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Coffee, Beignets, and Conference Conversations

New Orleans, Louisiana is an eccentric, vibrant city that is as unique as its people, and a few University Honors Program students experienced that city’s unique culture and history while they presented research at the Popular Culture Association of the South (PCAS).

Dra. Leticia McGrath led the students on this trip, and as a member of PCAS, she tries to attend this conference each year and to take students with her. “I take students because it allows them the opportunity to present their research in a professional setting where they can receive feedback and participate in discussions that will help them in future research,” she said.

Emily Pressler (Spanish and French ’19), who has gone to several conferences with Dra. McGrath, agrees.  “This was a great opportunity to present my preliminary thesis research findings,” she said.

The students received support and enthusiasm from scholars in their field.  Cassia Mugge (communications studies ‘21) said, “It was my first conference, and I thought it would be super nerve-wracking, but everyone was so attentive and encouraging that presenting was honestly much more enjoyable than in-class presentations.”

During the conference, the students conversed with professors from other universities and shared ideas about their research. Pressler presented her ongoing thesis work, which examines Hispanic stereotypes in films like La Casa de Mi Padre and Spanglish, among others.  She said, “I was lucky enough to talk to some people about my research and generate ideas for both of our current research.”  Among these individuals was a professor who suggested several films for Pressler’s research.

After Bodie Fox’s presentation on Vine and its influence on pop culture, a professor asked him about continuing the research together for an article. These experiences provide students with insight on the world of research beyond the classroom.

The students also took advantage of their setting and explored the city. They visited all of the world famous New Orleans sites, shuffling down Bourbon Street, visiting St. Louis Cathedral, eating beignets at Cafe Du Monde, and trekking to Frenchman Street—the “cooler, lesser known Bourbon Street,” as Pressler described.

Dr. McGrath said, “I particularly enjoyed taking time to browse the local art galleries as well as many of the open-air art booths surrounding Jackson Square.”  Although, it was Mugge that summed it up best, “New Orleans is a unique and beautiful city, and I am thankful for the opportunity to have visited it.”

Conferences are a wonderful tool for undergraduate students to gain experience and advice from other scholars. Dr. McGrath emphasized the need to seek out these opportunities. “It is important for students to be able to realize their goals in their research by providing them venues, such as this conference, where there is an open atmosphere of inspiration and encouragement,” she said.




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