium.

Abi Layne, Laken Friar and Layla Garcia also presented their topic on “Early Childhood Education Methods Immersion,” followed by Ashley Larson, who spoke on “Culture and Perfectionism."

Spectators who filled the Antelope Gymnasium classroom for the symposium applauded the four groups for their impressive research.

Said Mueller, "We have been talking a lot about where higher education needs to be in the future, and these projects encapsulated that."

GCU staff writer Izabela Fogarasi can be reached at [email protected]

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Related content:

GCU News: Positive psychology one of the pluses at undergraduate research symposium

GCU News: Mary Poppins promises to be supercalifragilisticexpialidocious fun

GCU News: Honors Research Symposium highlights diversity

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