Students gather around a display of research posters

Students Host A Record-Setting Hunter Student Research Conference

With more submissions and more presentations than ever, students shine at the 15th annual student-run research conference.

Audrey Breen

Anna Yonas, a fourth-year curriculum and instruction doctoral candidate, received word this spring that an article she submitted to a journal was accepted for publication. And that success comes, she believes, because of her participation in the annual student-run research conference at the UVA School of Education and Human Development.

“I submitted a paper for the 2022 conference, and it got accepted as a poster session,” recalled Yonas, who is serving as the chairperson for the 2024 Hunter Student Research Conference. “I remember very clearly that I received fabulous feedback from my faculty judge, Beth Schueler.”

Schueler, an assistant professor of education policy, was not a faculty member Yonas would ordinarily have crossed paths with during her regular course of study. And that is one of the things Yonas celebrates most about this annual conference.

“I would say my experience is very much what we hope—that students have the opportunity to practice presenting, get feedback from an expert faculty member who they otherwise might not have the opportunity to interact with, and receive feedback that is really supportive and positive in the spirit of helping your work move forward,” Yonas said.

Analia Marzoratti stands next to Anna Yonas
Anna Yonas (right) led the 2024 HSRC with co-chair, Analia Marzoratti (left).

Last week, the conference celebrated its 15th year with a record-setting 54 individual presentations by both single and multiple student authors, ranging from undergraduate to full-time graduate students to working education leaders earning their Doctor of Education degrees. In 2021, the conference was renamed to honor E. Louise Stokes Hunter, who became the first Black woman to graduate from UVA when she earned her doctorate in education in 1953. Yonas, and her co-chair, Analia Marzoratti, together with nineteen members of the planning committee, oversaw the planning of every part of the event.

A founding principle of the conference is to provide current students an opportunity to practice participating in a research conference before they attend a real one. The Hunter Student Research Conference is designed to provide support to students through the many steps researchers take before it’s time to present.

“Throughout the fall and winter, we offered and partnered with other organizations to sponsor workshops designed to prepare students for various forms of research presentations,” Yonas said. “Our goal was to try to make sure that even before our big session, students have many opportunities to learn about how to engage with research conferences.”

Another way the conference provided support to students was to provide the materials needed for conference presentations at no cost, including complementary printing research posters, which are often quite expensive.

“This is particularly important when we're thinking about increasing accessibility of research conferences,” Yonas said. “We want to make sure that any student who is going to be presenting a poster is able to do it not only in a low-stakes, supportive environment, but also do it without cost barriers that can often prevent students from participating in research conferences.”

The conference included a session featuring 23 posters, a keynote address, and nine paper sessions, where three to four individual student-authored papers were discussed. In addition, there were three online thematic symposia where Ed.D. students—who are current district and school leaders—shared some of their research. These symposia covered topics about district leadership in a politicized context, leadership focused on sustainability and equity, and how school leaders help their communities navigate change.

“This was the first time we've partnered with Ed.D. program in administration and supervision,” Yonas said. “It's exciting for us to think about how we're using HSRC to ensure that students who might not be in a traditional Ph.D. path are able share their research and communicate their academic success in a professional academic format as well.”

Ed.D. student Donalda Chumney organized the online symposia with input from David Eddy-Spicer, professor in the administration and supervision program. Students’ final projects in Eddy-Spicer’s fall course on improving educational organizations served as the genesis for conference presentations for the concert.

“The Hunter Student Research Conference provided a great opportunity for these scholar-practitioners to bring together their lived experiences of working in schools with current research and theory on school improvement,” Eddy-Spicer said. “It’s also wonderful to see how this Ed.D. cohort has organized itself to leverage its learning for wider audiences.”

As it has changed over its fifteen years, the conference has held fast to its commitment to creating an opportunity for students from across different programs to interact with each other, share ideas, and celebrate all the work that they are doing. Yonas believes it is a model that could benefit students in other universities.

“I am right now in the process of getting ready to move on to my next professional steps,” Yonas said. “And I'm excited by the opportunity to consider bringing this wonderful work that we have done here to other universities that don't have as robust of an opportunity for students to present their research.

“I'm really passionate about the way that we have benefited from the generous support of people here at the School of Education and Human Development to develop a conference that is entirely free for students to participate and is more accessible for students to share some of their outstanding research.”

HSRC Annual Event

Learn more about the annual Hunter Student Research Conference.

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