Finding fault in our stars

tjSTAR changes stir controversy among student body

Image courtesy of tjSTAR.

Image courtesy of tjSTAR.

Tanya Kurnootala, Staff Writer

This year, a number of changes have been implemented to tjSTAR, Jefferson’s annual research symposium, based on feedback from key stakeholders, division managers, administration, and teachers. With around 400 students being absent on the day of tjSTAR last year, raising low attendance rates was a major driving force behind many of the changes. However, these changes have caused a great deal of controversy among students and teachers alike. Eighth period meetings have been taking place in order to address concerns and discuss suggestions for improvement.

Senior Sammy Tavassoli expressed her concern over the changes that have been made, feeling that it would take away from the intended purpose of tjSTAR.

“tjSTAR was sort of a nice, relaxing vacation from regular classes. If you went, it’s not like you had to take a test or anything,” Tavassoli. “It’s also right after AP exams, which is right when the stress is really high, so it’s nice to relax after all that. Whereas if you just have regular classes, it kind of ruins that relaxation factor.”

Tavassoli, who gathered senior and alumni opinions on the changes, provided a student perspective and made suggestions to improving the new design at a tjSTAR student committee meeting this Wednesday, Feb. 27th. She hopes that all parties involved can find a middle ground.

“If they found a way to keep the changes that the administrators who are running tjSTAR proposed and they allow the things that the seniors and other students really like about tjSTAR, then that might be the best plan,” Tavassoli said.

Now a two day event instead of the previous single day layout, the biggest change to tjSTAR may be that presentations are organized by teachers, and students are not allowed to choose which presentations or speakers they want to view anymore. If these changes hold, Tavassoli believes that students’ eagerness for attending may decrease.

“If the teacher is choosing [presenters] then the students in that class will not be interested in the senior/IBET person’s actual presentation. I think half of the fun of actually presenting your research is to present it to people who care, like people in your lab, your teachers, or your parents,” Tavassoli said.

The new model brings the elimination of the Exhibition Hall. In previous years, students who signed up for this block would gather in the gym to meet company representatives and learn about potential internship opportunities. Tavassoli believes that this was a valuable part of the tjSTAR experience.

“The purpose of tjSTAR is to showcase both student research and outside research to students so that they can get more involved in outside research. If you get rid of the exhibition hall, then that gets rid of all the outside research,” Tavassoli said.

One potential solution she discussed was modifying the structure of the Exhibition Hall itself.

“Instead of completely getting rid of the Exhibition Hall, we thought about having it as a smaller thing in commons areas where teachers could allow their students to leave class for it. That’s just an example of a proposed solution: instead of taking [the Exhibition Hall] away completely you kind of integrate it into the current system,” Tavassoli said.

Japanese teacher Mr. Koji Otani sponsors the tjSTAR student committee, whose role is to incorporate suggestions from past years into organizing this year’s event. He explains the necessity for some of the changes that have been made.

“One of the reasons we made changes was because we are concerned about the attendance rate. So that [change was] with a suggestion from other teachers and administration. That’s the best way to solve the problem, but still there are some issues that may not solve everything,” Otani said.

Reflecting on the student-teacher meeting, Otani appreciates the opportunity to share opinions, and is looking forward to reaching a consensus as plans need to finalized in the next 2-3 weeks to allow time to contact potential speakers.

“It’s great to have this meeting because we have a lot of opinions from IBET to HUMs and especially the senior teachers. After some new suggestions, hopefully we are going to have a plan that has all faculty members and students, especially seniors satisfied- that they are glad that we have this event,” Otani said. “I would say this situation is still fluid.”