Each year the Tulane University Student Conference on Latin America (TUSCLA) celebrates outstanding student research. For this daylong event, undergraduate and graduate students deliver 15-minute presentations on their research covering various topics within Latin American Studies, then converse with colleagues and faculty members about their work. On November 23 this year, the conference will celebrate its seventeenth anniversary, having grown from a series of in-class presentations beginning in 2003.
As Stone Center for Latin American Studies (SCLAS) Assistant Director for Undergraduate Studies Edith Wolfe explains, the day allows students to gain experience publicly presenting their research and ideas, and the convening helps them gain a greater understanding of how conferences function in general. “Throughout the process of presenting in this conference, I most hope the students gain confidence,” explains Wolfe, who organizes the conference with James D. Huck, Jr., SCLAS assistant director for graduate programs. “I also hope they begin to recognize all of the skills they have and articulate them. Being able to think critically on your feet, to sustain the logic of your observations, and to speak extemporaneously are all important job skills.”
Participation in the conference is mandatory for all Latin American Studies undergraduate seniors and first year graduate students. Three years ago, Wolfe also began recruiting students from other disciplines, particularly students that have studied abroad in Latin American countries, to participate. Each student is timed, participates in a thematic panel with fellow students and a faculty member, and answers questions from the audience. But as Wolfe expresses, the day is just as much about camaraderie: “It’s about supporting each other. Each participant is expected to engage with the other presentations and be respectful, and the students evaluate each speaker. These presentations are so much more than a final exam—they’re about engaging in a conversation about your research and work with your peers and advisors.”
Madeline White (SLA ’13), a Latin American Studies and gender and sexuality studies alumna, participated in the conference in 2012 before spending her final semester studying in Havana. “After spending the whole semester developing our capstone papers and figuring out exactly what we wanted to say, it was so fulfilling to have a chance to present our work to our peers and professors,” said White. “Most of the time when we write a paper in college, we turn it in and move on to the next one without taking any time to reflect on what we've written. Being able to present my project as an academic in an actual conference setting was an amazing feeling.”