Discovery for all disciplines

When Taylor Tynes starts painting a large fresco on campus later this spring, she won’t have to hoist herself 68 feet above ground as Michelangelo did 500 years ago in the Sistine Chapel.

But the studio art senior will use the same centuries-old technique — applying hand-mixed watercolors to wet plaster — to create a work of art in the President’s House garden.

Tynes has turned the project into a poster presentation for Discovery Day, the annual USC Connect event that showcases beyond-the-classroom experiences, including research, service, global learning, internships, national fellowships and leadership activities. This year more than 680 students will present their work in the Russell House Ballroom on April 22.

“I’ve been researching fresco painting quite a bit, how they’re made, how some of them have lasted for hundreds of years. All that will be part of my presentation along with the subject matter I’ve chosen for the fresco at the President’s House,” Tynes says.

Tynes spent three weeks in Italy last June studying Renaissance art on a trip with UofSC art professors David Voros and Pam Bowers. University President Harris Pastides and his wife, Patricia Moore-Pastides, visited with Tynes’ group in Italy, then invited her to paint a fresco behind the President’s House on a garden wall.

Tynes’ fresco will include images of three marble statues in the garden, as well as Aristotle, Plato and Minerva, the goddess of wisdom who appears on the university seal. The fresco will cover about 90 square feet, which she’ll tackle one piece at a time because of the nature of fresco painting.

“This is so different than acrylic and oil-based painting that I’ve been doing,” Tynes says. “With a fresco, you mix the supplies that day, and you can’t paint too soon or the plaster will pull away. You can’t paint too long or the plaster will start to dry and reject the colors.

“There is what’s called the golden hour when the plaster is just right and absorbs the pigments. I’m going to need a few of those to finish this piece.”


A forum for student ingenuity

The university’s Honors College launched Discovery Day in 2003, giving students a platform to share their honors theses with a larger audience.

Two years later, the Office of Undergraduate Research (OUR) made Discovery Day a systemwide event, inviting students from all eight campuses. Oral and creative presentations were added.

“There were fewer than 60 poster presentations in 2005,” says Julie Morris, OUR’s founding director, “This year we’ll have more than 600 oral presentations and posters. It’s gotten big, and it’s going to get even bigger.”


It’s a space where you stand on your own two feet, defending your analysis of a topic to a friendly audience who are not experts.

Bobby Donaldson, the principal of Preston College

While Discovery Day is not limited to undergraduate research, a number of presenters include Magellan Scholars who receive funding for faculty-mentored research projects. OUR launched the Magellan Scholar Program in 2005, and it will hit the $3 million mark this year in cumulative funding for student research. The program has partnered with TRIO, the Capstone Scholars Program, Preston, Maxcy and Green Quad in funding undergraduate research, and all of those students present their work at Discovery Day.

“It’s a space where you stand on your own two feet, defending your analysis of a topic to a friendly audience who are not experts,” says history professor Bobby Donaldson, the principal of Preston College who has had several students present at Discovery Day.

“As a faculty member I go to see my students, but I also get an appreciation for the breadth of research across the university. When one of my students did a session on a neighborhood history project, it was inspiring and affirming to see her as the authority on the topic, to hear her talk confidently about things that we had discussed earlier in the semester.”


From aquaponics to amusement park rides

Kelsie Dirksing didn’t feel comfortable speaking in public when she enrolled in the Honors College four years ago. But with Discovery Day presentations under her belt in her sophomore and junior years, the public health senior is over all of that.

She’ll present one more time at the 2016 Discovery Day on the social media campaign she helped run for Cervical Cancer Free South Carolina in January. “The results of my social media posts lined up with what the Centers for Disease Control had recommended: People like to read stories about cancer survivors, and they like to see links to trusted sources,” says Dirksing, who plans to get a master’s in public health and then pursue medical school.

Most of Dirksing’s work was done at a keyboard. Katrina Hounchell and her classmates in a marine science service-learning course spent several days with hammers and saws, building the components for an aquaponics system.

A small pond with koi fish will circulate through a series of planters, watering and fertilizing the plants before returning to the reservoir. The system will be set up at Palmetto Place, a group foster home in Columbia.

“There is absolutely more sense of accomplishment in hands-on learning than in a traditional lecture course,” Hounchell says. “We have put in a lot of work to get this system built and successfully running, and when we see the progress that we are making, there is certainly a sense of accomplishment.

“We are all invested in the outcome of the system and want to make it the best it can be for the kids at Palmetto Place.”

Hounchell and her 13 classmates will present on the design and concept of the aquaponics system they built as well as the service learning aspect of the course.

Creighton Boggs didn’t have to saw lumber but she did cut plenty of paper to create a scale model of her own idea for an amusement park ride.

“I’ve always been interested in theme parks — I’ve been to Disney 14 times — and I got interested in how the rides are created, particularly the ones that are narrative based like ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ ‘The Little Mermaid’ or ‘Harry Potter,’” says Boggs, an Honors College political science major.

“When I came to the Honors College, they kept saying our senior thesis could be on any topic, so I decided — since I’ll probably never be an Imagineer with a political science degree — that this would be my one opportunity to do something  with this interest.”

Boggs’ ride is based on the narrative of “Beauty and the Beast,” and her Discovery Day presentation will outline the history of such rides at theme parks and the way a ride design goes from bright idea to reality.

“I really enjoy stories, whether in film or theme park attractions, and I try to look at everything through a narrative lens. That’s how we make sense of the world,” says Boggs, who landed a full-ride scholarship at the University of Richmond’s law school in the fall.


Bigger and better

This year’s Discovery Day, the 14th edition of the event, will be big, but next year could be huge. That’s because the Office of Research is planning to combine Discovery Day, Graduate Student Day and the annual faculty research retreat into one day.

The three-in-one event will bring undergraduates, including the growing Graduation with Leadership Distinction cohort, graduate students, post-doctoral fellows and faculty from across the system to celebrate research, leadership, scholarship and creativity. It will be held at the Columbia Metropolitan Convention Center and the adjacent Alumni Center. A keynote speaker will kick off the event in the morning.

“We want to show the unique benefits of having a major research university as a neighbor and show our neighbors a new way of thinking about USC and the many positive impacts it has on the community,” says Prakash Nagarkatti, the university’s vice president for research. “Carolina has a huge impact on the Palmetto State, and we think that even our closest Gamecock family members will learn something new about how USC engages with our community through this event.”

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