UMich Stamps Fellows Host 5th Annual Stamp Colloquium



The fifth annual Stamp Colloquium featured University of Michigan faculty, alumni, and community members who gave presentations March 10 at the Rackham Amphitheater. Similar to a TED talk, each of the 8 speakers presented for 15 minutes a topic related to the theme of this year’s stamp colloquium: “Revolutionary Ideas”. The speakers — nominated by UM Stamps fellows — included experts in a wide range of topics, from homosexuality in horror movies to plants and music.

The Stamps Scholarship is a merit-based undergraduate scholarship awarded to students upon acceptance into one of 37 partner institutions and includes a financial contribution from the Stamps program and partner universities. At the University of Michigan, Stamp Scholars are chosen from freshman applicants from schools and colleges on campus.

Principal Engineer Jensen Hwa, President of UM Stamps Scholars, organized the event which was attended by approximately 30 community members. He opened the colloquium by expressing his appreciation for the Stamps Fellowship and the diverse academic community of Stamps scholars with whom he had the opportunity to connect.

“I feel very lucky to be part of this group,” Hwa said. “Getting this scholarship has changed my university experience so much. Giving back to this community is what drives me to organize this kind of event.

Natasha Pilkauskas, Associate Professor of Public Policy, gave a talk titled “Cash Transfers and Children” about her groundbreaking ideas for ending child poverty. Pilkauskas suggested that poor children should be given money to spend at their discretion, regardless of the employment status of the parents.

“Early childhood income is important for child development,” Pilkauskas said. “If we’re really thinking about ending child poverty, we can’t focus on whether someone has a job or not.”

LSA sophomore Abby Hess named her musicology professor James Bodiford, who spoke about his research into the spread of music across nations. For Bodiford, “the message” of a piece of music is often contained in “the medium”. Bodiford likened musicians sharing recorded sounds with each other to communicating history and opinions related to a larger societal context.

“I would advocate for the revolutionary spirit of the medium itself,” Bodiford said. “To demonstrate that people can relate to each other without someone in every exchange reaping a profit.”

In an interview with the Michigan Daily after the symposium, Hess said Bodiford’s perspective was intriguing, especially the connections he made between music and Chilean culture.

“I really enjoyed hearing him talk about the role of music in the political spectrum of another culture,” Hess said. “It was fascinating to hear someone who entered a culture specifically to examine the effects of music.”

Paleobotany professor Selena Smith explained how fossils provide a record of the evolution of plants and their environment. Smith urged listeners to change their philosophy regarding the recognition and understanding of plants as major components of our modern world.

“Plants are a conduit that connects air, water, and earth,” Smith said. “I think we need another revolution, this time not caused by plants, but inspired by them.”

English teacher Gina Brandolino argued that “horror is inherently queer”, in her speech. She said she’s found that queer people understand what it’s like to resonate with different archetypes in horror movies, including “final girl” heroes or the female protagonist who stands up to her adversary at the end.

“We need to think differently about the messages that horror stories give us,” Brandolino said.

Darcy Brandel, a lecturer at Residential College, spoke in her talk, “The Groundbreaking Nature of a Cloud,” about how clouds demonstrate “interbeing” – a concept created by Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh regarding the interconnected nature of the world. As a poet and activist, Brandel shared his belief that all lives are interdependent on one another. For this, she gave an example from the teachings of Hanh.

“The cloud didn’t come from nothing, it was just a change in shape,” Brandel said. “It’s not the birth of something out of nothing… If you look deep into the rain, you can see the cloud. The cloud does not get lost, it turns into rain.

Felicity Foundation Chaplain Matthew Schumann shared his views on Islam with the audience emphasizing the importance of self-awareness. Schumann said spiritual release is often blocked when individuals get caught up in the rush of everyday life. To find true solace, says Schumann, you have to choose when to take time for yourself.

“We have the choice to answer or ignore the calls we constantly receive,” Schumann said.

Henry Cowles, Associate Professor of History, spoke about illusions, death, science and spirituality.

“Ouija, tarot, and the continued use of spiritualism is unfortunately feminizing in the gendered bifurcation of knowledge,” Cowles said. “The supposedly objective sciences leave aside what is a contingent spiritism depending on the context.”

Hwa personally invited Lizhen Ji, a professor in the Department of Mathematics, and introduced Ji to the audience as “the king of math.” In Ji’s talk, “Mathematics vs. History,” which was the closing presentation of the symposium, Ji talked about the intersections of history and mathematics. He highlighted examples of historical mathematical figures to put the two fields of study into perspective.

“The calculation has two parts: one is differentiation and the other is integration. The differentiation is local and the integration is global,” Ji said. “It is important to have both a local and a global view of everything.”

Hwa said he wanted the event to synthesize “groundbreaking ideas” from all different parts of campus. With the open theme, he hoped to set a cohesive tone while allowing speakers to explore what excites them.

“It was great to see that we had almost every school represented among the speakers,” Hwa said. “I really think it helps to enrich the stature and image of the University to showcase the best professors the University has to offer.”

Daily News contributor Kelsey Ruff contributed reporting.

Daily journalist Ashna Mehra can be contacted at [email protected].

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