Fifth annual MURALS to showcase scholarly work, social justice

Julia Trowbridge

The Multicultural Undergraduate Research Art and Leadership Symposium is representing the growing percentage of people of color doing scholarly work.

MURALS is a dedicated space for students of color at Colorado State University to showcase their scholarly work, whether that’s in science, technology, engineering and math, creative arts, social sciences and humanities or service learning and leadership. In addition to highlighting the work of students of color, MURALS also allows students to enhance their presentation by incorporating social justice issues.

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“There’s always people from the majority community that wants to study us, if you will, so we really want to encourage us to be involved in our own research,” said Bridgette Johnson, Director of the Black/African American Cultural Center, on the importance of the social justice component. “And then also that is one of the University’s primary focuses: diversity and inclusion.”

Johnson said she participated in something similar to MURALS as an undergraduate and began to come up with the idea to create something similar at CSU when she became a staff member. Johnson said she started after noticing the lack of students of color involved in research, whether that was because students were experiencing an imposter syndrome or they didn’t realize the importance of scholarly work.

Although the symposium started as an imitation of the showcase Johnson participated in, it has become its own event, Johnson said.

The categories for the presentations are STEM, creative arts, social sciences and humanities and service learning and leadership. Each presentation is encouraged to have a component that addresses or incorporates social justice issues. The abstract deadline is March 8, and MURALS takes place all day March 29 with workshops, oral presentations and a poster session.

Rachel Surratt, a CSU alumna who has participated in MURALS and is helping with the symposium this year, said having the different categories allows for students to see the importance of each different type of research and scholarly works, compared to only focusing on STEM.

We want to make sure that MURALS is a well-rounded event and they are exposed not just to each other, not just to research and arts, but they are exposed to things that help them beyond CSU and they can be prepared and have connections and networking here.” – Melissa Edwards, Associate Director for the Office for Undergraduate Research and Artistry

“I think, as a person who’s been involved in it, I always thought it was super cool because it’s important to shine a spotlight on the equality of research,” Surratt said. “Because most students that aren’t aware think research is only STEM-related, so I think separating the categories allows you to be an equal winner in whatever category you’re in. We’d be missing out on a key component of the undergraduate experience if we didn’t include (things other than STEM).”

In addition, Surratt and Johnson said they feel that it’s important to see students for their work and what they’re doing with their academic careers.

MURALS offers faculty guides for students interested in guidance for anything like writing, creating a poster or preparing oral presentations. If a student expresses interest for a faculty guide on the MURALS website, for any aspect, a faculty member can nominate a student they want to mentor, or a faculty member will be matched to a student, Surratt said.

The symposium has grown exponentially from 17 students for it’s first year to over 100 students for last year’s annual MURALS, Johnson said. In addition to more students learning about MURALS, more students are realizing the importance of presenting scholarly work for their resumes or internship applications, said Melissa Edwards,  Associate Director for the Office for Undergraduate Research and Artistry.

“MURALS has gained a lot of traction since it’s initial showing, and every year it has grown and grown intensively, because (students) are not only hearing about it more, but they’re realizing they also need something like MURALS. They need a place like it as well,” Edwards said.

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For students looking for more infomation, go to www.murals.colostate.edu or reach out to Brigid Johnson or Melissa Edwards.

From participating, Surratt said she gained confidence in her academic ability and reignited her interest in her education. In addition, Edwards hopes that MURALS will help undo the imposter syndrome some students of color feel, as well as increase their awareness of the importance of research. 

“We want to make sure that MURALS is a well-rounded event and they are exposed not just to each other, not just to research and arts, but they are exposed to things that help them beyond CSU and they can be prepared and have connections and networking here,” Edwards said. “MURALS is not just one day. There are things that happen on that day, but we hope it has a lasting impact going forward, especially in their academic pursuits.”

Collegian reporter Julia Trowbridge can be reached at news@collegian.com or on twitter @chapin_jules.