The Widener Tradition of Student Projects and Research Continues Virtually

Jessica Reyes and Emily Barrett, Assistant Directors of Communications
Students present their work virtual during Student Project Day
Students present their faculty-guided research and hands-on projects virtually in the annual Student Projects Day.

Seniors Connor Pietro and Jenna Muir, along with two classmates, spent two semesters helping redesign the website and communication strategy for the Boys and Girls Club of Chester.

Student volunteers work with children at the Boys and Girls Club of Chester
Student volunteers work with children at the Boys and Girls Club of Chester.

But when the COVID-19 pandemic forced classes to move online mid-semester, the team of communication studies majors was faced with new challenges.

“This capstone experience has been so meaningful because we could see how much the Boys and Girls Club of Chester staff cares about the people they serve,” Muir said. “I never thought about not continuing; we just had to rapidly adjust and make this work.”

Muir and Pietro are two of hundreds of undergraduate students across many disciplines who persevered, continuing the faculty-guided research and hands-on projects that are a hallmark of the Widener experience. Continuing a two-decade-old tradition, they then shared the fruits of their hard work virtually at Student Projects Day on Friday, April 24. 

For many students, the year-long projects involve working with industry partners to give students meaningful experiences with leaders in the fields they plan to enter. As biomedical engineering student William Winchester explained, that partnership, though a valuable experience, added another layer of challenges for him and his team as industry groups grappled to adjust and respond to pandemic as well.

"With our project being an industry funding project, it added a lot of extra elements,” Winchester said, such as limited and remote communications.

Working from home also presented unexpected communication hurdles among teammates when social distancing didn’t allow for class or lab time together.

“It definitely wasn’t easy,” said teammate Shannon Mowbray, a 4+1 biomedical engineering student. “We use electronic communication a lot, especially in our group with text, e-mail, and GroupMe, but I don’t think we realized how much we talked in person until we couldn’t anymore.”

Their group project focused on creating a synthetic model for calcified arterial access to support testing of the Glidesheath Slender catheterization needle, a medical device used to treat Peripheral Artery Disease.

Despite the unforeseen setbacks and hurdles, Mowbray and her teammates are proud of achieving a final project with industry-level application. 

“What team in industry is able to change their scope of work and final deliverable three times in three weeks and still succeed in meeting the needs of their industry partner?” Mowbray asked. “We did.” 

Seniors Carly Smith and Dominic Peters, along with four of their classmates in an upper level School of Business Administration management course, found a similar way to continue their project.

They spent the spring semester helping Small Business Development Center client and entrepreneur Joi Spraggins develop a website plan for Legacy Bridges STEM Academy, Inc., a nonprofit that provides opportunities for high school and college students to enhance STEM skills needed in the workforce.

The group applied what they learned in their business courses to evaluate the business model of the nonprofit and create a site map for use by a web developer.

When COVID-19 struck, the team had to find new ways to communicate with each other and Spraggins. 

“We weren’t able to physically meet, but we found ways to communicate and still provided a quality plan,” said Peters, a senior international business major. “We wanted to do our best knowing this is an actual business, not just a class project.”

Smith, a senior marketing major, agreed.

This was a great opportunity for me to practice leadership. It was a chance to look at the real-world application rather than a piece of paper. — Carly Smith '20

Pietro and Muir, in communication studies, had a similar experience with their capstone. The two-semester, project-intensive course allows students to research the needs of a local nonprofit and then create communication content based on their research.

They created a website redesign plan and communications/social media plan, as well as video and print materials for the Boys and Girls Club of Chester. While certain aspects of the project, such as the video, became more challenging with COVID-19 closures, they adjusted.

“It is meaningful to know that we had a part in helping them showcase their mission and vision,” Pietro said.

Muir agreed, “It is important work they are doing and to be able to present that in a clear way is really awesome.”

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