The Office of Undergraduate Research recently hosted the Atlantic Coast Conference’s Meeting of the Minds, a nationally recognized symposium that brought 70 students from nine states to present their work on the Blacksburg campus. 

“Undergraduate research is an important part of Virginia Tech’s educational mission and invaluable for preparing our students for the future,” said Rachel Holloway, vice provost for undergraduate academic affairs. “This conference is a great opportunity to bring students together so they can share their work, helping to propel them forward to reach their goals both before and after graduation.”

During the three-day event, held March 24-26, students from 15 universities gave poster and oral presentations on wide-ranging topics that included science, engineering, natural resources, humanities, and the social sciences. 

The event is hosted each spring at a member school with funding from the conference’s athletic programs. Virginia Tech previously hosted the event in 2012.

For the students presenting, the conference was an opportunity to share months of hard work. 

“There's something so satisfying about being able to take months of work that literally started as an idea in your head and then be able to put a poster up and say, ‘This is what I did. And here's what we learned,’” said Loralee Hoffer, a senior majoring in psychology. “It's definitely a very valuable part of the research experience, and it always reaffirms my love of research every time I get the opportunity to present.”

Hoffer’s poster presentation, "Interpersonal Impact of Diffusion of Responsibility: Behavioral Observations of Pedestrians Using Campus Crosswalks," was done as part her work at E. Scott Geller’s Center for Applied Behavior Systems, where she serves as lab coordinator. 

The research looked at expressions of gratitude between pedestrians and drivers at the crosswalk on Kent Street near Eggleston Hall. The project, done primarily with graduate student Jack Wardale, required hundreds of hours of collecting data from an overlooking window in Newman Library, analyzing the results, and then writing them up for presentation. 

The goal of the research, and the center's lab, is to look at the downstream effects of prosocial behavior, work Hoffer will continue to pursue next fall when she starts a Ph.D. program in organizational science at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.

The conference also provided a chance for participants to develop skills valuable for their goals after graduation. 

“If you want your work to have an impact, you ultimately have to be able to communicate it with a general audience,” said Nathan Ashby, a senior at Syracuse University majoring in biochemistry and neuroscience. “This conference provides a valuable opportunity to practice presenting which will be important as I pursue a career in the sciences.”

Ashby’s research looked at the effects of Bisphenol A (BPA) exposure on zebrafish during the first week of life. The conference, he said, provides a valuable opportunity to practice his presenting skills which will be important for his plan to pursue a Ph.D. in neuroscience.

For others, the event was a chance to step outside their fields of study and learn from each other. 

“What is really unique and cool about this event is the range of research that’s presented, including the humanities and social sciences,” said Dhanush Banka, a sophomore at the University of Virginia majoring in biomedical engineering. “At a workshop on Friday evening, I had great conversations with students working in psychology and artificial intelligence, which is something I don’t usually get the opportunity to do.”

Zainab Shamim, a senior majoring in English literature at Virginia Tech, presents at the recent Meeting of Minds conference.
Zainab Shamim, a senior majoring in English literature at Virginia Tech, during an oral presentation at the recent Meeting of Minds conference. Photo courtesy of Ashley Wynn.

The conference included presentations from four other Virginia Tech students:

Cassandra Cogan: “The ICC, the US, and France: Can we move past hypocrisy and into the future of international justice?”

Sasha Mintz: “Cold Quasar Investigation: Comparing Central Star Formation Rates to Black Hole Growth”

Zainab Shamim: “Of Race and Caste: Discrimination Across Cultures in Shakespeare's Othello and Bhardwaj's Omkara”

Victor Mukora: “Practical Application of Machine Learning to Solar Energy”

“The size and organization of this conference allows students to connect with each other and feel part of a cohort that will be the future leaders in their fields,” said Keri Swaby, director of the Office of Undergraduate Research. “The conference also allows our students to engage with research in other disciplines, which is when we see these lightbulb moments when they are able to make connections from different fields and go back to their work with an expanded perspective.” 

In addition to the oral and poster presentations, students participated in an interactive workshop led by the Center for Communicating Science along with visits to the Institute for Creativity, Arts, and Technology and three labs in Goodwin Hall focused on robotics and three-dimensional printing. 

To highlight the conference’s connection to athletics, guests also toured Lane Stadium, Cassell Coliseum, football practice facilities, and the museum at the Merryman Athletic Facility.  

The Office of Undergraduate Research supports experiential learning in all seven of the university’s colleges and works with more than a 1,000 students each semester. More information about research opportunities at Virginia Tech or upcoming events is available online at

Written by Will Rizzo