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This year's Undergraduate Research Writing Conference to launch asynchronously

The annual Undergraduate Research Writing Conference, usually held in-person, will launch on a website displaying students' research papers and presentations. – Photo by Rutgers Dialogues / Facebook

For the second year in a row, the annual Undergraduate Research Writing Conference (URWC) will be held asynchronously to showcase research written by Rutgers students since the start of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic.

Research was selected from 350 submissions of work done by students in the Spring 2020 and Fall 2020 semesters for the English Department’s Writing Program, said Arete Bouhlas, conference co-chair and an assistant teaching professor in the English Department. Ninety projects were chosen from this record-breaking number of submissions, according to a press release.

“We are especially awed and appreciative of the students — all of them — who slogged through the chaos imposed by the COVID-19 crisis to complete these remarkable works,” Bouhlas said. “We wish we could include them all this year.”

Featured project topics include syncretic religion in Ghana, flooding in Bangladesh and the role of manga in helping young Japanese readers understand the clash of individualist and more traditional values, she said. More papers this year also cover urban planning in relation to climate change and how different healthcare professions deliver patient care.

Jon Ibanez, one of the chosen student researchers for this year’s URWC and a School of Environmental and Biological Sciences junior, said he plans to speak about the online platform OnlyFans and its usage in sex work, explaining its economic and social impacts on women.

“I think (the URWC is) a great opportunity for students to present independent topics that they've worked on and am thrilled that mine was selected,” Ibanez said. "I hope my presentation/paper encourages people to question their understanding of what it means to be empowered, and the ways in which the media we consume can have larger implications on our views of gender and relationships as well.”

Chantel Amissah, another student researcher presenting at the URWC and a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore, said she will discuss post-colonial Ghanaian identity, examining Ghanaians' relationship to Akom tradition and the ways in which the forced introduction of Western religion created a rift between these individuals and their traditional religion. 

“The main takeaway I wanted people to have is that there can be a happy medium between traditionalism and Western modernity without denouncing one past,” she said.

Amissah said the online format of this year’s conference also benefits her in that she will be able to better formulate her thoughts without the stress of public speaking.

The conference will launch as a website displaying students’ research papers and presentations on May 13 with no registration required, Bouhlas said. Students can receive updates on the conference and see interviews with student researchers through Twitter, Facebook or Instagram.

Debra Keates, URWC co-chair and an assistant teaching professor in the English Department, said it is important to continue having the conference during this time to honor the work done by students since the start of the pandemic, especially since they were not able to experience the support and camaraderie of a research writing classroom environment, according to the release.

“The (COVID-19) quarantine has challenged everyone's sense of the future,” Keates said. “That makes the excellence of the work done for these classes in 2020 even more precious and astonishing: It is not only the usual carefully crafted promissory note of things to come, but it is a testament to the curiosity, talents and especially the resilience of these young writers and their faculty."

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