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Students Present Research at Annual Clara Colt Conference

Second-year political science major, Tessa Balc, presents research on the racialization of public beaches. Photo courtesy of Amy Nantkes.

Every spring the Department of History and Political Science (HPS) at Point Loma Nazarene University hosts the Clara Colt Conference — an opportunity for students to present research conducted in HPS classes to their peers. The event is designed to give students an opportunity to practice sharing their work in a professional environment with the added incentive that the best presentations receive cash prizes. 

This year’s Colt Conference was held last Thursday, March 23. From 4-7 p.m., students and faculty at PLNU were invited to listen to 21 student research presentations with topics including the United States asylum system, the history of female activism in the U.S. Navy and a study on the racialization of public beaches. 

Rick Kennedy, professor of history and the organizer of this event, said that he was happy with the number and quality of student presentations this year. 

“Last year we had about half the number of papers,” Kennedy said. “I think COVID really messed people up but we’re back to what we were doing in 2018.”

Kennedy has been in charge of organizing the Colt Conference for the past 17 years. He said that he started the conference as a way to use endowment money that the department received from Clara Elizabeth Colt in 1999, but it has become something that students and faculty enjoy every year. 

“We all get to see students dress up,” Kennedy said. “And it’s actually a little fun to see students tense up, and say, ‘Oh my gosh, I have to give a presentation in Colt Hall in front of all these people.’ It’s a good experience for them and we professors are very impressed.” 

Kennedy said that the event is both a way to assess where students are at and a way to praise some of the good work they are doing. He also said that this is a great way to prepare students for vocational work beyond PLNU. 

“Professional life is what we are preparing people for,” Kennedy said. “In professional life, you’re in a business and you have to stand in front of the vice president and explain why your project is worth more money than someone else’s.” 

Kennedy said that learning how to present information is key to many different vocations, including but not limited to careers in law, teaching and the church. 

“Very few jobs will not entail a certain level of public presentation,” Kennedy said. 

Lila McNeal, a third-year history major, presented a paper titled “The Interactions of Nazarene Missionaries with India’s Caste System” at the conference. 

“This was really important to me because I do think it gives you that great work experience that people talk about,” McNeal said. 

This was her first year presenting. McNeal said that she had the opportunity to revisit a paper she wrote last semester and think about how she wanted to synthesize and streamline what she had learned. 

“I would tell them [other students] that this is the best place to start formal public speaking,” McNeal said. “There are a lot of friendly faces—students and faculty— who are genuinely interested in what you have to say. Plus I got to speak in a room where I have a ton of my classes, so that was really cool.” 

Amelia Tsering, a second-year political science major, presented a research design that she had completed for her Scope and Methods class, a course that focuses on research methods and designs, in the fall 2022 semester.

“I think it’s great for people outside of just our department to attend events like these, especially because it might be a different style of scholarship,” Tsering said. “We have a lot to learn from each other’s disciplines, and I liked how there was such a diverse range of topics presented.”  

Halfway through the presentations, both presenters and audience members were invited to enjoy a pizza dinner. Kennedy said that this is another example of the spirit of fellowship that is within the HPS department. 

“I don’t see this event as overtly spiritual, but it’s like so much on our campus — Christians getting together and doing scholarship,” Kennedy said. “We’re a very justice, peace, Christian-virtues-oriented department, even when it’s not overtly so.” 

Written By: Reyna Huff