BY CAITLIN LYNCH ’20
The LEAP (Learning from Application) Symposium is an annual gathering where Mount Holyoke students present on their summer internships or research to the public. According to the Mount Holyoke website, the LEAP symposium for summer work has been around at the College for 13 years, and has gone by the name LEAP since 2008.
Before the symposium, students must take a half-semester course entitled College 211 which provides time to reflect on their experiences and compose a polished presentation representing their work. The course is taught by Professor of sociology and Director of Nexus Eleanor Townsley, who said “College 211 and LEAP have grown significantly in the years I have been close to the Nexus program.”
As opening speaker Amber Douglas, associate professor of psychology and education and director of student success initiatives, remarked in her opening speech, “This, by far, is the smoothest LEAP that I have ever seen come together.” This year’s LEAP Symposium featured presentations by 289 students, an increase from the 230 students that participated in 2016 and accommodated this change in size with a few adjustments to the program.
One of the major changes to the course this year was the way in which the panels were formed. “In [the second class], where we form panels of four or five [students], it can be pretty crazy,” said Townsley. “This year three wonderful faculty colleagues — Prof. Amber Douglas, Prof. Holly Hanson and Prof. Tim Malacarne — helped us to form panels for LEAP. That really helped what is a big and complex process. It went very smoothly and halved the time we usually take to form panels, so we definitely plan to do that again. We certified 68 panels, which is a new record for us.”
Despite the extra help, “The process for choosing a panel was chaotic if you didn’t know the people you were talking to,” said Donari Yahzid ’19. “It was hard to pin down the commonalities within the different internship experiences.”
Another change to the course included extra presentation practice. “College 211 has always involved a lot of practice public speaking, storytelling and self-narrative to prepare for present[ing] at LEAP Symposium,” said Townsley. “This year, in the week leading up to LEAP, we introduced a double peer review process where students met in paired panels that dealt with very different topics and they formally evaluated each other’s presentations.”
The LEAP symposium also switched their online program so that “presenters and attendees to customize their profiles, search the program and build individualized schedules for the day. We are still learning the software but so far we really like it,” said Townsley.
The LEAP Symposium is a significant part of a Mount Holyoke education for many. As Townsley said, “At its best, LEAP exemplifies the power of liberal learning in and for the world.”