Two Buena Vista University students – Gladiola Esparza, a sophomore biology, psychology and Spanish triple major from Worthington, Minn., and Eloisa Estrada, a senior psychology and Spanish double major from Le Mars – were accepted to present at the 4th Annual Midwest Undergraduate Cognitive Science Conference in Bloomington, Ind. on April 15.
“They were selected for this opportunity because the research they are doing for my class offers new perspectives in the cognitive sciences,” says Steven Mills, assistant professor of Spanish. “They were accepted to an undergraduate cognitive science conference where most of the presenters are discussing research done in the sciences. However, in class we are taking the results from such research and then studying literature and life, applying it to how we interact in the context of the humanities, which is a relatively new approach and has numerous interdisciplinary implications that really intrigue scholars at such venues.”
Gladiola’s and Eloisa’s presentation included research on interdisciplinary studies that connect cognitive science and literature on topics such as relationships, theory of mind and mirror neurons.
“I truly believe in the potential this new subject has,” says Eloisa. “My main focus is counseling psychology (marriage and family), therefore, social relationships – especially romantic relationships – spark my interest the most. The theory of mind through literature can really open new windows of opportunities to learn more about communication and social relationships. There are always new ways to analyze romantic relationships, and fiction literature provides us with new learning possibilities through the fictional characters' experiences. Understanding these relationships will increase my knowledge to later apply it on a real case scenario.”
The students used several skills they have learned at BVU to demonstrate how they have merged different areas of study. With help from Mills, they have been working on the project since February and put the final touches on it in the weeks leading up to the conference.
“Being educated in various ways allows us to view the world from a different perspective,” Gladiola says. “Thanks to the classes I’ve taken, presentations I’ve made and professors I’ve worked with, I’m ready for this. Organizations that I've been involved in, as well as my jobs, have sharpened my communication skills and leadership skills. I'm thankful to have supportive faculty and professors that are more than happy to help you out when needed. A student who takes advantage of the opportunities BV offers is more prone to become successful and will be more satisfied.
Mills says the work of his students was very well-received by organizers of the conference.
“Gladiola and Eloisa did a marvelous job during the presentations. They both were among the few philosophical presentations in a heavily empirical conference, and many found that refreshing, including one of the two organizers, an English major from Indiana University,” Mills says. “Gladiola inspired a fair amount of conversation after her talk on Theory of Mind in foreign language theater as people began asking and hypothesizing about the implications of her research. Eloisa’s poster regarding the implications of cognitive science in the fields of psychology and literature intrigued many people. Her discussion of gender roles, relationships and literature in the context of Theory of Mind gave a refreshing shift to the once again heavily empirical trend in the other posters. The conference was very good, the work done by all of the undergraduate participants was commendable, and the philosophical approach of Gladiola and Eloisa really helped them to stand out.”