Kule Institute holds inaugural international undergraduate research conference

(Edmonton) A group of 40 undergraduate students from around the world, including several from the University of Alberta, are on campus this week sharing their research findings at Tomorrow’s Ideas, Now, an inaugural international conference designed by the university’s Kule Institute for Advanced Studies to promote and share undergraduate research in the social sciences, humanities and fine arts.

The conference is intended to lend a student voice to provide intellectual leadership on issues such as globalization and how information technology is shaping lives. Presenting on themes from whether online communities like Twitter could form a suitable substitute for physical communities to offering critical appraisals of current Green policies, the University of Alberta’s Jerry Varsava says the student insight will offer opportunity for reflection and discussion.

“I think it’s important for undergraduates to contribute to the discussion (within an academic context) and be in a position to advance their own views on major issues,” said Varsava, conference organizer and director of the institute. “I think they are better positioned in many respects than a lot of individuals who are of a conventional leadership age.”

Varsava notes that the students have the opportunity to interact with their peers in a friendly yet intellectually intense environment. For some, such as Kei Narita, a keynote speaker and student of Sendai, Japan’s Tohoku University, the conversations also give rise to encouragement and inspiration.
“It’s really nice to have a chance to present your ideas, not only in front of the professionals or the specialists, but also to your peers,” said Narita. “In this conference, because we are from many fields, so we can get various ideas. That’s what’s fascinating about this conference.”

Katre Leino, a student from England’s University of York, agrees, saying that being able to present to a cohort of international peers provides the opportunity for ideas presented at the conference to be spread around the world. She says that so many diverse points of view, geographically as well as disciplinarily, that make for lively and informative debates on how to solve the problems of the world.

“Everyone is so passionate about what they are doing; they spread that passion and everyone else becomes interested,” said Leino. “We all have such different backgrounds because of our disciplines, and that all feeds into the final product: this conference.”

Varsava says that, given the scope of talent at the conference, it could have rightly been called “tomorrow’s leaders, today.“ His hope for this conference is that these students will fully engage in the discussions and dialogues and that they will take those ideas home with them to further reflect on the issues discussed at the conference. He says they have certain advantages afforded by their advanced education, mobility and familiarity with information technology, which place them in a position to come up with original insights to global challenges.

“Today’s undergraduates at leading global research universities are better informed about affairs in their own country and internationally than any other generation,” said Varsava. “It’s essential that they bring to bear their critical intelligence, passion and social commitment to the examination of issues that the Kule Institute is investigating.

“We would hope that they continue their positions of intellectual leadership and social engagement on their own campuses and as they go forward with their undergraduate degrees.”