Conference Highlights Students' Work

Apr 21, 2021

140 student presentations take center stage at the virtual Strike a Spark Conference.

  • - Electrical engineering technology majors Jordan Grossmann (left) and Jeremy Castrodad work on their irrigation system project.

  • - Childhood education major Makayla Munchinski presents her research topic, Good Morning Yoga: Springtime Movement.

Months of student research, scholarship and creative activity were showcased on April 21 as California University of Pennsylvania hosted the annual virtual Strike a Spark conference.

Paused last year due to the pandemic, the annual Strike a Spark Conference on Student Research, Scholarship and Creativity resumed this academic year. The event highlights work that demonstrates a student’s mastery of concepts within their major while providing an opportunity to apply that knowledge. 

In all, 140 presentations were highlighted this year. Some students presented live on Wednesday, while other presentations were recorded and posted online. Links and topics 

“The quality is top notch,” said Dr. Azadeh Block, director of the Center for Undergraduate Research, which organizes the event. “The students who presented had narratives to share related to their coursework, and the innovation, curiosity and knowledge were outstanding.” 

Senior electrical engineering technology majors Jeremy Castrodad and Jordan Grossman presented their work on the “pHoolproof” auto-irrigation system

The project applies wireless connectivity to an irrigation system that could be used for farms and greenhouses. 

“It’s fully automated,” Castrodad explained. “It literally collects information from the plants and waters the plants if necessary, or adds fertilizer, liquid sulfur, whatever the plant needs.” 

“The project encompasses subjects we’ve learned throughout our time at Cal U, while pushing ourselves in areas we haven’t had much experience with” Grossmann said. “Our design covers both software and hardware theory covered in circuit design and programming classes, while also requiring new programming skills to be able to envision our wireless design.” 

Sophomore childhood education major Makayla Munchinski, meanwhile, presented her “Good Morning Yoga: Springtime Movement” lesson plan, which incorporates physical activity into online lesson planning in order to help children learn. 

“Luckily for my fellow peers and I, we are in school studying education during the pandemic, so we get the very first instruction on how to effectively teach young learners through online pedagogies,” Munchinski said in her project abstract. 

Keynote speakers 

Dr. Susan Amara and Sarah Smith spoke of research applications in the fields of science and writing. 

“Choose important questions,” urged Amara, the scientific director of the National Institute of Mental Health intramural research program at the National Institutes of Health. “Find best approaches to address them, work with people you admire and respect, work with people who believe in you and your abilities, recognize there are many ways to get there, don’t be afraid to fail, and have fun!” 

For Smith, author of Marilou Is Everywhere, “where do you get your ideas?” is the question she is asked most often. 

“Creative research is about finding questions, not answers,” Smith said. “To energize your practice of writing, ask questions.” 

In choosing the speakers, encouraging curiosity was the goal, Block said. 

“We worked with our keynote speakers to delve into aspects of research that are more implicit and generative in nature, rather than explicit end points of course of work,” she said. “I hope that our Cal U community saw these talks as points of engagement in their own research and creative processes and were inspired for our continued academic work on this campus.”