Law professor Andrew Spalding, Andrew Ilnicki, director of experiential education and emerging technologies

The UR community gathers to share knowledge, sparking a new tradition

October 3, 2023

University News

"I feel like I’m back in college again.”

This was a familiar refrain heard throughout last Friday, when UR held its first-ever Faculty & Staff Research Symposium at Boatwright Memorial Library. More than 140 individuals presented their stories and research during interdisciplinary sessions, where topics ranged from “Making 21st-Century Richmond” and “New Ways to Think” to “Authority, Diplomacy, and Espionage.”

The idea for the symposium grew out of a series of discussions between co-organizers Elizabeth Outka and Lidia Radi.

“We wanted more opportunities for intellectual exchange and conversation with colleagues and knew others felt the same,” said Outka, an English professor and the Tucker-Boatwright Professor of Humanities. “Faculty and staff are engaged in amazing projects, but it’s hard to find the time and opportunity to hear about what others are doing.”

They imagined a one-day, low-stress event where presenters could talk about their research, work, and creative projects. The School of Arts & Sciences sponsored the event, providing funding along with operational and logistical support.

The co-organizers expected to sign up 60 presenters, at most.

“When we received over 140 submissions, we were thrilled,” said Radi, a professor of French and Italian studies. “The response shows the hunger people have to share ideas and hear about the work going on all over campus. We made a deliberate effort to define research in a broad and inclusive manner. Research encompasses much more than journal articles and laboratory experiments, vital as they are. Some presenters even shared remarkable projects they were involved in outside their roles at UR.”

The presentations were grouped together by theme, drawing together faculty and staff from across campus.

Stepping from one room to the next, visitors could learn about new research into procrastination from a psychology professor, watch a video of robots learning how to dance with students, and learn about Career & Alumni Services integrating job readiness into the Arts & Sciences curriculum.

“One of our central, early goals was to generate those serendipitous moments of spark, where ideas are born from discussion and exchange,” Outka said.

Chairs introduced speakers at the 34 panels, round tables, and poster exhibits. Question and answer sessions at the presentations inspired lively exchanges. Conversations lingered at a luncheon, and later at the reception sponsored by the Provost's Office that followed the fourth and final session, held at the Modlin Center for the Arts.

“Elizabeth and Lidia envisioned a forum where faculty and staff from all five schools could come together to exchange ideas, share knowledge, and foster a sense of community within our university. Today we are witnessing the realization of that vision,” said Jennifer Cavenaugh, dean of Arts & Sciences. “This symposium represents an important milestone in the life of our institution, and I hope it becomes a beloved tradition.”