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The fifth annual Stamps Colloquium featured faculty, alumni and members of the University of Michigan community giving presentations on March 10 at the Rackham Amphitheater. Similar to a TED Talk, each of the 8 speakers presented for 15 minutes on a topic relating to this year’s Stamps Colloquium theme: “Revolutionary Ideas.” The speakers —  nominated by U-M Stamps Scholars — included experts across a broad range of subjects, ranging from queerness in horror movies to plants and music. 

The Stamps Scholarship is a merit-based undergraduate scholarship awarded to students after their acceptance into one of 37 partner institutions and includes a financial contribution from the Stamps Program and the partner universities. At the University of Michigan, Stamps Scholars are chosen from freshman applicants across schools and colleges on campus. 

Engineering senior Jensen Hwa, U-M Stamps Scholars president, organized the annual event which was attended by about 30 community members. He opened the colloquium by expressing his gratuity for the Stamps scholarship and the academically diverse community of Stamps scholars he has had the opportunity to connect with. 

“I feel very lucky to be a part of this group,” Hwa said. “Being awarded this scholarship has changed so much of my college experience. Giving back to this community is what drives me to hold this sort of event.” 

Natasha Pilkauskas, associate professor of Public Policy, presented a speech titled “Cash Transfers and Kids” about her revolutionary ideas for ending child poverty. Pilkauskas suggested impoverished children should be given cash to spend at their discretion, regardless of parental employment status.

“Income in early childhood matters for child development,” Pilkauskas said. “If we’re really thinking about ending child poverty, we can’t be focused on whether someone is employed or not.”

LSA sophomore Abby Hess nominated her musicology lecturer James Bodiford who spoke about his research on music dissemination across nations. For Bodiford, “the message” of a piece of music is often contained within “the medium.” Bodiford likened musicians sharing recorded sounds with each other to communicating history and opinions related to a broader societal context.

“I would argue for the revolutionary spirit of the medium itself,” Bodiford said. “To demonstrate that people can relate to one another without somebody in every exchange collecting some profit.”

In an interview with The Michigan Daily following the colloquium, Hess said Bodiford’s perspective was intriguing, especially the connections he made between music and Chilean culture.

“I really liked to hear him talk about the role of music in the political spectrum of another culture,”  Hess said. “It was fascinating to hear from someone who went into a culture specifically to look at the effects of music.”

Paleobotany professor Selena Smith spoke about how fossils provide a record of the evolution of plants and their environments. Smith urged listeners to change their philosophy regarding recognizing and understanding plants as major components in our modern world. 

“Plants are a conduit that connect the air, the water and the land,” Smith said. “I think we need another revolution, this time not one caused by plants, but inspired by them.” 

English professor Gina Brandolino argued that “Horror Is Inherently Queer,” in her talk. She said she has found that queer people understand what it’s like to resonate with different archetypes in horror movies including “final girl” heroes, or the female protagonist that stands up to her opponent in the end.

“We need to think differently about the messages that horror stories deliver to us,” Brandolino said.

Residential College lecturer Darcy Brandel spoke in her speech, “The Revolutionary Nature of a Cloud,” about how clouds demonstrate “interbeing” —  a concept originated by Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh regarding the interconnected nature of the world. As a poet and activist, Brandel shared her belief that all lives are interdependent on each other. For this, she gave an example she drew from Hanh’s teachings.

“The cloud does not come from nothing, there has been only a change in form,” Brandel said. “It is not the birth of something out of nothing … If you look deeply into the rain, you can see the cloud. The cloud is not lost, it is transformed into rain.” 

Felicity Foundation Chaplain Matthew Schumann shared his perspective on Islam with the audience by emphasizing the importance of self-awareness. Schumann said spiritual liberation is often blocked when individuals get caught up in the rush of everyday life. To find true solace, Schumann said, one must choose when to take time for themselves.

“We have the choice whether to respond or ignore the calls that we receive on a constant basis,” Schumann said. 

Henry Cowles, associate professor of History, spoke about illusions, death, science and spirituality.

“Ouija, tarot and the continued use of spiritualism unfortunately become feminized in the gendered bifurcation of knowledge,” Cowles said. “The supposedly objective sciences leave aside that which is contingent context-dependent spiritualism.” 

Hwa personally invited Lizhen Ji, professor in the Department of Mathematics, and introduced Ji to the audience as “the king of math.” In Ji’s talk, “Mathematics vs. History,” which was the final presentation of the colloquium, Ji spoke about the intersections of history and math. He highlighted examples of historical mathematical figures to put both fields of study into perspective.

“Calculus has two parts: one is differentiation, and the other is integration. Differentiation is local, and integration is global,” Ji said. “It is important to have both local and global views in everything.” 

Hwa said he wanted the event to synthesize “revolutionary ideas” from all different parts of campus. With the open-ended theme, he hoped to set a consistent tone while still allowing the speakers to explore what they are passionate about. 

“It was great to see that we had almost every school represented within the speakers,” Hwa said. “I really think that it helps to enrich the University’s stature and image to showcase the best professors that the University has to offer.”

Daily News Contributor Kelsey Ruff contributed reporting.

Daily Staff Reporter Ashna Mehra can be reached at ashmehra@umich.edu.