Inquiry Conference shines spotlight on field studies

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An academic conference on campus last week gave several BYU students the opportunity to present their field studies research from countries around the world.

The Inquiry Conference, sponsored by the David M. Kennedy Center for International Studies, is an annual three-day conference comprised of student research presentations, panel Q&A sessions and daily keynote speakers. This year’s conference, held Wednesday, Mar. 6 to Friday, Mar. 8, also included a faculty methodology panel and a special art show.

With BYU students presenting research from countries as varied as India, Namibia and Ghana, the event showed how valuable and far-reaching field studies programs can be.

Jay Bostwick, a member of the Inquiry Conference Committee, said the conference is a chance for students involved in Kennedy Center programs to talk about their experiences abroad.

“This conference is a chance to round their experience out by giving an academic presentation,” Bostwick said. “In addition to just being a good experience, it gives student a chance to have that first experience presenting to an audience outside of a classroom setting – giving your ideas to your peers and being able to take feedback and questions.”

Bostwick said he hopes the Inquiry Conference will help inspire other students to participate in studies abroad. The event serves as a good opportunity for students interested in doing field studies in the future to gain insight into what the experience would be like.

“We’re hopefully opening people’s minds to the idea that a student can go abroad and learn about other cultures and can give something back through that experience,” he said. “Sometimes the idea is really daunting, but it’s something anyone on this campus can do.”

Jackie Saumweber, a program facilitator for the conference, said it’s important for students to participate in the Inquiry Conference because of the real-world education the experience provides.

“The education we get here at BYU is amazing, but there’s a whole new level of understanding that comes from traveling and spending time in a community and learning from its people,” Saumweber said. “It changes the way you look at the world. Having the opportunity to present their research to faculty and their peers in a legitimate setting challenges the students and gives them experience for future graduate work.

To present at the conference, students must participate in a field study and then apply with an abstract of their presentation and a list of desired outcomes for the audience. Each year the Kennedy Center publishes the presentations in its annual ‘Inquiry Journal,’ which is complied once the conference is completed.

“The great thing is that it doesn’t have to be hard research – it can be experiential as well,” Saumweber said. “A lot of students present on what went wrong in their field study – we had a whole panel this year about handling culture shock and social barriers. It makes for really interesting topics.”

Benjamin Jones, an English teaching major, both presented at the conference about his field study in Mexico and was on the planning committee for the event. He said his time spent doing research in Mexico and presenting it at the Inquiry Conference has been invaluable to his time at BYU.

“There are things you just can’t learn from books,” Jones said. “The experience gained from visiting another culture – whether that be in Indonesia on the other side of the world or a Navajo reservation – is something you can’t get anywhere else.”

Jones added the benefits of participating in the conference have been numerous for him.

“The experience really helped not only augment my resume, but prepared me for post-graduate work,” he said. “Most importantly though, it’s provided meaningful life experience. It’s helped shape my life and my worldview.”

For more information about the Inquiry Conference, visit inquiry.byu.edu.

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