I began taking my first course in a graduate program as an undergraduate student this semester. My first semester working toward an accelerated master’s/bachelor’s degree has demanded discipline, time management and a shift in perspective on how my free time should be spent. The experience has felt as if I’m standing at a crossroads — I can either involve myself in the program or continue to feel jaded and uncertain as I go through the day-to-day functions of being a student.

On Feb. 9 I attended a research symposium, titled “Perspectives on America from Across the Disciplines,” that was hosted by the American Studies Student Organization. The opportunity convinced me to embrace the experiences which the program afforded me instead of being too intimidated to seek them out.

At this crossroads, I decided to get involved.

The event began with a thesis workshop hosted by two KSU professors, Ashley McFarland and Stacy Keltner. It was focused on providing students with helpful strategies for constructing a thesis.

The next event was a panel hosted by three students in the American Studies program. The topics and research presented by the panel covered a broad spectrum of information, from issues of un-acknowledged languages within the education system to the study of incarceration in sundown towns — predominately white towns that uphold racism through means of intimidation or violence. The panel also discussed the impact of historic queer spaces.

After that was Chat & Chew, which took a twist on the traditional presentation by encouraging participants to grab a bite to eat and scan the room for a research topic that interested them. This event presented a wide variety of topics, such as the oppressive practices that exist in the coffee industry, representations of gender and racial difference in the cartoon “Steven Universe,” the need for a new Equal Rights Amendment and a look into “Islam, Islamophobia and Ideologies of Bangladeshi-Muslims in Atlanta.”

The symposium outlined various concentrations within the American Studies program and reminded me of how important and necessary research is. Mostly, though, it helped me see the endless potential that students have to initiate the conversations they want to see in their academic and social environments. It opened my eyes to the meaningful dialogues I can create within my program by engaging with other students in the topics we are passionate about.

There will be another Symposium of Student Scholars on April 20, where there will be research presented by both undergraduate and graduate students. This event will mark the first time that KSU has showcased research done by all of its students, and I cannot begin to fully articulate how much I think it will benefit all who attend.

Researching and being among other students who inject passion into their studies is a strong reminder that the effort I am putting into this semester is worth it. Learning about and discussing important topics with like-minded people helps me stay productive. It puts me in a positive mindset, even when I’m feeling overwhelmed, and I’m convinced that continuing to attend events of this nature will inspire me to seek out and engage in under-discussed but important conversations in the days ahead.

I have no doubt that every student, regardless of their major or career goals, can get something out of going to these kinds of events. They exist to get similarly situated people to talk to each other and see what other people are discovering in the hope that such experiences will propel them forward into their respective fields.

In the end, the people who lose out the most in college are the ones who don’t take advantage of resources like these while they can. Anyone and everyone can gain something from attending some kind of research symposium.

No student should go all the way through their college career without going to at least one such event, lest they deprive themselves of fully experiencing all that their field of study has to offer.

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