Published 04/20/12

Research and Engagement Day unveils surprising discoveries

April 20, 2012

"Push yourselves outside your comfort zone," the first American woman to walk in space told a packed crowd of more than 400 students, faculty, staff, and guests in Janikies Theatre on Wednesday, April 18. "Make the effort. Have the courage to explore, to discover, to take in the novel, the unexpected, the uncomfortable."

Kathryn D. Sullivan, Ph.D., one of the first six women selected to join the NASA astronaut corps in 1978, was the keynote speaker at Bryant's second annual Research and Engagement Day. Sullivan, who is now assistant secretary of commerce for environmental observation and prediction, and deputy administrator for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), was welcomed by José-Marie Griffiths, vice president for Academic Affairs.

Classes were canceled so faculty, staff, and students, as well as industry and community partners associated with Bryant, could participate in this daylong showcase of research, creativity, and innovative academic accomplishments, often a collaboration of faculty and students.

Sullivan spoke of the importance of cross-curricula education, noting that when she went to college, she was determined to focus on languages. But a college requirement that she take three natural science courses helped her discover the passion and path that led to her flying three shuttle missions during her 15-year tenure, including the mission that deployed the Hubble Space Telescope, and to her current work with NOAA.

Contrary to what some might believe, Sullivan said, "the purpose of education is not to meet people who will be useful to you later in business. Education is about discovering the deepest, most intrinsic fibers of your being."

Intellectual exploration and discovery was a consistent theme throughout Research and Engagement Day, which highlights the University's commitment to excellence in teaching and learning. Of the more than 100 presentations, ranging from roundtable and best practices sessions to literary readings, 37 offered a global perspective.

In an "Understanding China" presentation, seniors Eric Boyson, Timothy Figueredo, Dave Fiorino, and Michael McGowan provided an in-depth analysis of the Shanghai real estate bubble and how the government might facilitate a "soft landing" rather than a "hard" one - such as the United States experienced. Another student group took a look at China's widening income gap, and developed recommendations to lessen the divide between rural and urban societies.

Professors Richard Glass, Suhong Li, and Rong Pan discussed data they collected about the Chinese social networking site renren.com, and the correlation between spending inordinate amounts of time on social networks and low academic performance. A surprising finding, Glass noted, was that U.S. students don't see the correlation in themselves, while Chinese students were well aware of it. "They may have a more realistic understanding of what impacts their performance," he said.