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Geek Fest opens doors for scientific opportunities

With recent comic conventions, like FanX in Utah, some might assume ‘Geek Fest’ at Westminster College would involve costumes and merchandise featuring famous pop culture icons. 

The reality of Geek Fest is much different. 

Geek Fest, held in Meldrum Science Center on Sept. 30, gives students who have worked on research projects for three months or so, the opportunity to present their findings, according to Robin Hyde, a chemistry professor and an organizer of the event.

To Hyde, a geek is “someone who has chosen a topic that has really interested them and [who has] studied it to significant detail.”

Running since 2015, Geek Fest is the result of a summer research symposium open to all students by application, according to Hyde. 

Hyde, who’s worked at Westminster for 21 years, said participating in the summer program builds a student’s resume in two different ways. 

“They can talk about how they conducted research and how they gave a formal presentation,” Hyde said. “[Plus,] if later they come to us and ask for letters of recommendation, it also means that we’ve been able to have an opportunity to watch them present.”

The program is mostly directed towards upperclassmen who are planning on going onto bigger projects and need the experience, according to Hyde. 

Students and faculty eat ice cream made from dry ice and other ingredients at the Geek Fest outside Meldrum Science Center on Sept. 30. Geek Fest gives students who have worked on research projects for three months or so, the opportunity to present their findings, according to Robin Hyde, a chemistry professor and an organizer of the event. Photo courtesy of Lalise Eshete. Image description: Four students sit around a table outside Meldrum Science Center on a sunny day.

Omar Al-Jaafari, a junior computer science major, said the program gave him an opportunity to use new technology despite the time-consuming research process.

“I think it was a bit nerve-wracking [to present] because I really wanted people to understand what we were doing,” Al-Jaafari said. 

Flore Elliott, a senior chemistry major, said she joined the program to better her chances of going to graduate school for analytical research. For Elliott’s research project, she had to raft onto Silver Lake in Utah to test the water quality. 

“[Analytical research] was kind of a hard learning curve. It was difficult and time-consuming,” Elliott said.

Elliott said this was her first major scientific project, and though every student was given a faculty mentor to help with their research, she was given the freedom to do what she wanted, when she wanted.

“Robin [Hyde] is actually pretty hands-off, we did some check-ins to review the data,” Elliott said. 

Westminster offers stipends for students and faculty to do research together, according to Robin Hyde, a chemistry professor, an organizer of Geek Fest and Elliott’s mentor in chemistry.

“We have also in the past had presenters from the humanities as well […] but it really just depends on who’s available,” Hyde said. “We have math, environmental studies, biology, chemistry, neuroscience and geology quite well-represented.” 

Elliott, a self-proclaimed geek, said “there is no question” about whether she is a geek or not based on the shows she consumes, her love of science and solving puzzles.

In contrast, Omar Al-Jaafari, said his ‘geekness’ was temporary. 

“For today, I am a geek,” Al-Jaafari said.

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Lalise Eshete (she/her) is a sophomore at Westminster studying communication. She loves all things horror, swimming and any chance to try new food. On any given day you could find her reading a cheap slasher book or polishing her dodgy piano-playing.

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