Looking Back at Festival of Excellence Highlights

Published: April 15, 2019 | Read Time: 8 minutes

festival of excellence bookletThe Festival of Excellence’s annual one-day event dedicated to celebrating scholarship in all forms brought 433 presentations to Southern Utah University’s campus, creating scholarly buzz on every topic from engineering to parenting to dealing with mental health.

“The event has become an important part of the fabric of our institution. It allows for dialogue across the disciplines in one of the few venues that truly breaks down our university silos,” said SUU Provost Bradley J. Cook

A short glimpse at some of the presentations dealing with important topics to SUU’s students can be found below. In addition, many of the participants in the Festival of Excellence received awards for exemplifying experiential learning.

15 Minute Hairspray

Faced with the impossible task of turning a full-length musical into a fifteen-minute masterpiece, five acting students, Finley Caciola, Angela Clyde, Danny Keetch, Zachary Mittleman, and Trinity Rodriguez, have turned Hairspray into a powerful statement against oppression.

festival of excellence hairspray musicalThe students were charged with the task as a part of their Acting I final, but they soon ran into a hurdle. The cast of the original Hairspray contains a large group of people of color, but the cast of acting students only contained one person of color. The group instead changed the story to reflect a different demographic that faces inequality in the modern day.

The story became about the LGBTQIA+ community, a community many of the cast members identify with. The characters of Tracy and Link were both played by men, and the characters of Seaweed and Lil Inez were combined into one character, changes which helped them to tell a very real story of inequality that most of the cast has faced at some point. The show performed extremely well during their Acting I final performance, and the group decided their message deserved to be shared with more than just their classmates.

The students presented one of the first performances during Southern Utah’s 2019 Festival of Excellence, offering their story to the entirety of the SUU community and spreading awareness in a succinct and beautiful demonstration of talent and thoughtfulness.

Teen Nonfiction That Matters

In her Festival of Excellence presentation, Assistant Professor of Library Media/Special Collections librarian Paula Mitchell presented a case advocating for the use of nonfiction in the classroom. Mitchell explained how in the past nonfiction has been presented in an unappealing, sometimes even boring fashion. A recent resurgence and revitalization of nonfiction has helped make it easier for teachers to use as an engaging tool for students.

Mitchell described how nonfiction reads across the curriculum, provides a relevant topic for every reader, increases vocabulary experience, and tests smoothly. Recent nonfiction has increased its appeal to children and teens with more creativity in book cover design and diversity in topics.

“Educators need to be aware of the tremendous benefits of using nonfiction in their classrooms,” Mitchell said.


This April, Southern Utah students will present Scarlet by Sam Freeman in an effort to bring awareness to issues including sexual assault, victim blaming, and revenge pornography. As a prequel to their full-length performances, the cast and director have brought select scenes and a discussion of the themes to the Festival of Excellence.

While the subject and themes of the play are often uncomfortable for audience members and hard to discuss for many individuals, director Chad Henwood’s choice to bring the show to the Festival of Excellence reflects one of his major goals with the show, to bring attention to the taboo of discussing sexual assault and help survivors find a voice through the theatre in order to feel comfortable and safe.

The show is presented as a part of the Black Box Grant Program, which offers students the ability to direct, manage, and act in plays they feel passionate about. The play premiered in the Black Box theatre on April 11. Southern Utah University is honored to be one of only two companies in the United States who are able to present this piece at this time.

Feeling Depression: The Productive Discomfort of 4.48 Psychosis

Many individuals on a college campus can attest to the struggle that dealing with mental health issues, and depression specifically, can be when there seems to be no effective way to work through the issue. Theatre Arts Professor and Director of the SUU Festival of Excellence, Scott Knowles, took fifteen minutes to demonstrate how experiencing art centered around an issue like depression can lead to bettering a community’s ability to process those dark emotions and focus on how to better help those suffering from a mental illness.

Knowles focused his presentation around 4.48 Psychosis, a play which is said to create an image of what depression can be like for some individuals. Through performance analysis and analysis of audience’s responses to the play, Knowles demonstrates how watching a performance, which so honestly portrays a very real situation many individuals must push through in their lives, can help a person or community understand mental health in a more personal way.

He further argues that watching these plays and feeling what some might consider ‘darker’ emotions helps us to form more positive habits and can have very real benefits for the audience members. Knowles’ Festival presentation connected the art he teaches by using it to teach the community a positive way to feel, comprehend, and help each other through the often uncertain and murky field of mental illness.

Interdisciplinary Studies Senior Presents Couture Dress at Festival of Excellence

For his EDGE project, Lars Palmer spent 100 hours drafting and completing a 1950’s couture cocktail dress. Palmer is a Southern Utah University senior with a major in Interdisciplinary Studies. His major is essentially a business degree with minors in theatre costumes and art (photography and digital design).

