Pair of Seniors Contributes to Symposium Preparation, Coordination


Isaac Coronel’s Symposium logo: a sun-like flower with an eye and galaxies in the center, neutrons circling the pedals and a DNA stem added by Dr. Chris Halsey. IMAGE COURTESY OF ISAAC CORONEL.


The Columns interviews 2016 Hancock Symposium student representatives Isaac Coronel and Ella Leslie.

As most students are gearing up for Westminster’s annual Hancock Symposium, Isaac Coronel and Ella Leslie are putting the finishing touches on a project that they started nine months ago. The two seniors are student representatives on this year’s Symposium Committee (made up of two students and seven faculty members), and they have been preparing for this week since the beginning of last semester.

Recently, The Columns talked with Coronel and Leslie to learn more about what they have been working on and what they expect from the Symposium. Some responses have been edited for length and clarity.

How and why did you join the Symposium Committee?

Coronel: I became interested last fall, when (Committee Head) Dr. (Dawn) Holliday announced that the subject would be science-related. I thought that would be really exciting, so I asked if I could help, and she very kindly said yes. After she put my name into the committee, they brought me up, and it’s been fun since then.


Ella Leslie, biochemistry major from Lee’s Summit, Mo. PHOTO COURTESY OF ELLA LESLIE.

Leslie: I expressed interest to (chemistry professor and committee member) Dr. (Chris) Halsey, and then I was invited by Dr. (Kurt) Jefferson, (assistant dean of global initiatives and committee member), at the beginning of the spring semester last year.

I have always really enjoyed the Symposium; my freshman year, I thought it was like the coolest thing ever, so I was really excited to have the opportunity to contribute to that process. I also thought it would be good for networking purposes.

What have you worked on so far?

Leslie: Isaac and I joined the committee at the beginning of last semester, back in January or February. At the beginning, we all looked into possibilities for Green Lecturers and we got to offer our opinions as to who we thought would be best-received on our campus. After that, we researched people for individual disciplines. A big part of the Symposium is that they try to make sure that there are speakers about one topic pertaining to all the most popular niches on our campus.

Coronel: We have also gotten all the spokespeople together; we have organized our logos and designs for marketing; and we have communicated with a bunch of faculty and students who are interested in helping out with the Symposium.


Isaac Coronel, biology major from Mesa, Ariz. PHOTO COURTESY OF ISAAC CORONEL.

What has been your favorite part of being on the committee?

Coronel: One of the tasks I was very fortunate to get was to create this year’s Symposium logo. At first, the committee wanted something that was quite abstract and advanced and strange, but in a good way, so I tried to come up with an idea of something new, and I thought of a flower. I tried to make the flower look like it was a sun and then maybe even an atom with a bunch of neutrons around it. I tried to incorporate multiple subjects and ideas — chemistry, biology, psychology and ecology, and even a bit of astronomy. The center of the flower kind of looks like a mini galaxy; I tried to come up with multiple subjects and then build it all together to make something really wonderful.

Leslie: I think a lot of the beginning planning stages, when we got to research and figure out who all these different speakers are, were really fun; that was really exciting for me.

Also, this is in my field, and that is another reason why I am on the committee. I am really interested in neuroscience, so I think it is pretty exciting that I got to go and look at all these different opportunities and these different pathways people are taking to make new discoveries. One of the potential speakers we considered is a paleo-oncologist, someone who mixes paleontology and oncology to research cancer from an ancient perspective, which is something that I had not looked into before.

What has been your biggest challenge?

Coronel: I was kind of quiet during the first few meetings, and I sometimes did not know what I could offer, so I was a little nervous for a while. It was just the idea of improving my role as an individual on the committee. They allowed me to be on it, so I should make as many contributions as possible.

Leslie: It was exciting to represent or to offer an opinion from a certain student perspective, but that was also kind of confusing because I do not feel like I represent the whole student body, so it was difficult for me to offer my own opinion on subjects like potential speakers.

What do you still need to do?

Coronel: The last activities we need to do are to prepare our pamphlets and communicate with student leaders and other faculty who wish to help represent the Symposium. My job will also be to help out by hosting Dr. Bina Vanmali, a Westminster alumna who will be talking about science literacy. She loves biology, and I’m a biology major, so we will have plenty of things to talk about. I will escort and introduce her on Thursday and then have dinner with her that night.

Leslie: On Tuesday, I will pick up Dr. Mario Livio from the Columbia airport and bring him back here, where he will settle in at Loganberry. On Wednesday, I will continue to host Dr. Livio until he speaks that afternoon. In the evening, I will attend a reception for Dr. (Francis) Ali-Osman and then go to the Symposium dinner. I will attend the Symposium with everyone else both days, and I will try to be as available as possible to the other committee members.

What are you most looking forward to?

Coronel: I am looking forward to two things. I am looking forward to the plenary session, which is one of the bigger sessions, for (Dr.) Tyrone Hayes. Tyrone Hayes is a really excellent figure in the science world, and knowing that he has dealt with a lot of political strife with his research in the past, it will be really exciting to hear what he has to say.

The second thing I am excited for is the prizes we’re offering this year. If people get involved and keep on coming to attend, they will be getting some pretty cool prizes (including cell phone wallet holders, Symposium T-shirts, Fitbit Blazes, Amazon gift cards and Beats headphones).

Leslie: Just the Symposium happening next week — I am excited to get to meet people and get to hear what they have to say, and I think it will be really interesting to hear all these different perspectives and all these different brilliant minds working and discussing some of the same topics within the same two days.

Why should students attend the Symposium?

Coronel: The Symposium is a great opportunity to see what Westminster can truly provide as far as excellent speakers – and we have a lot of excellent speakers coming this year. I encourage students to come over and enjoy this wonderful Symposium; I think it’s going to inspire a lot of people. I do not want anyone to feel dissuaded from enjoying it just because they might not be science savvy. These things could inspire students of today to prepare something for the future, so I would implore all students and faculty to come by and see this.

Leslie: I think the Symposium is an excellent opportunity for people to gain a deeper understanding of topics they might not have otherwise known of or been very familiar with. My freshman year, the Symposium was on sports; I don’t follow sports at all, but it was really interesting to hear people discuss how sports played into their lives in different ways. One of the most impactful speakers from that Symposium was Tori (Murden) McClure, the first woman to row solo across the Atlantic Ocean. For her, that was a challenge and an accomplishment, and I had not thought of it that way. Similarly, I think someone very interested in sports could come to this Symposium on audacious ingenuity and learn how science is related to their topic as well.

I think coming to the plenary sessions is a good way to learn from really big names and just be well-informed about what’s happening in the world, especially like in breakout sessions; that is where you can really learn how things happen in the discipline you are interested in. I think that is one thing the Symposium does really well — cover things from an interdisciplinary approach.

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