Past Event - 2021

Gather ‘round in Gather Town: Smarti Gras 2021

Tuesday, August 24, 2021 - 3:52pm

Carla DeMarco

The annual event at U of T Mississauga was held in a new virtual venue this year but the top-notch research remained as inspired as ever

There are some benefits to sticking around UTM supervisors and researchers online over the summer months, working through the challenges posed by a still mostly closed campus and some screen fatigue: the opportunity to present one’s work to an audience, to take pride in your resilience and efforts, not to mention the possibility for prizes.

This pretty much encapsulates what Smarti Gras is all about and the spirit of the event was palpable when it took place online on August 18.

“We are always so impressed by the pool of talent and the creativity of the undergraduates who participate in Smarti Gras,” says Kent Moore, UTM’s vice-principal, research.

“The posters and the presentations were all excellent, and it was just wonderful to see the breadth of research represented as well as the output by such gifted young scholars.”

Held this year for the first time in Gather Town – a virtual platform that at times felt like, as a participant, you were travelling through a minimalist video game – the enthusiasm UTM undergrads had for their research, insights gained, and respective projects scored high.

In total there were sixty-three posters on the program from nine different UTM departments. There was also a considerable turnout with approximately 170 participants logging in to see the posters.

The posters ranged broadly in topic, everything from the contributing factors of air pollution, to diversity in the workplace, and also how youth and community-driven research are helping to change the face of archaeology, to identify just a few examples.

The judges, representing the social sciences, sciences, and humanities, included Professor Dan Guadagnalo, UTM Senior Research Associates (SRA) Kathryn Harris-HowardElizabeth Parke, and Dmitry Pichugin, and Postdoctoral Fellows Quentin Peyron and Egide Kalisa.

The panel of six had the tough decision of awarding prizes. Their adjudication included assessing the merit, quality, and clarity of each submission, narrowing down the pool of 63 posters to a shorter list of 15, and then ultimately ranking and conferring together as a group to decide the winners, based on the Gather Town poster presentations.

“One thing that really inspired me was seeing all the creative ways that projects were adapted for a world with COVID,” says Harris-Howard, SRA for UTM’s Imaging Facility.

“These students did great under very difficult conditions.”

The recipients for Smarti Gras’s 2021 poster competition are as follows:

  • First prize went to undergraduate student Jennifer Liu in the humanities (supervised by Evonne Levy, professor in the Department of Visual Studies). She won a prize amount of $300 for the poster “A Growing Cast of Foundry Works: Uncovering More of Bernini’s Bronzes and His Workforce;”
  • Runner up in the humanities category was 3rd and 4th-year students Dellania Segreti and Samantha Arpas (supervised by Teresa Lobalsamo, associate professor in the Department of Language Studies) for their poster “The Effects of Ontario’s Emergency Pandemic Response: Analyzing the Changes of Consumer Behaviour and Its Implications on Italian Eateries in the Greater Toronto Hamilton Area;
  • In the social sciences category, 3rd-year undergraduate student Gresha Shah (supervised by Tina Malti, professor in the Department of Psychology) was a runner up for “Link between Parents’ Other-Oriented Induction and Children’s Sympathy” poster;
  • Lastly, the runner-up prize in the sciences was awarded to 3rd-year student Shazray Syed (supervised by Voula Kanelis, associate professor in the Department of Chemical & Physical Sciences) for her poster “Effect of Mutations on ATP-Sensitive Ion Channels in the Heart.”

The runner-up prizes are all valued at $100 each.

UTM student Jennifer LiuWhen poster presenter Jennifer Liu heard Smarti Gras was taking place this year, she welcomed the opportunity to work with Professor Evonne Levy, as well as the larger research team, in order to uncover as much as she could related to the bronze statues that were created by Italian sculptor Gian Lorenzo Bernini, but also to learn more about the bronze foundry in Italy in the 17th-century. Along with the academic benefits, Liu was also looking forward to connecting with other poster presenters.

“After a tough year of online classes and virtual graduation, I was happy to hear that the event would bring people together,” says Liu, who was keen to share her findings but also find out about other UTM research projects. 

Adding to the enjoyment of her participation, Liu was caught off guard when it was announced she had garnered the top prize at this year’s event.

 “As the only representative of the Department of Visual Studies at Smarti Gras, I was so proud to bring attention to our work, and share it with a large audience,” says Liu.

“I was also very honoured to have been selected as the winner of the poster competition, along with being extremely impressed by the other posters and participants in the event – I hope they are proud of their work, too, and continue their important research.”

Student Shazray SyedShazray Syed, runner-up in the sciences category for the work she did related to the ion channels specifically in the heart, feels this pride in accomplishment, as well as the ambition to continue because the challenges she encountered due to the pandemic helped develop the resiliency stores required to see a project through.

 “I initially faced a lot of difficulty in my project, as COVID-19 had taken a year of lab experience away from me,” says Syed.

“However, my lab members were incredibly supportive and because of them, I was able to gain the skills and experience needed to obtain the data on my poster. I was motivated to participate in Smarti Gras so that I could display all of the progress I made throughout my project.”

Syed says she was so delighted with winning a prize at Smarti Gras that she screamed and immediately texted all her family members, friends and supervisors. 

"I am very thankful to everyone who came to listen to my poster presentation and so grateful for this recognition of my work," says Syed. 

At the conclusion of the two-hour poster-presentation component and prize announcements, Moore, who said his own passion for research was sparked when he participated in a project as an undergraduate student, thanked all the participating presenters and the judges, as well as event coordinator Rong Wu and the staff in the Office of the Vice-Principal, Research (OVPR).

Moore also encouraged participants to continue to explore Gather Town while the posters were still onsite to view, as well as some of the other treats on the platform, such as the games room and the lounge area where you could socialize with colleagues.

“We all thoroughly enjoyed all the poster presentations, and, despite having to pivot online this year, the calibre of the research remains so elevated and vibrant” says Moore.

Smarti Gras was established by the Office of the Vice-Principal, Research (OVPR) in 2016, and it is an annual event to celebrate undergraduate research. Please see the OVPR site for further details, and encourage your students to participate in this celebration next year.