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Students Showcase Research at 2024 Symposium

Diverse topics range from affirmative action, tea culture and gun violence to robots in the hospitality industry

Posted in: Faculty Voices, Graduate School, Research, University

A student discusses his research poster with a faculty member.
Senior Eric Dammann, a Marine Biology and Coastal Sciences major, reviews his research on methane emissions and carbon storage in tidal marshes with Acting Vice Provost for Research Stefanie Brachfeld at the 2024 Student Research Symposium.

Montclair State University students presented their research findings on everything from why Americans don’t embrace the ceremony of tea as do other countries and cultures to the use of robots in the hospitality industry at the 2024 Student Research Symposium at University Hall Conference Center on April 26. Students also explored environmental concerns, such as microplastics in water, and topics ranging from racial inequity in education and the roles of affirmative action and legacy admissions to gun violence and mass shootings.

As a comprehensive research university, Montclair’s Student Research Symposium provides both undergraduate and graduate students an opportunity to share their findings through poster presentations. Organized by the Office of Research, this year’s event featured 241 posters highlighting the research of 139 undergraduate, 68 master’s and 34 doctoral students mentored by 110 faculty members.

“Montclair’s Student Research Symposium is an opportunity for our students to share their work, receive feedback, brainstorm ideas for next steps in their projects, and to develop research presentation skills and document those skills on professional resumes,” says Acting Vice Provost for Research Stefanie Brachfeld. “Presenting the results of research and scholarship requires students to explain the key elements of their work and its significance in a way that is exciting and accessible and provides practice for students who will attend professional conferences and who have upcoming thesis and dissertation defenses. It’s also an opportunity to network with faculty members and collaborators, as well as other attendees from the community.”

Associate Justice Studies Professor Jason Williams, a mentor to a number of students, says about the Symposium: “As an R2 public institution that is engaged in community-based research and initiatives, it’s an obligation. We have to give our students these opportunities, not only to do research in the community, but to present it publicly.”

Students pose in front of their research poster with Associate Justice Studies Professor Jason Williams.
From left: Family Science and Human Development graduate student Erin Scott, Livingston High School sophomore Kamalika Vora and graduate student Julie Chowdhury, who teamed up to research formerly incarcerated people reintegrating into society, with their mentor,  Associate Justice Studies Professor Jason Williams.

Among the many presenters were:

Julie Chowdhury and Erin Scott, both Family Science and Human Development graduate students in the doctoral program, and Kamalika Vora, a sophomore at Livingston High School, presented their findings on the experiences of formerly incarcerated people reintegrating into society with their poster titled “Understanding the Lived Experiences of Returning Citizens.” The poster outlined their “comprehensive approach, examining the citizens’ narratives on trauma, family and community ties, the criminal justice system, reentry and personal identity.” 

A former federal and state probation officer and current doctoral student, Chowdhury says she wanted to flip the narrative of reentering citizens from being viewed as a problem, to showcasing “their lived experience in a way that told a meaningful story…So, I’m doing the best I can to empower their voices.” 

The doctoral students interviewed formerly incarcerated people and found “that many of them actually do not recidivate, not because we’ve fixed a problem, but because they have a strong support system and they care about their wellness and they care about their families and they finally see their potential. A lot of it has to do with human agency,” says Chowdhury.

Her research partner Scott, a licensed professional counselor in private practice, examined how labeling of those formerly incarcerated “affects their mental health and how that can trigger depression. It can trigger a lot of insecurity, issues and things that sometimes get in the way of them working to be on the right path.”

Vora, who has an interest in criminal justice and research, reached out to Williams, who teamed her with his two graduate assistants Chowdry and Scott. Vora examined the economic aspects of recidivism and policies that help citizens reintegrate into society. “I had the opportunity to review the audio files of the interviews and transcribe them, so being able to hear their stories gave me a new perspective,” she says. “To see how they were able to overcome what they’ve done in the past, it was truly inspiring.”

A student stands in front of her research poster.
In her research, Angelique Maniego, a senior Jurisprudence, Law and Society major, examined racial inequality in education and the roles of affirmative action and legacy admissions.

Angelique Maniego, a senior Jurisprudence, Law and Society major, examined racial inequality in education and the roles of affirmative action and legacy admissions. She found that “instead of focusing on leveraging people of color up to the same level in the society, which is rooted in racial and social stratification…we should dismantle systems that allow systems in society certain advantages over certain groups.” By “dismantling the use of legacy admissions, it could be a step towards educational equality for everyone,” she says. 

Kimberly Gonzalez, a sophomore Hospitality, Sports, Events and Tourism major, researched the use of robots in tourism and hospitality, which is increasingly on the rise. She found that while there is room for robots, they don’t have that human touch, which can enhance guest experiences. “Service robots can help with smaller or more tedious tasks, such as check-in or room service, that don’t really need that human aspect,” she says, adding that using them will give “human employees time to focus on the value of creating connections that elevate experiences and help the industry stay competitive.”

A man smiles in front of his research poster.
Political Science and Law major Imaari Andrews, a senior, examined the causes of mass shootings in America. (Photo by Sylvia A. Martinez)

Imaari Andrews explored the causes of increases in mass shootings in the country, including mental health and Supreme Court rulings related to the Second Amendment. Andrews, who lost his father to gun violence in Newark when he was a child, is not optimistic that mass shootings will decrease. “The Second Amendment continues to be a hotly debated topic, because increasingly those shootings continue to happen.  It’s been going on for so many years; nothing has really changed.”

Andrews, who is working to become a trooper with the New Jersey State Police after graduating with a bachelor’s in Political Science and Law, says that finding a balance between gun rights and public safety “remains a pressing task for policymakers and society at large.”

In between poster sessions, students and other attendees heard from professors about scholarship, study abroad and other opportunities. Justice Studies Professor Jessica Henry discussed her journey from a public defender to Montclair faculty and a 2022 distinguished scholar. She shared that as a first-generation college student, she didn’t know what she didn’t know, and she offered students three pieces of advice: “Use your resources, including professors, advisors and Career Services. Second, follow your passion. Third, do the work, even if it’s hard.”

Henry congratulated students on their poster presentation: “What an amazing day to bring such beautiful minds in one room to celebrate your research.”

A professor gestures while speaking at a lectern.
Justice Studies Professor Jessica Henry shared her experiences as a first-generation college graduate and offered practical advice to students.

Brachfeld notes that the Symposium also helps students in other ways. “Not all students can afford to take time away from school, family, employment and personal obligations to attend a professional conference, and so our Symposium is tremendously important for providing access to professional development opportunities.”

Williams says: “Initiatives like these really help us hammer home that we are an exceptional institution. You can come here and do research, and not just in the classroom context, but you can be in a field of your professors collecting data, working with community-based organizations, you can come here and literally, do it all.”


A student speaks as two people view her poster.
Students listen to a speaker during the 2024 Student Research Symposium.
A student wearing a cowboy hat reviews his poster as two people look on.
A student gestures as she discusses her research poster.
Montclair President Jonathan Koppell listens to a student as she explains her research.

Story by Staff Writer Sylvia A. Martinez. Photos by University Photographer Mike Peters.