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Students Shine at Spring 2014 iSchool Open House

Teaching librarians to play psychologist. Mapping flood risk areas. Digitizing a goldmine of Texas music recordings.

These were just a few of the student projects featured at the iSchool's Open House on May 2.

The poster presentations -- featuring the Capstone projects of 60 graduating master's students as well as works in progress by a select group of current students -- lined the hallways of the 5th floor of the iSchool. In addition to students, faculty and other guests, some 200 employers were on hand to get glimpse of the talent, experience and innovation that would be streaming into the job market.

Julie Allen and Yvette Clark, with Access Sciences, an information management, technology consulting and business support services firm, were impressed with what they saw.

"(It) was a fantastic experience," Allen said. "We met so many students that displayed intellect and passion for the information field, which showed clearly through the creativity and quality of their project presentations."

Projects reflected a variety of interests and disciplines.

William Traylor, who digitized sheet music at the Texas State Archive, explained to a rapt visitor how he traced hundreds of pieces of music to the original owner and felt as though he'd discovered a 100-year-old iPod with a playlist of the era's popular music.

Ana Stanescu parlayed a class on GIS software into an internship with the City of Austin and then pitched an idea that became her project -- a demographic analysis of the city's floodplains that included ideas on how to raise awareness of flood risks among more vulnerable residents.

Stanescu served as an ambassador of sorts for the iSchool by demonstrating to her supervisors in the Watershed Protection Department what information science entails.

"They were really excited," she said.

Lyndsey Myers drew on her own experience as an undergrad at UT as she investigated the psychological challenges students face when they get their first research paper assignment and attempt to navigate the Perry-Castaneda Library (PCL). Where do they start? How do they use online resources? What did their professor mean by asking for a peer-reviewed article?

"I've been one of those students," said Myers who hopes to pursue a career as an academic librarian or technical writer.

After conducing a survey of UT students, Myers identified some of the common library anxieties and created an Ask the Librarian chat in which students could message her online with questions they might be too embarrassed to ask in person. And she helped to train library staff to spot discomfort among students and to make sure their needs are met.

The open house not only allowed students to showcase their achievements; it also served as a valuable networking opportunity.

Artemis Harbert explained her project on the link between road development and fossil collection in Travis County to Dennis Trombatore, the head geology librarian at UT. In turn, Trombatore invited Harbert to do a poster presentation at an Austin Geological Society event.

While the corridors buzzed with animated conversations, visitors were also able to see iSchool projects in action through lab tours and demos. In the Information Experience Lab, a small crowd watched in amazement as students conducted a demo of eye-tracking capture software and Dr. Jacek Gwizdka and his students fielded questions.

Several employers and guests remarked on the poise and professionalism students displayed. That didn't surprise UT Head Librarian Shiela Winchester, a longtime mentor and champion of the iSchool. The open house is an opportunity for students to shine.

"It has been my greatest pleasure," she said, "as these students work through their student years into graduation, to watch them grow and learn, and soon surpass their dreams."