Strike a Spark Conference 2024

Wednesday, April 17, 2024

Please join us for the PennWest California Strike a Spark Conference celebrating the research, scholarship, and creative activity of our students.

Student presentations, performances, and exhibitions of creative work from all disciplines are welcome.

Please complete this survey on the 2024 Strike a Spark at PennWest California campus: Click Here

Conference Schedule 


9:00 –10:40 am Morning Session 
Creative Works and Posters in Lobby 
Oral and Honors Thesis Presentation Sessions in North Wing 6 & 7 

11:00 am – 12:00 pm Keynote Session in South Wing
Keynote address. Pathways to Sustainable Regional Progress: Forging a Better Future, For All. Dr. Joylette Portlock. Sustainable Pittsburgh
Panel Discussion. Sustainable Development at PennWest California: Insights and Opportunities. Dr. Sarah Meiss, Dr. Azadeh Block, Dr. Candace Riley, Sabrina Hykes-Davis M.F.A. PennWest California

12:00 – 1:00 pm Break 

1:00 – 2:40 pm Afternoon Session 
Creative Works and Posters in Lobby 
Oral and Honors Thesis Presentation Sessions in North Wing 6 & 7

2:30 – 3:30 pm Performance Session in South Wing
Excerpts from She Kills Monsters by Qui Nguyen, and Big Fish (Book by John August, Music and Lyrics by Andrew Lippa). PennWest California Theatre Program.

Keynote Speaker: Dr. Joylette Portlock

Joylette Portlock PortraitDr. Joylette Portlock is the Executive Director of Sustainable Pittsburgh, a nonprofit working to empower decision-making that builds a fundamentally equitable, resilient, healthy, and prosperous region. Sustainable Pittsburgh regularly works with hundreds of partners in the region — including local governments, nonprofits, and the business community — to ensure a thriving region where stakeholders are connected, sustainability knowledge is shared and applied, and all people can succeed. Prior to her role at Sustainable Pittsburgh, Dr. Portlock served as Associate Director of Science and Research at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History and as Executive Director of Communitopia, a nonprofit based in Pittsburgh that focuses on climate change communication. She holds a bachelor's degree in biology with a minor in anthropology from MIT and a Ph.D. in genetics from Stanford University. Her work focuses on building community around sustainability topics, with a particular interest in making important scientific, technical, or complex information accessible and useful. Dr. Portlock has worked on environmental issues at the local, state, and federal level, and also currently serves on the Allegheny County Board of Health. She was an advisor to Project Drawdown, and serves in many other roles in the community, including as an advisory board member of the Black Environmental Collective. In 2022, Dr. Portlock was appointed as a member of the Environmental Justice Advisory Board (EJAB) for the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection. She was also included in the Pittsburgh Business Times’ “Power 100” in 2021 and 2022 and named in City and State’s “Pittsburgh Power 100” in 2022 and 2023. Dr. Portlock has lived and worked in the Pittsburgh region since 2007.

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Group Oral Poster Presentation

Expanding Access: Transforming PennWest’s Mental Health Care Programs into Online Programs

Presenters: Steven Kenderes, Cala Martino, Shyenn Warner, and Hunter Orrahood

Today, many students struggle with their mental health. College is supposed to be a place where students find their true selves and learn independence. After careful analysis of professional research among colleges and universities, whether in-house or third-party, we present a proposal on how PennWest could provide virtual mental health resources. While PennWest already houses on-campus options, the college lacks an online resource. Other colleges use Timely Care, but there are limited visits without payment. These resources would reduce stigmas, prevent students from oversharing, and override the fear of judgment. We would advise a similar system to Timely Care, but we would recommend implementing opportunities for other students with Psychology and mental-health-related majors to offer their services. Professionals would also staff the online mental health center. Ultimately, we believe our system would allow PennWest to have happier, healthier, and more successful students.

Presentation Link

General Education Makeover: Bringing Gen-Eds up to Date

Kolby Hendricks, Ayden Goodge, Trisha Wiley, and Gianna Silvetti

A review of the literature on students’ perception and academic performance on general education courses indicate that lack of interest and motivation correlate with lower academic classes compared to classes related to their majors. General-Ed classes also affected students negatively through greater demand on their tuition and time management. Our research further indicates students who had courses only pertaining to their major had better grade outcomes and were more specialized employees when they moved into the workforce. To better suit student needs, our project proposes changes to Gen-Ed requirements that would eliminate courses not relevant to students’ majors and recommends alternatives to improve gen-ed classes. We want people to take home the message that general education classes would be better if they allowed students to still have time dedicated to major classes.

