Symposium Attendees Get out of Their Comfort Zones to Find Connections

Virginia Sea Grant Project Participants Symposium: VASG Director Troy Hartley helps keynote speaker Jenifer Alonzo demonstrate an ice-breaking exercise for the audience. ©Vivian Hollingsworth/VASG
VASG Director Troy Hartley helps keynote speaker Jenifer Alonzo demonstrate an ice-breaking exercise for the audience. ©Vivian Hollingsworth/VASG

by Margaret Pizer

A theater director walks into a scientific conference… It may sound like the beginning of a bad joke, but that’s exactly what happened recently at Virginia Sea Grant’s fourth annual Project Participants’ Symposium. Jenifer Alonzo of Old Dominion University’s Communication and Theater Arts Department delivered the keynote and encouraged the students, scientists, resource managers, and extension staff in attendance to allow themselves to be “a little vulnerable” by collaborating across disciplines. Alonzo is the founder and director of Science Alliance Live!, a project that creates theater productions based on scientific research.

Alonzo even led the audience in some acting exercises to get them talking to new people and interacting in unexpected ways. “I only found out recently that these ice-breakers are universally hated,” she joked. But many symposium participants seemed to take her call for collaboration to heart. From the formal research and extension presentations to lunch and break-time networking opportunities, an excited buzz of new connections and productive conversations could be heard throughout the symposium, which was held on Thursday January 24 at the Science Museum of Virginia in Richmond.

The proceedings got off to an energetic start with a short “State of Virginia Sea Grant” report by director Troy Hartley, followed by mini-presentations from VASG graduate research fellows, many of whom are working with outreach mentors to make sure their thesis results reach the hands of those who need it. After lunch and Alonzo’s keynote, VASG researchers presented “speed-dating” style 5-minute talks about their projects, and extension staff described how they help translate research results for use in education, management, and industry.

“We hold the symposium to help the people we work with make new connections and spark innovative ideas and projects,” said Hartley. “If we’re doing our job, the conversations I’m hearing today will grow into new opportunities that will benefit coastal environments and communities by leveraging the great science and outreach capacity of our researchers, staff, and partners.”

Read more here about the VIMS students and Researchers who participated in the symposium. The symposium also featured speakers and participants from VASG’s other partner academic institutions, including Virginia Tech, University of Virginia, George Mason University, Old Dominion University, and Virginia Commonwealth University.

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