RESEARCH PRESENTATIONS SPAN THE DISCIPLINES

Among many presentations of scholarship, December 2013 saw

Theater and Dance: Architectural imaging project exhibition in Runnals lobby through January.

Environmental Studies:  Presentations on “Missing Players in Environmental Governance in Ethiopia” and “The Importance of Headwater Streams in Preserving Water Quality: A Case Study of the Kennebec Highlands and Long Pond.”

Geology: Presentations on “Limestone Neutralization of Acid Mine Drainage from the Potential Bald Mountain Mining Activity,” “Plant Macrofossil Evidence for Environmental Change at Fresh Pond Marsh” and “Examination and Quantification of Constriction in Deformation Zones with Complex Boundary Conditions.”

Creative Writing: Students (and faculty) read poetry written in response to artworks in the museum in a program titled “An Evening of Ekphrasis.”

Education: Presentation on the New England Consortium on Assessment of Student Learning, a collaboration among New England liberal arts colleges.

As Colby students do more and more research as part of their classes, the end of the semester brings more research presentations. There is no formal fall symposium comparable to the spring semester’s undergraduate research symposium (revamped for 2014 as the Colby Liberal Arts Symposium), but still there are many disciplines in which public presentations are part of the fall semester curriculum (see sidebar).

When students in Professor Jennifer Coane’s psychology seminar on aging and cognition stood to present their research Dec. 6, it wasn’t just for students. Audience members with gray hair were numerous–and particularly attentive.

With reports titled “Walk More, Age Less: Effects of Exercise on Healthy Aging” and “Music, Memory, and Cognition in Older Adults,” students offered a fountain of youth, and members of the community (thanks to a grant from the Goldfarb Center), faculty, and staff came to drink.

The takeaways were familiar: physical fitness, cognitive exercise, good nutrition, and strong social engagement improve mental and physical well-being in older adults. But the specifics–gleaned from peer-reviewed scientific literature and reported in succinct talks with PowerPoint graphics–left the audience motivated.

Abigail Fontaine ’15 cited a long list of cognitive functions shown to improve with physical exercise. Processing speed, memory, attention, multitasking, and executive function (planning and organization) all improved with physical exercise and good nutrition. “Do you miss your chance?” Fontaine asked in her talk. “My viewpoint is it’s never too late. Just do it.  Exercise gets more important as life goes on.”

Caroline Southwick ’14 and Abigail Cooper ’15 cited similar benefits from social engagement. Productive, stimulating activities and satisfying relationships with a number of contacts improved working memory capacity and retrieval, problem-solving abilities, processing speed, and several other measures of cognitive ability—and promised happier golden years. They recommended volunteering, and they noted a synergistic effect when social engagement, exercise, and cognitive workouts were combined. They did not find research that assessed engagement in social networks such as Facebook.

Kaitlyn O’Connell ’15 found a reinforcing effect and a beneficial cycle where the acquisition of new skills by older people increased their motivation and their cognitive abilities, which made them more likely to acquire new skills.

Music to the ears of the assembled? Certainly the report from Margaret Sargent ’14. She focused on the effects of music on memory and cognition and found dramatic benefits for older post-surgical patients and for patients with Alzheimer’s. Both listening to music and learning to play an instrument improve cognition in various ways, decrease anxiety, and improve the quality of life for elders. “Music,” Sargent said, “is good for you.”