Presentation Link

Pennwest Online Platform: A Solution for College Anxiety

Carmen Duran, Hamza Yalouli, Maxine Crosby, Amanda Sabo

In today’s college environment, anxiety among students has become a persisting and escalating issue that affects academic performance and overall well-being, especially after covid hit. The current study revealed that 52% of today's college students suffer from an anxiety disorder and persistent problems with increased mental health (Manana-Mirhis, 2005).  We are proposing the development of an online platform designed for college students, offering a safe space for anonymous peer support and access to virtual mental health professionals. By addressing social phobia and integrating cognitive behavioral therapy techniques, the platform wishes to minimize or eliminate anxiety symptoms and promote resilience and support between students. Recognizing the challenges of the transition to college life, our proposal emphasizes the importance of proactive support systems for college students. Ultimately, the proposed online platform presents a potential solution to combat anxiety and make the college experience easier for college students who have these struggles.

Presentation Link

The Good, The Bad, And the Gen-eds

Kaden Velasquez, Allie Senior, Oakley Marini

This presentation takes a look at General education and makes cases as to why Gen-eds should be revised or changed in the college education we have today.

Presentation Link

Striking Back at Student Suicide: Faculty Support to Help PennWest Students’ Mental Health

Colton LoCicero and CJ Waldier

In the United States, suicide ranks as the second leading cause of death among young adults. Shockingly, statistics from the JED Foundation reveal that 1 in 4 college-aged adults, between 18 and 24 years old, have reported contemplating suicide. This raises the question, how can universities help their students in times of mental health crises? At PennWest University, Professors are faced with their primary roles as educators, department chairs, and researchers, but also have the added responsibility of responding to students' mental health emergencies. Unfortunately, many professors find themselves inadequately trained to handle such emergencies. This knowledge gap can lead to a disconnect between students and professors when support is most crucial. Despite increasing awareness of mental health issues, there remains a lack of guidance for universities and how to implement mental health support to its students. Our presentation identifies how professors can be better equipped to manage students and their mental health needs. Through research of viable training for professors and interviewing PennWest faculty, we provide a comprehensive overview on how PennWest Edinboro and its sister universities can help save students' lives.

Presentation Link

Textbook Lending Program

Shyann Kerelitch, Ethan Giangiulio, Shawn Miller, Shannon Bowman

The detrimental effects of exorbitant textbook prices include increased student debt, poor academic performance due to students not purchasing required texts, and students priced out of courses with costly textbooks. We present a proposal for a textbook lending program at PennWest University that emphasizes fair access to educational materials. The program is an initiative to improve academic achievement, equity, financial accessibility, and general student wellbeing. It highlights the need for colleges to give priority to their students’ achievement outside of the classroom and makes comparisons to programs like the Textbook Affordability Project at the University of South Florida. The proposal lays out a feasible plan for achieving a balance between affordability and financial sustainability, including reasonable penalties for any damage the textbooks sustain throughout the loan period. The approach is presented as encouraging a culture of academic support, teamwork, and student accomplishment despite oppositions.

Presentation Link

Proposing Mental Health Awareness

Presenters: Sara Hickman, Karl Tomolonis, Nadia Gill, Allison McMurray

College students face many stressors throughout their life as well as during their college years; Many may deal with a traumatic situation that leaves them with mental health issues or they may struggle in their mental health for other outside factors. It is our obligation to try to provide information to them to help them or others through these traumatic times. By offering presentations available throughout the semester, in multiple sessions, highlighting various and differing mental health topics that will offer educational and therapeutic strategies, our hope is that it will ensure that they may be able to work through these issues and ensure not only that they will be able to have a successful college career but also a successful life. Also, by peer individuals who have been through similar and can be found in the same part of their life individuals can find it more comforting and beneficial for various reasons, but the main reason this will be beneficial is because they will know they are not alone and together as a generation we can bring strength within each other to make it through these feelings in a positive and healthy way. These presentations will also offer links to mental health professionals and the suicide hotline number. 

Presentation Link

Group Creative Works Presentation

CISAccred - A Student Learning Outcome Assessment Management System

Team DivideByZero: Gurmeet Bedi, David Hayes, Dominique Barfield

PennWest's Computing Programs have received accreditation from ABET, which means they adhere to a Continuous Improvement Process (CIP) and assess student learning outcomes. The goal of the CISAccred project is to create a user-friendly web portal and a database that will support the student learning assessment process for the computing programs. In addition to meeting the assessment needs of the ABET accredited programs, this system will be adaptable and could support the assessment of various other academic programs. The web portal and database will allow assessment leaders to define student outcomes, criteria, and rubrics, as well as to assess success and delegate tasks to other faculty for entering assessment data. Moreover, the system will generate detailed reports on learning outcomes at various levels, providing valuable insights for corrective actions and program improvements.

Presentation Link