Times Leader | Wilkes University launches first research symposium

WILKES-BARRE — Michael Steele opened Wilkes University’s first-ever, three-day Scholarship Symposium with an inside joke. Very inside.

“I was told ‘please don’t talk about squirrels,” he quipped to a crowd that mostly got it. The biology professor is billed in the symposium program as “one of the leading authorities in the process of rodent-mediated seed dispersal.” That would be rodents such as, say, squirrels — though he pointed out that “most of my work involves acorns, now.”

The symposium, a showcase for research being done at Wilkes, runs through Thursday with some 60 presentations on everything from genetics and psychology to entrepreneurship. Steele offered the opening lecture, a quick overview of research at Wilkes.

President Patrick Leahy preceded Steele with some brief remarks of his own, highlighting one of his favorite topics and the reason the symposium was happening. Under his leadership, Wilkes has increasingly emphasized research, so much so that he gently chafes when someone refers to the school as a “small, private liberal arts university.”

The symposium sprang from Leahy’s decision to put $1 million of a budget surplus toward research. He stressed it was merely “seed money to get ideas off the ground.” That, in turn, can help attract additional outside funding

Steele noted the university has done some research since the 1960s, but conceded information on past projects is hard to come by. In the last decade, and the last four years in particular, he said, the research work has grown dramatically, usually involving undergraduate students — a move that improves their education, increases retention of students, and helps professors become better teachers, he argued.

The symposium went in to high gear right after Steele completed his overview, offering three sessions of presentations from 4:30 to 5 p.m., with five presentations in each session. The pace will continue until the final presentation Thursday evening at 6.

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