Mercer to Hold Fourth Annual Visionary Student Panel


MACON – Mercer University will host its fourth annual Visionary Student Panel on Oct. 24-25 from 6-8 p.m. each night. The panel will take place in the Presidents Dining Room inside the University Center and is free and open to the public.

The Visionary Student Panel is part of the Grand Challenges programming in the University’s current Quality Enhancement Plan (QEP), Research That Reaches Out.

The event, which is hosted by the Research That Reaches Out Office each fall during the five-year QEP, provides a platform for undergraduate students to present proposals for exploring local, national or global issues or problems tied directly to the Grand Challenge topics. This year’s topic is “Social Responsibility.”

“The easiest way to describe the Visionary Student Panel is as a socially-conscious Shark Tank, without the competition and meanness but still with the potential for funding,” said Hannah Vann, associate director of Research That Reaches Out. “We select our presenters in a competitive process, and I work with each of the selected project teams to help them develop their ideas and sharpen their pitches. Topics range from launching a podcast that aims to normalize conversation about mental health, to establishing an on-campus food pantry for insecure students, to establishing educational support groups for people in rural areas who live with chronic illness. It’s exciting to see our students recognize their own capacity to change the world.”

Fifteen student projects will be presented by 29 students, with some students presenting as individuals and others as teams.

Following each five-minute presentation, a panel of faculty and staff and the audience will have the opportunity to provide feedback to each presenter. Students will then use this feedback to develop their funding proposals for the next phase of the program.

“We have evolved this event into a fully developmental process that supports students from pitch to implementation,” said Dr. Kathryn Kloepper, associate professor of chemistry and director of Research That Reaches Out. “After the Visionary Student Panel, presenters will participate in a grant workshop hosted by Research That Reaches Out, where we will help them craft their funding proposals. Although the mini-grant awards are selective, we will continue to provide all of the students with support to find other avenues for realizing their ideas.”

The following presentations will take place on Wednesday, beginning at 6 p.m.:

  • Tayler Johnston and Regina Liu are combatting student food insecurity by establishing a food pantry at Mercer.
  • Victoria Whitehead is addressing healthcare disparities in rural Georgia by establishing support groups for people with chronic illness.
  • Jackson Crean is working to rebuild public trust in civil servants and first responders by appealing to our love of superheroes.
  • Ayla Bullock is working to support the development of more effective treatments for chronic depression by researching markers of depression.
  • Amy Jenkins and Julia Scher are increasing access to health care for Spanish-speaking people by empowering students to become medical translators.
  • Darice Cudjoe and Maggie Kowalchuk are addressing local community needs by developing an intensive, local service-learning experience for Mercer students.
  • Ty Carter is helping students manage the stress and anxiety of college by investigating how harvesting plant oxygen output can improve brain function.

The following presentations will take place on Thursday, beginning at 6 p.m.:

  • Gregory Gilbert, Mohini Patel, Olivia Sass and Michael Tan are working to ease the burden on Macon’s landfills by utilizing glass-to-sand recycling in Macon.
  • Robyn Guru and Shailey Shah are launching the “Real Talk Podcast” to normalize conversation about student struggles with stress, anxiety and other challenges.
  • Adam Landin is helping teachers incorporate life skills lessons in the classroom by developing an adaptive life skills curriculum for middle and high school students.
  • Gunhee Lee, Nahum Mekonnen, Dreyah Simmons, Ashley Tyler and Pooja Vikraman are developing an infant and child monitoring device to help parents keep their kids safe and healthy.
  • Tessa Gebert is addressing low fluency in American Sign Language (ASL) by investigating the value of integrating ASL into learning strategies.
  • Alfred Troy is tackling student awareness of mental health resources by researching student knowledge of campus resources for mental health support.
  • Gabriel Brito, Andrew Cannon, Nahum Mekonnen and Aisha Njie are developing an electric longboard rideshare program to improve short-range transportation options.
  • Pragya Sharma is developing a new device that will reduce the incidence of hot car deaths for infants, children and pets.

Last year, seven teams of students earned a total of more than $5,000 to support their Research That Reaches Out projects focused on real-world problems.