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CLAS 2023

For the first time since COVID, the College was able to celebrate the Colby Liberal Arts Symposium (CLAS) in person. This tradition is essential to the College community, as it allows students to present posters and hold talks on semester or year-long research projects.

Associate Provost and Dean of Faculty Jim Sloat told The Echo that CLAS did not always look like what we are used to.

“CLAS was created by faculty vote in 2013, with the first CLAS taking place in the spring of 2014. CLAS was preceded by the Colby Undergraduate Research Symposium (established in 2000). CURS used to take place over a span of 3 regular class days – with students and faculty working to squeeze in their presentations around busy class schedules. Somewhat inevitably, the audiences for these terrific presentations were quite limited. Ultimately, the faculty voted to create a single-day celebration of scholarships – and to cancel classes in order to allow the entire community to attend. CLAS continued in this form from 2014-2019” Slot said.

Although CLAS was canceled in 2020 due to the pandemic, it is finally coming back to what it once was. Due to the length of CLAS’s hiatus, no current student had been able to attend one, so this was a new experience for everyone.

Dean Sloat explained that the hiatus caused the faculty to be able to think about CLAS in a new light, bringing back things that worked and changing things that did not in the past.

“We were, of course, sad to pause CLAS during the pandemic, so we are particularly delighted to see CLAS return this year. We will all be developing new muscle memory to see what CLAS can be this year – and what it can become in future years. The work that has gone into planning CLAS this year has reminded me a great deal of the planning for the initial CLAS in 2014. We are leaning into a sense of exploration and innovation, confident that our students’ terrific work will continue to be the star of the show,” he said.

Many students, across all years, were able to present work from their classes this semester. Seniors were also able to present their theses, a tremendous milestone that is the culmination of their time here at the College.

Kate Landis `25 got to experience CLAS as both an attendee and a geology presenter.

“My poster session was nerve-wracking at first but ended up being really fun… It was stressful when my professor came over, but I was proud to show off all that I’ve been working on,” she said.

She further explained how CLAS was not just a moment to show off what she has been working on, but also gave her real-life experience.

“I think it’s a very good experience to present the work we have been working on all semester. It’s very validating. It’s also good practice for the future and a good experience to be able to mention in job interviews,” she said. 

Cat Merkle `23 presented her thesis on Multi-Tiered Systems of Support in Elementary Schools as a conclusion to her education major.

“It was really fun to present my thesis, and it was so nice to see people come. I didn’t invite anyone, so it was very meaningful that my friends found me on the schedule and showed up,” she said.

Merkle pointed out that CLAS has its ups and downs.

“I appreciated that CLAS gave me a solid deadline to be done and have my findings. However, I hate that we have to have class the next day,” she said.

Aubrey Adkins `25 had a poster session in CLAS and explained how special the experience was.

“Having a poster at CLAS was nerve-wracking because I’ve never done something quite like that before, and talking to a bunch of people you’ve never met is always a little scary. At the same time, it was really great to have the opportunity to show students and other members of the Colby community what I’ve been working on in my Queer 18th century Brit Lit class, especially in the form of a creative poster,” she said.

She, like Landis, appreciated the new experience that CLAS gave her.

“I felt like presenting my poster in a conference-style setting gave me some important experience with a side of academia I hadn’t yet been introduced to. So, I feel like this definitely enhanced my academic experience, because it let me share my research with other people and become more confident in my abilities to do so,” she said.

When Adkins was asked about what students should know about CLAS, she responded,

“I think other students should know that the presenters always appreciate their presence at CLAS. You should go to poster sessions or speeches that you see on the schedule that sounds interesting to you, even if you don’t know much about the topic. We’re here to talk to you about what we’ve learned, and I think most presenters are pretty happy to answer whatever questions you might have about their topic, even if you think it’s not an important or particularly academic question. If nothing else, you might come out of a presentation or session with a new fun fact about an area of study you never would have learned about otherwise.”

Dean Sloat echoed Adkins’ sentiment, pointing out that, while CLAS demonstrates all the hard work that students have put in, it also takes a lot of effort behind the scenes to pull the day off.

“The event itself is possible due to the dedicated, creative, and intense work of Colby staff. Our CLAS registration system was built by our ITS team – a set of amazing human beings whom most students never meet. The Events and Facilities staff work incredibly diligently to ensure that the spaces are ready to go. There is a team from Events Technology that resolves crises that emerge with presentations. Wonderful colleagues in Academic ITS ensure that posters are printed – under very tight deadlines. Creative professionals in our Communications office design the printed program and prepare the website. Dining Services figures out how to have coffee, refreshments, boxed lunches, and other treats throughout the day – in multiple places. Many other individuals have stepped up to provide leadership in so many different ways (building the slide deck for PowerPoint Karaoke, overseeing the poster session, organizing the speech contest, MC’ing events, and so on. It is SO IMPORTANT that we recognize these unseen heroes – because they do this kind of work every day at Colby. They do it so that our students can have the best experience possible,” he said.

He goes on to point out that CLAS is a uniquely Colby experience.

“It is a BIG event that tells a TRULY Colby story. We believe that CLAS is the largest undergraduate research symposium at any liberal arts college in the country. Over 600 separate Colby students will share their research in 175 posters and 248 presentations. This is HUGE! It is a true Colby story because Colby has long been a national leader in undergraduate research. This is something we can be truly proud of. I would argue, though, that this spectacular day tells the equally-important story of dedicated and talented staff and faculty who commit themselves every day to helping students learn, grow, and flourish. That is truly magical!!!” he said.

Congratulations to everyone who presented at CLAS!


~ Mairead Levitt `25

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