In addition to using the dress as his EDGE project, Palmer presented his dress at the 2019 Festival of Excellence. The presentation covered the making of the dress, the techniques used, and the type of fabric he worked with. The dress took 100 hours to complete from design to finish with 40 of those hours completed by hand as opposed to using a sewing machine.

“In a world that is clothed by fast fashion I wanted to show people what real high-end garments look like and all the work that goes into something. I wanted it to have a sense of permanence. Nowadays most department store evening or prom dresses aren’t nicely made because they don’t need to stand the test of time,” said Palmer.

As explained in his presentation, couture is the French term that translates to “high sewing”. Characteristics of couture fashion include more attention to detail, more handwork, and custom fitting for the client.

The initial design was a knee-length cocktail dress with champagne color shantung lining with a black lace overlay. The dress was inspired from elements of dresses from the 1950s and 1830s. Palmer's dress includes 14 pieces of steel boning which is required with most strapless dresses and gives the bodice structure.

“I ended up using three different methods to pattern the dress in order to get the fit of the dress perfect,” said Palmer.

After graduation, Palmer plans on continuing his passion for fashion in the fashion industry.


Food Insecurity in Cedar City

Students currently enrolled in Anthropology 4350: Practicum in Applied Anthropology decided to explore the topic of food insecurity in Cedar City, and the according ways to intervene.

Food insecurity occurs as a result of unreliable and inconsistent access to food of good quality. The group presented their findings at the 2019 Festival of Excellence with associate professor of anthropology, Dr. Liz Olson, who instructed the class this semester.

“The students in ANTH 4350 had to work very hard and very fast to incorporate anthropological theories and research strategies to a locally-relevant public health issue,” Olson said. “As they are writing a grant proposal, they (or a future cohort of SUU students) will be positioned to help further this project towards food justice in Iron County.”

After extensive reading and research, the group decided that the best way to address this problem would be to begin a community gardening initiative, similar to that of North Elementary's Friendship Garden. The students have begun a partnership with Iron County Care & Share, and are planning to submit a grant application to make this dream a reality.  

More information about this endeavor will be presented at this year’s Feria de la Salud (Community Health Fair). This bilingual event will be held from 12:00-4:00 p.m. on April 27, 2019, and include free health assessments, fitness screenings, and bounce houses. The event will also feature musical guest, Miguel Angel Aldaco from Jalisco, Mexico.

lady presenting to man at festival of excellence Many of the participants in the Festival of Excellence received awards for exemplifying experiential learning. Both students and Mentors were recipients.

Distinguished Student Project Award: To recognize exceptional student projects that exemplify experiential learning

  • Billy Clouse, Monica Lee, Kaylee Prunty, Dustin Pullman, “Bringing a Brand to Life: How Four Students Helped a Local Business Establish a New Identity”
  • Evan Miller, “Making Hate Moral: An Investigation of the Interplay between Hate Speech and Moral Licensing on a Rural and Predominantly White College Campus”
  • Mariah Clayson, “Is your water anoxic?”
  • Nicholas Bastian, “Classifying Schur Rings Over Infinite Groups”
  • Zulma Alvarez, Mary Glenn, “Everything You (N)Ever Wanted To Know About Sex; A Study of Sexual Health Practices within the SUU Community”
  • Tyler Haroldsen, McKayla Heaton, Torri Sageman, “Blood Glucose Responses to the Sight and Smell of High and Low Glycemic Food in Mice”
  • Hailee Eckman, Rylie Miller, “Sanitation efficacy of 70% isopropyl alcohol vs blue light treatment on reusable electrodes”
  • Laura Aston, “A Study of Ringtail (Bassariscus astutus) Genetic Diversity in Southern Utah”
  • Garett Ruesch, “Caffeine Derived Carbene Ligands in the Sonogashira Cross-Coupling Reaction”
  • Andrew Lloyd, “Pilot Shortage in the United States”

Distinguished Departmental Mentorship Award: To recognize outstanding student mentorship and involvement in the Festival of Excellence.

  • Department of Theatre Arts & Dance

Distinguished Mentor Award: To recognize campus members who have put forth exceptional effort in mentoring student projects.

  • Clint Broadbent, Department of Family Life and Human Development
  • Grant Corser, Department of Psychology
  • Michael Crotty, Department of Theatre Arts & Dance
  • Emily Dean, Department of History, Sociology, & Anthropology
  • Jacob Dean, Department of Physical Science
  • Lance Forshee, Department of Biology
  • David Maxwell, Department of Physical Science
  • Lisa Quoresimo, Department of Theatre Arts & Dance

Tags: Student Research

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