RISE Through the Eyes of a Judge

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Judging Virtual RISE

Virtual RISE was a new experience for judges and student presenters alike. With the rapid onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the RISE Expo was moved online in an effort to preserve an environment where students and judges could interact while maintaining a healthy social distance. Over the course of seven hours, student presenters were afforded a fifteen minute window to pitch their project to two judges and attendees and then field questions all via Microsoft Teams. We talked to two judges about their experience interacting with students and attending presentations throughout Virtual RISE: long-time judge Kevin Papierski and Venesia Hurtubise, who was new the expo.          

Kevin Papierski
Kevin Papierski
Venesia Hurtubise

Kevin Papierski is a Graphic Designer currently working as a Senior Designer for National Amusements, a company better known for their subsidiaries, such as Showcase Cinemas and Viacom. He’s been a participant at RISE for the last five years, though the jump to an online format was a new experience for him, as it was for many others.

Venesia Hurtubise is a chemist at MicroCare Precision Cleaners and is also pursuing a degree in Law at the University of Connecticut. This was her first time participating in the expo as a judge and, though she had hoped to attend the expo in person, transitioned expertly to an online role.


At first, judges weren’t sure what to expect from the expo. After all, it had been changed from a traditional in-person format to a brand-new online format in a matter of weeks. Where students once had four hours to present their project to a multitude of passers-by and judges on the main floor of the expo, they now had a concentrated fifteen minute window to pitch their presentation to two judges and a handful of attendees. Upon discovering the new format, Papierski said, “Fifteen minutes seems like an awfully long time.” However, he changed his opinion as the presentations flew by: “when you get into it, it’s like, the 5 minute warning comes before you’ve even figured out what you’re looking at.” Hurtubise expressed a similar sentiment, stating, “Extra time for questions would have been nice.”


There was some apprehension regarding the technical aspect of Virtual RISE; moving hundreds of student presentations online and connecting presenters with judges and attendees is no small feat. “It seemed like a huge effort to turn into a digital format,” said Hurtubise. Papierski expressed some concern about the new format as well, regarding the technical problems that might arise while switching from one presentation to the next. Hurtubise said she was shocked that the event wasn’t cancelled outright, as many other similar conferences have been in the wake of COVID-19.


As judges, Papierski and Hurtubise had a responsibility not only to offer feedback to student presenters, but also help determine winners in the RISE Awards categories. Normally, judges would have four hours to visit posters and presentations, providing ample time to vet winning projects. However, due to the fifteen minute pitch format of Virtual RISE, judges had a limited time to evaluate each presentation. According to Papierski, this required some additional preparation on the part of judges prior to attending the presentation: “When the time came, I made sure that I understood at least the basics of what each of the presentations was going to be about.” When asked about advice he had for his fellow judges, he said, “Do your homework in advance because there are definitely going to be things you don’t understand.”

As a designer, Papierski said he tended to focus on the visual aspects of the presentation: “The first thing I’m looking at is their poster and how could they have more effectively designed their poster,” he said, continuing, “Pretend I’m driving by in a car really fast and I’ve got 15 seconds to absorb the essence of what you’re trying to do.” However, Papierski understands the difficult task of visualizing research, especially when the audience doesn’t have the same technical knowledge as the presenter. When discussing the task students in technical fields faced transforming their presentation to fit the online format, he commented, “I try to put myself into their shoes. I know that these are people who are dealing constantly with other people who are in their field and understand everything they’re talking about … I try to give them the benefit of the doubt and see if I can talk back.”

Hurtubise expressed a different view as a chemist with a highly technical background. “I went into it more excited about presentations that I thought I had some background knowledge of,” she said, “I had already thought of what my questions were going to be.” However, as the day progressed, she found her opinion evolving: “It was more interesting, I think, to learn about presentations I didn’t have a background in,” she said, “because I wasn’t so silo-ed in my own head.” She continued, “It was probably better to do presentations I didn’t have a background in.”


After the conclusion of Virtual RISE, both judges said the conference had exceeded their expectations despite these apprehensions. Hurtubise said she was surprised with how well the online format supported student presentations: “I did not expect the posters to be so well formatted for digital content.” Papierski said he even enjoyed some aspects of the online format. “At the live event, there’s so much going on … its harder to focus on … each project,” Papierski remarked, adding, “It was nice to have that quiet enclosed space where it was just you and the presenters and no other distractions.”

Both judges said they do wish they had the chance to interact with other judges from the conference, though we all could do with a little more social interaction nowadays. Next year, they hope to attend RISE again, this time in person, Papierski for the sixth time, and Hurtubise for the first. When asked if she would judge another RISE expo after being a part of the online format, Hurtubise replied “Absolutely. … I am excited to see a new set of presentations and learn more.”

Written by Joseph Burns

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